Judge Cynthia Boris dons a gray wig and a house dress and reviews Mama's Family.
"Nothing like good wine and friends…or cheap wine and
At the ripe old age of twenty-four, Vicki Lawrence donned a grey wig, slipped into a matronly housedress, puckered up her face—and Mama was born. The character was created as part of a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show about a lower class, down home family in Raytown, Missouri. Keeping up with the likes of Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Carol Burnett herself, Vicki was a crowd pleaser. Soon she was donning that wig every week in her own TV series.
Facts of the Case
Mama's Family is made up of the same assorted misfits and nutballs as you would find on an episode of Jerry Springer. Son Vint (Ken Berry) is a locksmith by trade who's always looking for the big score. When his wife leaves him, he's forced to move back home to Mama, along with his two lackluster children Sonja and Buzz. By the second episode, Vint gets married to slutty trailer-trash Naomi (Dorothy Lyman, All My Children); she too moves into the house, making for very close quarters.
The very talented Rue McClanahan and Betty White (both of Golden Girls) make regular appearances as Mama's sister and daughter, and Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman reprise their roles as Ed and Eunice Higgins in several episodes.
The series is unusual in that it ran for two years on NBC, then was canceled, then came back two years later in syndication with all new episodes. The revamped cast included replacing Sonja and Buzz with Eunice's son Bubba (a huge improvement) and bringing in the stellar Beverly Archer as neighbor Iola. In this new form the show ran four more years giving it a total six-year run—and I'll bet you're surprised at that!
Listen; don't even think about rolling your eyes on this one. Mama's Family is a funny show. No, it's not witty and satirical like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it's not a laughable social commentary like Will and Grace. It's just lowbrow, burlesque, basic funny.
I think what throws people off is the feeling that you're watching a high school play. The people look like they're wearing costumes. They look like they're on a theater stage, and they look like a bunch of bad actors. That's the point. That's the point that people miss. It's supposed to look that way. You're not supposed to believe that thirty-year old Vicki Lawrence is the sixty-year old mother of Betty White (who is twenty-seven years older than Vicki). You won't buy it—but it doesn't matter. It's still funny.
As for bad actors? Look again. This cast is a standout when it comes to comedy. Ken Berry was a solid song and dance man who delighted TV fans as Capt. Parmenter in F-Troop before going on to star in Mayberry R.F.D. Betty White and Rue McClanahan both have long TV careers and Dorothy Lyman won two Daytime Emmys for her work in the soaps. There's a ton of talent on that stage.
One of my favorite episodes on this DVD is "Family Feud." Mama and the bunch get a chance to appear on the game show and the actual game play takes up most of the airtime. Richard Dawson doesn't miss a beat, running this as if they were two real families and not actors working from a script. The opposing family is the epitome of the pretentious, preppy lifestyle that was so mocked in the 80's, complete with kids: Tiffy, Binky and Muffy. As you watch Dawson's patience wane with the ever-confused Mama, you can't help but wonder if he didn't deal with this sort of thing on the show all the time. The episode is funny for the same reason the Jeopardy sketches on Saturday Night Live are funny—because they're larger-than-life caricatures of real people.
Oh, and remember what I said about the actors looking like they're in costumes, not normal clothing? Well, designer Bob Mackie won an Emmy for those costumes…so maybe they're exactly what they're supposed to be, too.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For a series that had six seasons on TV, it's treated rather shabbily by Warner Home Video. The sound is soft and a bit muffled, and there are no extras. To make matters worse, these episodes are the syndicated version, meaning there has been up to three minutes removed from each to make room for additional commercials. When questioned about this decision by concerned fans, the official word given by Warner Home Video was…Thank you for interest in Mama's Family: The Complete First Season on DVD. As you may be aware, the episodes featured on the DVD are the syndicated versions. Warner Home Video always strives to provide original content whenever possible, however, in this instance, Warner Bros. does not own the rights to the original uncut episodes. We apologize for any confusion this may have created and we appreciate your continued support of Warner Home Video products.
I had a hard time scoring this one because honestly, no matter how great Betty White is, how can I give the acting on this show an 80 or above? I can't. It's not high caliber television. Add to that the poor sound quality and the "0" in the extras column and it would seem as if I don't like this show at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mama's Family is popcorn TV. It's goofy. It's lowbrow. It's fun. Go in with no expectations and you're bound to have a great time.
This court finds Mama's Family: The Complete First Season guilty of domestic disturbance and sentences them to six years of family counseling.
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