If love is all around, Judge Dennis Prince wonders why this particular TV cast can't seem to make a meaningful relationship stick.
Our reviews of The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Second Season (published August 24th, 2005), The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Third Season (published March 22nd, 2006), The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Fifth Season (published October 28th, 2009), The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Sixth Season (published February 15th, 2010), and The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season (published October 14th, 2010) are also available.
Mary and the gang are as funny as ever but, somehow, it seems Sonny Curtis should be singing, "…are you so sure you're gonna make it after all?"
With three solid seasons under its belt, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had proved its staying power as the preeminent Saturday night prime-time pleaser. When the fourth season rolled around, viewers were introduced to a delightful newcomer with a glowing smile that sheathed a rapier wit. And, for the rest of the gang, well, things seemed to be getting a bit bumpier as you'll discover in this nonetheless welcome boxed set, The Mary Tyler Moore Show—The Complete Fourth Season.
Facts of the Case
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is still standing proud and loving life in her newly adopted hometown of Minneapolis. Having relocated several years back in order to "let someone else do some givin'" (she broke up with her fiancé), Mary found a charming habitat in a converted Victorian home and a charming friend down the hall, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper). Rhoda has made it a habit to talk Mary's leg off at a moment's notice, usually fixated on—what else?—men. Neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) is wacky and sometimes a bit wily, but seems grounded by the fact she's married to a Swedish hunk named Lars. At Mary's place and at any time, any night can become "girls night in" among the three.
Mary is still producing WJM-TV's Six O'Clock News, unfortunately still the lowest-rated broadcast in the area. Gruff news director Lou Grant (Ed Asner) barks at the newsroom staff, the brunt of his ire rightfully aimed at incompetent anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). Mary has found some professional kinship with staff writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), but even their combined efforts seem futile in righting this mostly-wrong news outfit.
So not much as changed for Mary since her first year in Minneapolis—she works, she dates, she enjoys time with her friends and co-workers, and now she seems to wax for more personal fulfillment. While Mary immediately established herself as a go-getter and a girl with "spunk," she seems to realize her wheels are spinning but she's not making much ground. Those closest to her also seem to have slipped into the same lifestyle eddy, and change is in the air and it doesn't always smell so sweet.
At the start of the 1972-73 television season, The Mary Tyler Moore Show needed little introduction and little promotion to ensure it would remain a top ratings draw and solid Emmy Award contender. The shows continued to be well written and deftly directed by the tireless Jay Sandrich. In the fourth season, though, the notion of the "inferiority complex" seemed to have been magnified in comparison to the previous three years' worth of situations. Granted, the show worked its magic through the trials and tribulations of its colorful cast of characters, but they had largely accepted their lot in life, blemishes and all. This time around, the writing imparts a heightened sense of anxiety and impatience with the "status quo" and it feels as if Mary in particular is more cognizant that her social and professional clock is ticking. In the episode, "WJM Tries Harder," Mary begins dating the anchorman of Channel 8's top-rated news program and she actually proclaims that she is embarrassed to be associated with the WJM team. On the personal front, her tastes turn rather capricious when she begins steadying a college-aged fellow. Later, she is unexpectedly reunited with a former beau but resists becoming re-attached. In short, she's a girl with a lot going for her but doesn't seem to be able to put her finger on exactly what it is she wants out of life—much to her own chagrin.
Of course, Mary's dilemma and the challenges to those around her are the fodder that fuels the show's biting human comedy. This season, though, it seems to have taken a slightly more serious turn (somewhat akin to what ultimately afflicted M*A*S*H) that sometimes gave you pause to wonder if what you were laughing at was really all that funny. The Mary Tyler Moore Show doesn't disappoint in its fourth season if you go into it with the proper perspective—slightly askew. The most enjoyable addition to this season is that of Sue Ann Niven (Betty White) as the hostess of the fictitious Happy Homemaker Show. Betty White, widow to the late Password host, Allen Ludden, is downright hilarious. Her comedic timing is precise and her sharp tongue can cut anyone in half. White delivers a deliciously balanced performance as a smiling, bubbly daytime hostess who could likely drink all the boys under the table at an after-hours poker party—if she doesn't humiliate them to death first.
Regardless what drives the comedy here, Fox Home Entertainment continues to deliver original, full-length episodes of one of television's most celebrated programs. In this three-disc boxed set, you'll find another 24 episodes as follows:
Each episode is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame format, true to the original telecasts. Picture quality is consistent to the well-rendered episodes of previous boxed sets. This season has less source damage than previous seasons, although you'll spot occasional low-level grain. Produced in the slavish '70s, you'll see plenty of vibrant color splashes—from Mary's outfits to her apartment walls—and in a few instances you'll witness a bit of bleed. By and large, though, the color levels are well controlled, properly saturated, and free of any noticeable compression artifacts. The audio is as vibrant as goldenrod and avocado green décor, actually spilling out of the confines of a usually lackluster Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono track. Here, the sound is well mixed and nicely projected to deliver a clean, clear, and always intelligible mix.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Extras? Where are the extras?! Move along, folks, 'cause there's nothing to see here. Sadly, this set is severely inferior to the Season One and Season Two releases. While fans are tickled to see continued season-by-season releases, this Fourth Season is delivered without any extras, just as was the previous Third Season.
"Hey Mare—what gives?"
In all, The Mary Tyler Moore Show—The Complete Fourth Season is an enjoyable indulgence into the best of situation comedy. The tone this year gets a bit more desperate and arguably more serious at times, but it never fails to deliver the laughs, even if it's at the continual expense of this group of people that television audiences had quickly grown to love. It's disappoint there are no extras here but that shouldn't prevent you from adding this classic programming to your TV-on-DVD library.
The cast and crew of the show are obviously not guilty but this court is growing tired of Fox Home Entertainment's trend of not delivering the extras; they'll be closely watched.
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