Judge Denise Louis was so tempted to say Ester Rolle's role about a thousand times.
And then there's Maude…
In 1972, a spin-off of All in the Family aired on CBS, helping to create the heyday of topical sitcoms. It starred Archie Bunker's cousin Maude, the liberal ying to his conservative yang. She's a feminist, pro-choice, progressive, democrat—and very outspoken on all accounts. I was born in 1989 so I never had the pleasure of viewing an episode of All in the Family, only funny clips here and there. However, some of my fondest pre-natal memories were of Maude. Her acidic wit could sear through just about anything, and her trademark catchphrase "God'll get you for that" always had me rolling, much to my mom's displeasure. Thanks to reruns on TV Land, and the nostalgia of my mom, I decided to pick up the first season of this classic sitcom on dvd. I wasn't disappointed.
Facts of the Case
Maude stars Maude Finlay (Bea Arthur, Golden Girls) as a the politically active housewife living with her fourth husband Walter Finlay (Bill Macy, The Holiday) and live-in daughter Carooll O'Connor…er…Carol Traynor (Adrienne Barbeau, The Fog). The first season is spent almost entirely in her house in Tuckahoe, NY, following the various problems with her husband and daughter. There are also Maude's interactions with staunch Republican neighbor Arthur (played to perfection by Conrad Bain, Diff'rent Strokes) and their commuting maid Florida (the late Esther Rolle, Good Times).
The first season contains 22 episodes on three discs, with these five actors making an appearance more often that not:
Norman Lear has a knack for creating shows with controversy and comedy. It makes sense. The comedy opens what the controversy may (will) close. Maude is no exception. Maude uses its supporting characters to deal with issues of feminism, race, and politics all without ever losing its comedic edge…
Along the same vein, Florida is best used as a critique on political correctness. Allow me to go on a small tangent. In their heads, nearly everyone is understanding and open-minded. In reality, I'd argue that many are just markedly more tolerant than the previous generation. This phenomenon is probably best highlighted by the idea of political correctness. I'm all for the promotion of tolerance, but many are misguided on exactly how to put it into practice. Being excessively nice to a group of people is not the same as not being racist; in fact, it can be a way to hide it. Maude is the perfect example. She becomes extremely polite and non-confrontational whenever she's around a black person (in most cases Florida). Carol and Walter are quick to point out this special treatment, but Maude seems to have a naïve ignorance of exactly when she's doing it. Maude believes that Florida is enjoying the atmosphere, while Florida takes every second possible to roll her eyes at her. I can't really convey the humor, but the message is pretty clear; Maude's own prejudice is fueling her actions and the writers never fail to make her hypocrisy something to be laughed at.
The flip side is that without Carol's presence you really couldn't get to the root of a lot of Maude's (the character and show) issues. And yes, this is the best lead-in I could think of to talk about the abortion episode. Carol is the one who points out that Maude has obvious reasons for going through with an abortion; her age and all the complications it presents, never mind the fact she and Walter don't want a child. She also points out the reasons Maude would second-guess herself; social pressure, the history of the procedure itself, and the feelings of guilt that Maude has for wanting an abortion in the first place. And although she does indeed go through with it (if that wasn't obvious from a backlash that included a 30 station ban), the decision is treated as personal; certainly not something condoned for everyone at anytime. The episode even manages to incorporate humor with Walter's indecision over a promised vasectomy. It's less about an overlying message and more about showing the reality of a situation. It shouldn't offend those opposed to abortion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unintentionally, Walter also reveals the biggest problem in the show's writing; overly-long gags. Every so often a joke will run far too long, usually in place of story. Walter has one in the abortion episode that stood out. Most notably, "The Ticket" opens with a joke that doesn't end for ten minutes before the plot of the episode is finally revealed.
The next problem was something I expected: picture quality. The show suffers from the less streamlined era of early sitcoms in that a lot of crude editing takes place. Some of it isn't all that noticeable, but a good deal of it would only be more obvious with an "Edit here" sign. What's worse is it sometimes cuts audience laughter short which is pretty jarring for a show with (mostly) good comedic flow. The picture itself has some banding in it as well. To be fair, the only time it's obvious is when Walter and Arthur are inside the local bar. Their faces accentuate the bands which give the impression of extremely red cheeks as they ramble drunkenly. Well, at least Sony can claim it as a "happy" accident.
The last setback for this set is the complete lack of extras. They must've figured that 22 episode of a funny show would be enough. They may be right, but something would've been nice.
Maude: The Complete First Season is a nice addition to any comedy library. It isn't perfect, but the good far outweighs the bad; it wouldn't be a classic otherwise. And it features the premiere of "The Bea Arthur Stare"…that's worth the price of the DVD itself. If you're curiosity is killing you or just want to refresh your memory, get this set. It's well worth it.
On a side note, I have to give Sony two thumbs up for getting rid of some minor annoyances with this release. The packaging has two slim cases that combined are the size of a regular case. It's much preferred to the jigsaw puzzle placement of discs I'm used to. And get this: the set actually has chapter points that skip the opening credits! Of course, I failed to realize this until the 16th episode, so the damn theme song is still stuck in my head.
Case Dismissed. "And then there's Maude…"—arghh!
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