Judge Chris Claro once threw his crocheted beret into the Minneapolis sky and was ticketed for littering.
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 Fourth Season (published August 23rd, 2006), 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.
"Oh, Mr. Grant!"
In its fifth season, when many shows are sinking into the mire of formula, The Mary Tyler Moore Show found a new energy, due primarily to the departure of one of its major characters. When Rhoda Morgenstern was spun off into her own series, Mary Richards and The Mary Tyler Moore Show started to focus more on life in and around the WJM Newsroom. What resulted was one of the series' most memorable seasons, with an emphasis on the indelible characterizations of Mary's co-workers. With stories focused on such seemingly heavy subjects as extramarital affairs, protecting confidential sources, and adoption, The Mary Tyler Moore Show managed to bring the funny, and the maintain the humanity of its characters.
Facts of the Case
Spread over three discs, there are 24 episodes in Season Five:
While Rhoda was a swell sidekick—her New York cynicism a welcome counterpoint to Mary's eternally sunny demeanor—The Mary Tyler Moore Show really hit its stride when Rhoda returned to the Big Apple and WJM supplanted Mary's apartment as the primary locale of MTM. By moving more of the action to the workplace, every member of the cast got even more of an opportunity to shine. Few series were blessed with such a wealth of talent, nearly all of whom, it seemed, went on to star in successful series: Gavin McLeod helmed The Love Boat through its seemingly endless voyages, Ted Knight lived Too Close for Comfort for six seasons, Betty White showed her range as sweet, naïve Rose in The Golden Girls, and Ed Asner went from playing Lou Grant, TV news producer for seven years, to playing Lou Grant, newspaper editor, for four. Throughout The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Fifth Season, each of them, along with such MTM mainstays as Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein) and Georgia Engel (Everybody Loves Raymond) show how good the producers of this show were at surrounding the star with sparkling comic performers.
Among the standout episodes in this set is the season premiere, "Will Mary Richards go to Jail?" Though played for laughs, with Sue Ann making cocktails in tin cups and Ted offering to sneak some cigarettes in "to bribe the screws," the episode (written by Stan Daniels and Ed. Weinberger) is a surprisingly sober view of the right of a journalist to protect her sources. Even as you laugh at Mary's funny/sad breakdown in Lou's office prior to her incarceration, the episode pulls you in to a very real dilemma that actual news people often face.
Another episode centers on Murray's desire to have a son after three daughters and the strain it places on his marriage. As a lifelong MTM fan, I've always considered Gavin McLeod—through no fault of his own—the weak link in the show's comedy chain. The writers seemed to have conceived of Murray as a wisenheimer, the smartass always waiting for the softballs lobbed in from Ted or Sue Ann that he could knock out of the park with a snappy riposte. As a result, he comes across as a joke machine, rather than a flesh-and-blood character such as Lou or Phyllis. That said, McLeod does acquit himself nicely in both "A Son for Murray" and "I Love a Piano," in which he contemplates an affair with guest star Barbara Barrie (Breaking Away).
The idea of Murray getting a little action is ironic, as he is the only WJM staffer who's married during this season of MTM. Lou is newly divorced—selling his house and making an ill-advised move into Rhoda's old place in the episode titled "Neighbors—Sue Ann is still on the prowl—hilariously salving her bruised ego by attempting to cook a chocolate fondue in "What Are Friends For"—and Mary's dating life is still grist for the comedy mill, as she finds herself the object of Ted's attempt at affection in "An Affair to Forget."
For sheer laughs per minute, though, the winner of the set is the season's penultimate episode, "Ted Baxter's Famous Broadcasters' School," in which the penurious, self-absorbed newsreader finds himself duped into renting his name to a fly-by-night operation that boasts exactly one hapless student. The reactions of Ted's WJM colleagues at having to bail him out on the school's opening night are priceless, as are those of the lone enrollee played with deadpan brilliance by Leonard Frey (The Boys in the Band).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Alas, Fox has once again chintzed out on providing anything in the way of extras that befit a classic such as Mary Tyler Moore. When such an iconic show is nearing its fortieth anniversary, would it really be that difficult to round up some of the surviving stars, producers, and writers, to recollect and reminisce about their time working on it? Granted, Mary Tyler Moore: The Complete First Season included an excellent documentary that featured interviews with the majority of the principals involved in the production of MTM, but it certainly wasn't the last word on any of the individual episodes. I'm not asking for Simpsons-level production of commentaries on every episode in the box, but why not ask James L. Brooks—on a day when he's between Oscars—to pull up a chair and watch a couple of episodes and enjoy Mary and the gang.
Technically, Mary Tyler Moore: The Complete Fifth Season is visually and sonically crisp. Considering the age of the material, the colors, while dated, are still as vivid as they were when the show aired as part of the long-ago CBS Saturday night lineup.
Like old friends who return to your life after a long absence, reconnecting with Mary and the Minneapolis mafia in their fifth season is a pleasure for fans of classic, character-driven comedy.
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