Don't worry about Judge Cynthia Boris, she can write this review alone...in the dark...with her aching fingers...
Our review of Rhoda: Season Two, published March 30th, 2010, is also available.
"New York—This is your last chance."
In 1970, Mary Tyler Moore starred in a groundbreaking sitcom about a single woman making it on her own. She was young, pretty, thin. She had a great job and despite what the writers wanted you to believe, everything she wanted she got, and easily. On the other hand, Mary's best friend on the show, Rhoda, was a plain Jane, chubby, and she had to work hard for everything she got. In other words, she was normal, and that's why we all loved her. Storming New York as a kind of anti-Mary Richards, this is Rhoda: Season One on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Spinning off from the popular Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper, Golda's Balcony) returns home to New York for a visit that turns into an extended stay when she meets Mr. Right, aka Joe Gerrard (David Groh). The early episodes follow Rhoda as she struggles to find a job and an apartment in the city while engaging in this whirlwind romance with single dad Joe. Eight episodes into the run, Rhoda and Joe marry, turning it into more of a newlywed sitcom than the single in the big city series it promised to be.
Backing Rhoda up is her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner, The Simpsons) and kind father (Harold Gould, The Sting), and her wonderfully manipulative mother Ida (Nancy Walker, Murder By Death). And let's not forget Carlton, the doorman.
On this DVD you get 24 episodes on four discs.
As a young woman growing up in New Jersey, Rhoda was a series I could relate to. Here was a normal woman with weight issues and self-esteem issues trying to make it in the big city with minimal help from her family. Been there, done that. The series has a distinct New York Jewish style that could have been off-putting to middle America, but once you got past the rough exterior there were things here that everyone could relate to, such as Rhoda's relationship to her mother.
Ida, Rhoda's mother, is played brilliantly by the diminutive Nancy Walker. She manages to be manipulative, deceptive, annoying, pushy and loveable all at the same time. Her backhanded compliments are only surpassed by her passive aggressive guilt trips. There's nothing like a mother saying, "don't worry about me. You go and have fun and I'll just sit here…all alone…with my aching feet…hardly able to stand to make myself a cup of tea…" to make you change your plans. Ida was the master and we loved her for it.
Little sister Brenda was a snapshot of Rhoda at an earlier age. Unlucky at love, no sense of style, overweight, and likely to drown her sorrows in a quart of Rocky Road ice cream, that was Brenda and that was me.
Rhoda was hope. She made something of herself. She had a life, she lost weight, she had a bohemian sense of style that really rocked, and she found a man to marry. Proof that anyone can turn their life around at any time.
Which brings me to Joe as played by David Groh. A construction worker by trade, he too has that gruff New Yorker edge to him and he wasn't what you'd call traditionally handsome. What he was, was real. He wasn't the Prince Charming characters we always saw Mary dating on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, he was a guy who preferred a hockey game to the theater and jeans and a t-shirt over a suit and tie.
Everything about Rhoda was real, from the characters to the situations they found themselves in, from money troubles to parental problems to issues of the bedroom. The fact that Rhoda and Joe got married after only knowing each other a short time played easily into plots about past lovers, boundaries, and privacy, and what happens when the new wife hates the old friends.
There's nothing earth shattering here. No "very special" episodes or hidden messages. It's just a plain old funny sitcom.
Shout! Factory did a great job on the packaging, and they even included a booklet guide to the episodes, a detail I really appreciate. There is one bonus feature, a retrospective called "Remembering Rhoda" with creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns and stars Julie Kavner and Harold Gould.
Now for the bad news.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"The following episodes were complied from the best possible surviving masters. Unfortunately, there may be tape flaws unavoidable in the production of these DVDs."
That's Shout! Factory trying to keep you from writing them a nasty email (does anyone write letters anymore?) about the poor quality of this DVD. Sadly, it's a huge mess. First off, the quality of the video transfer varies from buggy to bad. You'll find plenty of pops and crackles and artifacts interfering with your enjoyment, and none of the episodes is as sharp and clear as it should be.
The audio quality also varies, but the worst is yet to come. The transfers appear to have come from an old syndication package complete with slice and dice edits. I first noticed this when an episode had an unnatural and jarring jump in the plotline. Then, while watching the end credits of an episode I noticed stills from a scene that hadn't been in the show. Curious, I did some investigating and found out that the episodes on this DVD set range in length from 25 minutes down to under 23 minutes! Remember, this is a '70s show. They didn't have as many commercials as we do now and still there's at least two minutes missing from dozens of episodes…I suspect the problem is larger than that.
It's a crying shame, is what it is. This isn't a rare kinescope from the 1940s, people. I find it hard to believe that there are no full prints of this show anywhere in existence and the lack of effort to clean up what they did have…well, it's just disrespectful.
Normally, I'd say that having cut episodes is better than not having the episodes at all, but I'm not sure that's the case here. The quality of this DVD seriously affected my enjoyment of a show I was truly looking forward to seeing again. I wonder if the situation will improve with future releases.
Rhoda may not seem like groundbreaking stuff by today's standards, but in the mid-seventies, she was quite a gal. Valerie Harper's Rhoda was a feminist, not content to stay home and play housewife once she was married. She was a working girl in the big city and she made all of us girls like her believe that we really could make it on our own as long as we didn't forget how to laugh at ourselves.
This court finds Shout! Factory guilty of fraud! You call this a DVD set? You
oughta be ashamed of yourselves.
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