Hello! We’ve made it to week three of the Mary Tyler Moore retrowatch. Retrowatching HQ was slightly delayed this week due to switching Internet providers. All is well now so lets dive right in. This week: season 1, episodes 17-20.
Here’s the big thing I took out of this week’s watch: I don’t care about Mary’s life when it doesn’t involve the newsroom, Rhoda and/or Phyllis. This came up briefly last week when discussing Mary’s love life, and this week was no exception. It’s a puzzlement to me, and I’m not sure if it’s a sign of strength (the ensemble is airtight and works so well together) or weakness (the writers and actors can’t make it work with people outside their group.) It’s not as if Moore is a bad actress. The whole situation confuses me. Let me explain:
My first reaction was to groan when I realized that episode 17, “Just a Lunch”, revolves around Mary’s love life. Former WJM newsman John Corcoron returns after a stint overseas, intending to work at the station while researching his next story. The dashing John makes our pal Murray starstruck, and Lou is over the moon to have a “real newsman” back. Mary is taken with him from the get go, and vice-versa. Things get complicated when John reveals he is technically still married (separated), yet pursues Mary with a fervor previously unseen on the show.
Despite my initial misgivings, I enjoyed “Just a Lunch.” It’s not the (already tired) story of a man after Mary’s affections – every character plays a vital part in this episode. Lou gets protective of Mary when he realizes that playboy John -who’s had more reunions with his wife “than the whiffenpoofs”- is after Mary. Mary makes sure Rhoda is there as a buffer when John drops by her apartment after work. Murray throws a party and invites people from the station, including John. (Gordy is sadly missing.) Even though the core of the episode is Mary being uncomfortable involving herself with a separated-but-still-married man, at the heart are these people – her people. That’s a story in which I can get invested.
Contrast that with episode 20, “Hi!” I’m sorry to say that this was not good, despite having a fabulous guest star, Pat Carroll. Carroll has had quite a career, but to me she will always be the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. In fact, before I go on, let’s just remind ourselves of Carroll’s awesomeness:
And yet…”Hi!” had me looking at my watch for the last half of the episode. It starts off strong: Mary asks Lou if she can take a few days off work for a procedure – she has to have a tonsil removed. TonsiL. Singular. Lou and the gang have a field day with this revelation, as does Rhoda, who gives her balloons and coupons for ice cream before getting serious and presenting her with a “fantastically sexy nightgown” for her hospital stay.
Unfortunately, no fantastically sexy nightgown can save this episode once Mary gets to the hospital. Carroll plays her roommate, Loretta Kuhne, who does not succumb to Mary’s charms. She’s cranky. Mary tries to win her over, unsuccessfully. Loretta has a visitor. They fight and everyone is uncomfortable. The gang comes to visit Mary for about three seconds. Meh.
Again, it’s not that the acting is bad. Pat Carroll obviously brings it. And the writing isn’t bad – I chuckled a few times during the hospital scenes. But any time Mary isn’t interacting with the gang (or some directly associated with the gang, like our pal John Corcoron), it fees like filler. It will be interesting to see if this is a series-long problem. I hope not.
The two middle episodes, “Second Story Story” (18) and “We Closed in Minneapolis (19) are a delight.
In “Second Story Story”, Mary comes home to change clothes only to find all of them missing, along with her television and record player. She has been burgled*. It’s a low-concept episode that really works. Mary’s apartment gets broken into. That’s it, that’s the whole plot. The gang pulls together as Mary’s surrogate family. Murray brings in a box of old stuff he and Marie no longer use; Lou offers her his “old” coffeemaker: “I don’t like the coffee it makes. Maybe you will.” And Ted, thoughtful as ever, presents her with a brand new manual ice crusher
*Sidenote: I love that her reaction to this is to stick her head out the door and yell “Help!”, and both Rhoda and Phyllis are there within seconds. I know it’s TV, but if I did that in my apartment complex, I think all I would get are strange looks. Or be asked to stop shouting.
Believe it or not, the two highlights of the episode are the policemen who investigate Mary’s burglary: Officer Jackson (Vic Tayback) and Officer Tully (Bob Dishy). They don’t do anything particularly inspiring, it’s just a solid performance from both – particularly Dishy as the rookie officer who is determined to prove himself to Mary, Phyllis and Rhoda. I was so impressed with Dishy’s performance that I looked him up to see if Officer Tully returns. He doesn’t, but Dishy has had a very successful acting career – including winning a Tony in 1979 for best actor in a featured role in Sly Fox. He also appears in my favorite episode of Frasier, “The Maris Counselor”, as Dr. Schenkman, the marriage counselor who has an affair with Maris. And now I am forced to show you one of the greatest farce sequences from Frasier, co-starring Mr. Dishy. The scene starts at 5:38:
One final thought about “Second Story Story:” I’m glad that Phyllis got to be the hero, in her roundabout way. She gives Officers Tully and Jackson the license plate number to the van containing Mary’s belongings. Of course, it’s Phyllis, so she realizes her information may be useful only after Mary’s been burglarized a second time, but still: Good on her. It’s no secret I am not her biggest fan, but I will say that Phyllis is a good and loyal friend, and she proves it here.
I saved the best for last with episode 19, “We Closed in Minneapolis.” Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Murray Slaughter. He finally gets his turn in the spotlight!
Murray is an aspiring playwright. He’s been writing the same play for three years and submitting it to theaters in New York, only to have it continually rejected. Until now: a theater wants to produce his play! That’s the good news. The not-so-good: It’s the Twin-Cities Playhouse. Ted** submitted the play to the local theater when he came across it looking for fan mail.
**When it comes to the Ted/Murray antagonistic relationship, I am firmly Team Ted. Yes he is oblivious and annoying and can’t pronounce most words correctly, but his heart is in the right place, especially when it comes to Murray.
We know where this is going: Of course Murray’s play is about the newsroom, and of course Ted and Mary get cast in the play essentially as themselves. Murray is mostly horrified that his play is being produced by a local theater and starring a man who “can’t pronounce the names of states.” But I think a part of him is excited.
Opening night comes and while Mary is reportedly terrific, Ted is predictably terrible. Poor Murray’s play gets panned by the local critic. In comes Lou to save the day with one of his not-pep pep talks: He says the production was bad, but Murray’s play is good. “A writer has to trust himself and his instincts. I wrote a book, and I don’t care what anyone says. I know my book is rotten.”
Good old Lou.
And good old Murray! So glad he finally got his chance to shine – took you long enough MTM writers!
– Lou reveals the WJM gang’s secret ambitions: He is a wannabe novelist; Ted has an idea for The Ted Baxter Show (so far it’s only a title); and best of all, Gordy is an aspiring musical comedy writer. Producers of MTM: Please tell me there is an episode featuring the weatherman’s show, Fair and Former.
– Rhoda gets all dolled up to visit Mary in the hospital after her surgery. She then gets lost and stumbles into the doctor’s lounge. How very Rachel Green of her. (Also: Rhoda cleans up nice!)
– Speaking of Rhoda, she doesn’t have much to do in these 4 episodes, but she’s quickly becoming very reliable comic relief. Case in point: Mary comes back to her apartment to change in “Second Story Story” after having alcohol spilled on her. Rhoda’s reaction: “You smell like you’ve been dancing with Dean Martin.” Valerie Harper’s line readings are so effortless. (That being said, I’d like another Rhoda spotlight episode, please.)
– Mary does an immitation of Murray ice skating (“Just a Lunch”) that had me rolling. More physical comedy from Mary Richards, stat!
– I’m becoming a huge, huge fan of Edward Asner. I said last week he can do just about anything the writers throw at him, and it holds true. I look forward to his scenes and love that Lou takes care of his troops, albeit in a very gruff manner. Speaking of a character who needs another spotlight episode…
– There are a few scenes in Mary’s kitchen this week, and I’m sad to say I do not spot Rhoda’s rotisserie.
1970s vs Today:
– Mary and Rhoda collect trading stamps, something I had never heard of until “Just a Lunch.”
– Playboy John Corcoron is recently back from Vietnam, and bought a camper to drive around the country. How fancy!
– Rhoda’s claim to fame is she went to the same high school as Barbara Streisand, missing Babs by a couple of years.
– Going rate for renting(!) a TV for your hospital room: $7.50/day
– He enjoys ice skating and party games.
– We meet his wife, Marie, in “Just a Lunch.” She appears in 11 episodes over the course of the show.
– Marie is 7 months pregnant. Murray’s going to be a father!
– He is a playwright.
– He finds Mary attractive.
-All burglars have hairy arms. – Mary Richards
– “I don’t know what anybody sees in anybody.” – Lou Grant
– “Some celebrities don’t like to associate with their coworkers, but I feel it’s good for morale.” – Ted Baxter
– Use Rhoda if you need the police to respond quickly. She’ll tell them a gunman is at your house.
And that’s it for this week. Thanks for following along with me. Come back next week and we’ll discuss the last 4 episodes of season 1:
The Boss Isn’t Coming to Dinner
A Friend in Deed
Smokey the Bear Wants You
The 45-Year-Old Man