Happy Sunday, Retrowatchers. How have you enjoyed TV premiere week? And most importantly: How are you handling the looming final episode of Breaking Bad? Me – I am ready to be done with Walter White, and I don’t know I can handle seeing much else happen to poor Jesse. As for premiere week – I’m already on board with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; am not sure about The Crazy Ones yet, but will give it another shot for Buffy and Bob Benson; was absolutely delighted with the premiere of Glee but am dreading the Finn tribute; loved Parenthood and am happy to see Ray Romano return; and yesterday decided to check in on How I Met Your Mother after taking last year off. I’m begrudgingly back on board – at least temporarily. The last scene with Ted and The Mother got me. Damn you, HIMYM – I once loved you, then defended you, then got so mad at you I had to leave, and now you suck me back in to your final season.
I know what you’re thinking – with all of that, there’s no way you had time to watch Mary Tyler Moore this week. Well, fear not, Retrowatchers, I managed to squeeze it in. I know, I know. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to…well, I guess really no one HAS to do it. But I did. So here we go – MTM, season 2, episodes 5-8.
Episode 5: A Girl’s Best Mother is Not Her Friend
We begin with the return of Ida Morgenstern, who was last seen in season one’s “Support Your Local Mother.” Ida, as played by Nancy Walker, is the ultimate New York Jewish mother – overbearing and loaded with guilt trips. This could be grating to watch, but Walker gives Ida a sweetness that is irresistible. Upon her arrival, Ida and Rhoda immediately start bickering. This leaves Ida frustrated by her relationship with her daughter, and she becomes even more so seeing the easy relationships between Mary and her mother and Phyllis and Bess.* She decides to stop being Rhoda’s mother and start being her friend.
*It should be noted that Bess and Phyllis are seen as extremely close in this episode. The two wear matching dresses, and are always flitting off to one event or another. That Bess calls her mother “Phyllis” instead of “Mom” is seen as a GOOD thing, and not something that caused Phyllis much heartache, as we saw in “Bess You Is My Daughter Now.” I can’t tell if this is lazy on the part of the writers, or if their relationship is being exaggerated to show actually just how unhealthy it is.
Rhoda is appalled by the experiment, and it continually gets worse: They go on a diet together and while Ida loses three pounds, Rhoda gains five. They go shopping together and the next day wear matching outfits. Even an ordinary dinner is ruined by Ida’s instance on wearing a tracksuit and no bra – two things she has never done before. To make matters worse, Ida is a terrible friend because she can’t stop being a mother. It takes everything in Ida not to question Rhoda about her date, and when Rhoda isn’t home by 1 a.m., Ida runs down to Mary’s apartment in a panic.
But all’s well that ends well – Rhoda convinces Ida she NEEDS a mother: “I would rather be driven crazy by my mother than by a complete and total stranger in a pantsuit and no bra.” The deciding factor comes when Rhoda’s date won’t leave. Ida is up for the job: She hitches her robe, lifts her head, and confidently strides out of Mary’s apartment and back upstairs to get rid of him.
I saw this episode as further testing ground for Rhoda’s spinoff. Walker is a delight here, and the two actresses have great chemistry. While Ida doesn’t appear in every episode of Rhoda, (Walker was on another show at the time) she’s in several, and I can just see the two running around New York, driving each other crazy. Also, the episode gave us Rhoda and Ida in matching dresses, an image which will forever haunt me while simultaneously making me giggle.
Episode 6: Cover Boy
In another example of “ask and ye shall receive,” last week I talked about the lack of Ted episodes, and this week we get the Ted-centric “Cover Boy,” in which his brother Hal comes to town.
Hal is exactly what the audience is expecting: He’s the younger, slightly suaver male-model version of Ted. Or, as Murray puts it: “You mean there are two of them in the world?” (#TeamTed) He’s in town on business – Hal actually is a male model. His arrival puts Ted on the defense; the brothers have a deep sibling rivalry. Ted’s first plan of one-upmanship is to see if Lou will offer him a fake raise in front of everyone. Unsurprisingly Lou is not on board: “Why don’t I go out there and pretend to crown you king?” Ted’s opportunity arrives when he notices Hal has his eye on Mary. He tells Hal he and Mary are dating, and somehow gets Mary to go along with it. This leads to a double date between Mary, Ted, Hal and Rhoda.
Much to Ted’s surprise, Rhoda and Hal seem to hit it off, fueling his competitiveness even more. He refuses to leave Mary’s once Rhoda and Hal go up to Rhoda’s apartment at the end of the double date. He can’t be seen leaving Mary’s before Hal leaves Rhoda’s. The two stay up all night, playing cards and listening to records. This is where a lesser show would have Mary and Ted bond over a sad Ted story, and the two would end up in bed together. Instead, Rhoda calls at dawn to ask Mary to turn her music down – it’s keeping her up. Oh and by the way, Hal left a half hour after they went upstairs.
At work the next day, Mary tells Ted he has to stop with the sibling rivalry. “Someone has got to quit first or this will go on forever,” she says. After hemming and hawing, Ted agrees. When Hal pops by, Ted tells him Mary isn’t his girlfriend, and she doesn’t even like him that much. Also, he needs glasses. Again, in the hands of a lesser show, this would turn into another competition and the brothers would try to out-pathetic the other. Instead, Hal admits his faults: He paid $750 for his dimple and the commercial he is shooting in town is for socks. The two bond over getting older and feeling insecure in their jobs. “Watch me mess up the news,” Ted tells him. “I’m really terrible.” It’s a very sweet moment for the brothers, and I’m so glad the show ended on a high note instead of a predictable one.
Episode 7: Didn’t You Used to Be… Wait… Don’t Tell Me
And we go from two great episodes to one that’s only okay. Mary’s high school is celebrating its 50th anniversary and Mary decides to go to her classes reunion. Rhoda tags along – it’s the perfect opportunity to meet recently divorced single men.
Also present at the reunion is Mary’s old flame, Howard Arnell (not to be confused with his brother, Paul). Howard is three years older than Mary but fakes his way into Mary’s class so he can once again profess his love and propose. As I’ve said before, Richard Schaal is a very charming actor and I do enjoy seeing him on screen. However, Howard is kind of a one-note character and at this point, I think the series has outgrown him.
There is some amusing stuff with Rhoda going off with a barber who loves to square dance, and the show takes another shot at Mary’s “golden person” status when she wins a meaningless award at the reunion and feels she has to take it seriously, but overall I wasn’t impressed with this one. Reunion stories can be fun, but I think they work better when at least one other main character attended the same school. (See: Rachel and Monica, Romy and Michelle, any teen comedy from the 80s and 90s.)
Episode 8: Thoroughly Unmilitant Mary
Luckily we get back on track with the next episode, “Thoroughly Unmilitant Mary.” The Television News Writers Union goes on strike, which unfortunately includes our pals Murray and Gordy. Evidently, Gordy writes his own weather reports. I’ve never thought about it before but this makes sense – I bet all weather forecasters write their own copy.
Anyway, much to everyone’s dismay, Murray and Gordy go on strike with their fellow union members. Ted vows to keep working, cover the weather for Gordy and keep the ship sailing. Then Ted’s union goes on strike. Mary, Lou and Chuckles the Clown producer Herb Bernstein are the only people left. Which means Mary has to write the news and Lou has to read it. It turns out the two producers of WJM-TV are horrible at putting on a newscast. Mary is still a C+ news writer**, and Lou is the world’s worst news anchor.
The next day, Lou is prepared: He gets loaded before the broadcast and while he can barely walk into the studio, he gives an amazingly flawless broadcast. Fortunately for his liver, the strike is settled that evening.
**What happened to her journalism class?
– In my first MTM post, I mentioned the show’s influence on 30 Rock, and yet it took me until now to make a direct comparison: Jack Donaghy’s inability to film a product integration video in season 1’s “Jac-tor” is pretty much the updated version of Lou reading the six-o’clock news. Which is funnier? With all due respect to Ed Asner, I have to give it to Alec Baldwin here. But you be the judge. I couldn’t find the full thing, but here are two representative clips:
– “Thoroughly Unmilitant Mary” was written by Martin Cohen, co-creator Who’s the Boss? and Silver Spoons. Now, as a child I LOVED Who’s The Boss?. But is it wrong to wonder how this episode turned out so funny when Who’s the Boss? was largely not? (I never really watched Silver Spoons, so I can’t comment on its humor or lack thereof.)
– Rhoda rents a bed for her mother when she comes to visit. Ida’s reaction is to be a little grossed out: “You shouldn’t have done that. You never know who had it last.” Word, Ida. Word.
– Speaking of Rhoda – you know I love her, but what is going on with the decor in her apartment? Why so pink? And what’s up with the big “etc” sign?
– Yay continuity! Mary is wearing the sexy nightgown Rhoda gave her in “Hi!” when Ida comes to her apartment in the middle of the night.
– Continuity fail: In “Cover Boy,” Ted acts like he has never been to Mary’s apartment, but we know he has at least twice – in “The 45-Year-Old Man” and “Anchorman Overboard.”
– Yet another reminder of Friends: Ida’s new “friendship” with Rhoda reminds me of the first time we meet Rachel’s mother in “The One With the Lesbian Wedding.” Mrs. Green has just left her husband and tries to be “one of the girls” with Rachel and Monica, much to Rachel’s horror.
-Ted is two years older than Hal but they were in same class. Poor Ted got left behind. “For a few years there they only promoted the tall kids,” according to his mom. Oh, Ted. #TeamTed
– Ted’s brother is played by Jack Cassidy, who was up for the role of Ted originally. Cassidy is of course father to David, Patrick, Shaun and Ryan, and an accomplished actor. Sadly, he passed away at age 49 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette which caught fire. Yikes!
– He played little league as a kid. We learn this when he tells Mary that parents can’t be friends with their kids. His mother had a great arm, but couldn’t be on his team.
– Continuity fail: He is worried about many things regarding the strike, but “just had a baby” isn’t among them. His wife was seven months pregnant during “Just a Lunch”; that episode aired January 16, 1971 and “Thoroughly Unmilitant Mary” aired November 6, 1971. What gives, MTM writers?
– Ida Morgenstern on meeting Lou: “Mary’s told me so much about you. How considerate you are and how thoughtful. It was very nice meeting you Murray.”
– “Say Mar, why don’t you fix Hal up with that Israeli friend of yours.” – Ted on Rhoda.
-Hal: Aren’t we pretty?
Rhoda: You mean me or both of us?
– Dating tips from Ted: “Mary I don’t want to make you nervous or anything like that, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to kiss you. On the lips.”
– Mary is nervous to take a personal day so she proposes the 50th anniversary idea as a news story to Lou. His reaction? “If it’s the blockbuster I think it is, we could do it again next year, on the 51st anniversary of this dumb school that nobody could care less about.”
-“You certainly keep your toenails looking nice.” – Rhoda, charming men everywhere.
– Life isn’t easy when you’re a dirty, rotten scab. – Rhoda Morgenstern
– Best way to not be involved in a writers strike? “Never write anything.” – Ted Baxter
– Geography tips from Ted: Minnesota is the land of the midnight sun.
– Parenting tips from Ida: “I would have visited Rhoda’s [school] more often but I was afraid to walk alone in that neighborhood.”
– More wisdom from Ted Baxter: “I’d still be asleep if I didn’t wake up anyway.”
That will do it for this week, folks. Enjoy the new TV season! Up next:
And Now, Sitting in for Ted Baxter
Don’t Break the Chain
The Six-and-a-Half Year Itch
Is a Friend in Need