Hello, Retrowatchers! Are you enjoying the spring yet or living in fear of winter making one (more) last appearance? I’m a little bit in between. I want to believe, but can’t quite give myself over entirely.
Before we jump into this week’s episodes, I’d like to recommend a show I recently started watching, though it has been on my radar for a year: Orphan Black. Retrowatchers, this show is ANYTHING but retro; it is modern in every sense of the world. And boy is it fun. I don’t want to say too much as it has a rich mythology – episodes must be watched in order – but I cannot recommend it enough. Every episodes ends with a new twist. You will be surprised and delighted by its star, Tatiana Maslany. And last, the show manages to wonderfully walk the tightrope that many sci-fi shows stumble upon – incorporating its fantasy and mythology elements while still making the show accessible to non-science fiction geeks such as myself. (See also, Vampire Slayer, Buffy.)
But enough chat about current TV shows. Let’s jump into the latter part of Mary Tyler Moore’s third season. This week, we discuss episodes 17-20, including:
Episode 17: My Brother’s Keeper
Episode 18: The Georgette Story
Episode 19: Romeo and Mary
Episode 20: What Do You Do When the Boss Says I Love You?
Regular readers of the blog will not be surprised to hear that I have issues with one of these episodes. While most of MTM holds up beautifully, no show is perfect, and usually one or two of the four episodes discussed has some flaws. However this week, one of these episodes has me incensed. Care to venture any guesses before reading further?
I’ll give you a hint: I am a pretty liberal
Another hint: I am a regular listener of the podcast Savage Love from sex advice columnist Dan Savage. He often talks about the socialization of women to not express their desires or their interest (or disinterest) in men because society has taught them to be demure.
If you picked “Romeo and Mary,” give yourself a pat on the back – you are correct.
The episode was written by Jim Mullhand and Michael Barrie. It is their only MTM credit, and to that I say: Thank goodness! They went on to write mostly for late night, including David Letterman and Johnny Carson, and the movie Bad Boys. (I don’t get it either.)
Listen, I know it’s a TV show. I know it’s fiction. But it is also a cultural influence, and the relationship between Mary and her would-be suitor, Warren, rubbed me the wrong way. Several wrong ways.
My main problem is that Mary is once again reduced to the submissive little woman who can’t stick up for herself. Everyone tells her that she needs to be honest with Warren, yet she can’t bring herself to man up (or “ovary up”, as Savage would say) and tell Warren she’s not interested.
My other big issue is how Warren is depicted. Warren crosses the line from being kind of pathetic and annoying but harmless, to stalker-level creepy. But lets start with the annoying: I can’t remember another character on the show being so annoying – and that includes the waitress from “Feeb” and Mary’s unfortunate hospital roommate Loretta in “Hi!” From the start, I wanted this man off my screen. Things only get worse when he starts pursuing Mary after their double date with Rhoda and Lowell. Again – yes I know this is television and a sitcom so sometimes “wacky hijinks” happen. But really – coming over the next day uninvited, calling constantly, and putting up a billboard declaring his love? Yikes!
However, I could deal with all of that. It’s off-putting for sure, but not too far out of the sitcom trope realm. Where Warren really lost me is when he handcuffs himself to Mary to get her to go to lunch with him. This is wrong on so many levels, even for a TV show. Remember, this is supposed to be a comedy. Unless Warren is really a serial killer and this is Law and Order, that is NOT okay.
What’s more, the men of WJM contribute to the problem. When Mary shares her troubles with them and is dragged away IN HANDCUFFS, Lou and Murray lament that the only way to get a woman is to hound her to death. I’m sorry, what? Sure, this is 1973, but it’s not 1873!
My last bit of beef with “Romeo and Mary” is that when Mary finally DOES stick up for herself and tell Warren how uncomfortable he has made her, she’s made to be the bad guy. Mary’s outburst comes at a restaurant where she runs into Warren and assumes he has followed her there. In typical sitcom fashion, she thinks his proposal to another woman is for her, and makes a scene. Everyone in the restaurant turns against Mary, her date leaves, and Warren’s new fiance shames her. Again, I realize it is a TV show, but think about what kind of message that sends to women.
Ok, rant over. I will close by saying: Good riddance to Mullhand and Barrie, and let there never be another episode of MTM so enraging. (And also, if I ever had a hankering to watch Bad Boys [I did not], it has been squashed.)
I want to end on a positive note, so let’s next discuss “What Do You Do When the Boss Says I Love You?” Written by David Pollack and Elias Davis (of “Operation: Lou” fame), this is a perfectly fine, functional MTM episode, and a nice reminder of the bond between Mary and Lou.
The biggest takeaway from “What Do You Do When the Boss Says I Love You?” is that it is one of the first times (if not the first time) where Mary and Lou’s roles are reversed. Their relationship has always had a father/daughter quality, and because of that, Lou watches out for Mary. He comforts her after sad Wes Callison bombs on stage in “But Seriously, Folks.” He sets her up with his best friend in season two’s “I Am Curious Cooper.” And he keeps Mary on a short leash when playboy journalist John Cocoran asks her out in the season one episode “Just a Lunch.” We know that Lou has Mary’s back and we know that Mary cares about Lou. However, this is the first episode where Mary has Lou’s back, and keeps him on a short leash after learning that Lou’s new boss Barbara has the hots for him.
My favorite moment of the episode – besides Rhoda’s surprise at learning someone finds Lou attractive – is Lou’s reaction when he realizes Barbara is hitting on him. After insisting Mary go home for the night, Lou suddenly finds himself in a precarious situation. Ed Asner’s quick glance back at the door and the moment of recognition in his eyes as Lou realizes that Mary was trying to protect him is very subtle, but so meaningful. (Again, I say there is nothing the man can’t do.)
Also of note in this is Barbara is playing against type. She’s not a predatory “cougar”; she’s actually a very likable character. In a way, she is who Mary could be in 15 years – a strong professional woman who has worked her way up to program director. Everyone seems to accept Barbara pretty quickly. (Or as Mary tells Barbara: “Mr. Grant doesn’t care you’re a woman. He just doesn’t like program directors.”) When she admits her feelings to Lou, it’s not a cliched TV moment. She makes a little pass, he refuses. The next day they talk it over briefly and move on. There is no big seduction scene. Lou says no, but gets to be a little flattered. Barbara is disappointed but doesn’t make it into a thing. She had to check. (Note: I am NOT condoning hitting on a married subordinate!)
The final two episodes – “My Brothers Keeper” and “The Georgette Story” – focus on two women who could not be more different: Phyllis and Georgette. While the characters are polar opposites, both episodes serve as great character studies and are pretty progressive.*
“My Brothers Keeper” was written by writing team Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon, who have done well by Phyllis – they wrote season two’s “The Care and Feeding of Parents” – and continue to do so here.
According to IMDB, Cloris Leachman was nominated for an Emmy for her work on this episode (she lost to her costar, Valerie Harper), and I am not at all surprised. “My Brother’s Keeper” is a tour de force for Leachman. First she tries to prove to everyone that she is not the control freak they make her out to be by pretending to be okay when Mary and her brother, Ben, don’t hit it off. When Ben and Rhoda DO hit it off, she does her best not to be horrified, but isn’t fooling anybody. She is a tea kettle on the verge of smoking, and while Phyllis to the max is not sustainable for every episode, it sure is fun to see every once in awhile.
While the episode is mostly 30 minutes of Phyllis slowly going insane, there are two other things that make it a cut above. First, we get a brief appearance by Georgette. Second, in a twist I am taking to be progressive and not offensive, Ben turns out to be gay. Phyllis learns this after finally breaking down in front of Rhoda, who insists Ben is not her type.
Phyllis: What do you mean he’s not your type? He’s witty. He is attractive. He is successful. He’s single.
Rhoda: He’s gay!
Phyllis: He’s what?
Rhoda: He’s gay. I thought sure you knew, Phil. We’re not getting married.
Phyllis: Oh, Rhoda I’m so relieved.
As I said I am choosing to believe this is progressive, mostly because of Phyllis’ non-reaction. In the episode’s tag, Phyllis and Ben are sitting together while Ben plays piano, having a nice brother-sister moment. No big deal is made of this news. There is a part of me that is wondering if that was supposed to be the joke all along. Ben is a musician living in New York in the early ’70s. He tells Mary his sister is always setting him up. Yet as played by Robert Moore, Ben doesn’t seem to be overly feminine, or “swishy,” like many gay men portrayed on television at the time. So…is the joke that it should have been obvious? Or is the joke that Phyllis really had nothing to worry about? I’m choosing to believe the former, but if someone has a different opinion, please share in the comments.
I’ve saved the best for last with “The Georgette Story,” aka “How Miss Franklin Got Her Groove Back.” Prior to this, we have seen Georgette twice. We know her. We like her. She cracks us up. But in “The Georgette Story,” she becomes a real character. And while we have Treva Silverman to thank for creating Georgette, I was not surprised that Ed. Weinberger was the one to give her a little more depth. (The season isn’t over yet, but with four episodes to go, I have a pretty good feeling who wins MVP.)
Despite her leaving without Ted at Rhoda’s bon voyage party, it seems that Georgette and Ted have been dating. Rhoda and Mary adore Georgette, and they are surprised and not too happy to discover Ted has been brushing her off and generally taking her for granted. It’s fine for Georgette to do his laundry and run his errands, but he continually cancels their dates and doesn’t seem to actually want to be with her. Fed up with Ted, Mary sets Georgette up with two other men, only to discover that the problem is Georgette’s lack of self-worth.
Mary: She brings out the worst in men. I think we’re going about this the wrong way. Ted’s not the problem, it’s Georgette.
Rhoda: Yeah I see what you mean, she’s a professional victim, right? … I was like that once myself. Ok, a little different style of course. A little louder, as we all know. But Mary, I never did a guy’s laundry. I never did my laundry.
A lesser show or a lesser writer would have Mary and Rhoda talk to Ted, or have them write off Georgette completely. But instead they talk to Georgette her about her lack of self-esteem and force her to see the good in herself. And again, to the show’s credit, Georgette gets it. A lesser show would have Georgette’s ditzy nature be a barrier to being self-aware. I loved this scene. I love that Georgette isn’t just a sweet, ditzy girl.
“Well I have good handwriting. And I like animals. And I think I understand why you’re trying to help me.”
“I’m good with my hands. And I’m a pretty fair country cook. And I like to think I’m a nice person. Very nice. Damn nice.”
Georgette takes this new-found self-esteem and confronts Ted about his bad behavior. I’m just going to embed the whole scene, because it’s lovely and I think it both establishes Ted and Georgette as a couple and demonstrates why they work well together.
Bravo, Mary and Rhoda! Sisters before misters!
*Not to harp on this too much, and I promise this will be the last time, but let’s take a look at these four episodes: You have a very confident woman serving as news director. You have a woman discover her confidence and stand up for herself. You have Rhoda telling Phyllis her brother is gay and Phyllis doesn’t bat an eye. And then you have a man hounding our title character, and our title character not being confident enough to stand up for herself. (Or as Rhoda puts it, “That’s why you can’t stop him, because you’re afraid to make a scene. This guy knows it and he’s using it. You with your little white gloves and your perfect manners.” ) Do you see? Do you see the problem with “Romeo and Mary?” It is out of step with everything the show is about, and takes away all the work Mary has done over the past three seasons to become a more assertive person. Ok. Rant over. I promise.
-We finally establish that Phyllis and Mary met each other after college. This explains my early confusion as to why Mary didn’t already know Ben.
– Georgette has had three jobs since we met her: a window dresser with Rhoda, a manicurist, and a cosmetics girl. Do we need to start keeping track of her career changes?
– Lou tells Mary to stay out of Ted’s personal life. I was hoping for a bromance rekindling, but alas, nothing yet.
– Ted’s Guide to Seducing Women includes pillow fights and blowing air on a girl’s face.
– In “Romeo and Mary” we learn that Mary has a silk calendar.I goggled “silk calendar” but couldn’t find anything related. Anyone know about this? Why would one have a silk calendar? Was this a thing in the ’70s?
-Philly from “Lou’s Place” makes a brief appearance in “What Do You Do When the Boss Says I Love You?” Of all the characters I expected to return, he was not on the list.
1970s vs. Today:
-In “My Brother’s Keeper,” Ted explains the rules of a “brand new game” he heard of called 20 Questions.
– In Chicago, Barbara paid $400/$450 a month in rent. Mary says she can get 3 or 4 apartments for that price in Minneapolis. Can we go back to 1973 prices, please?
– Barbara has idea for 10 o’clock news – it’s what they do in Chicago.
– “I tried to enjoy the concert even though she was snapping her fingers to Mozart.” – Phyllis on going to a concert with Rhoda.
– “It must be on some level that I can’t perceive, like ultraviolet light or that whistle that only dogs can hear.” – Phyllis on the concept of Rhoda being attractive.
– “Ok. I’ll try to tell him sometime when we’re talking about me. Lord knows when that will be.” – Georgette on standing up to Ted.
-“That was our last program director.” – Lou explains to Barbara why Philly is drunkenly leaving his office.
-“If I’m going to have any extra curricular activities, frankly I’m better off bowling.” – Lou explains to Barbara why he can’t have an affair.
And that will do it for this week, folks! Confession: This took me a LONG time to write. I got a bit of writer’s block, mostly due to my anger at Mullhand and Barrie. Here’s hoping that season three ends with a bang (and not an angry one).
Next time, we finish season three and discuss:
– Murray Faces Life
– Remembrance of Things Past
– Put On a Happy Face
– Mary Richards and the Incredible Plant Lady