Rewind: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

Classic comedies will forever have a place in so many people’s hearts, but can they maintain what makes them memorable? The times were different. The options fewer. Audiences today want something else, even if that something is merely just a reflection of the world they live in today and not so much groundbreaking content, and most things from yesteryear are just incredibly dated. So, how do new viewers connect to something that old? Is there a starting point that says this series will still be worth ones time?

The 20th Television series pilot for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, is definitely worth it! Some slight dated material, but easily to look past and just enjoy for the entertaining and funny episode it is.

This comedy stars Mary Tyler Moore (“Hot in Cleveland”, “Against the Current”), Ed Asner (“Love Finds You in Valentine”, “Boonville Redemption”), Valerie Harper (“Childrens Hospital”, “2 Broke Girls”), Gavin MacLeod (“The Comeback Kids”, “Pound Puppies”), Ted Knight (“Too Close for Comfort”, “The Love Boat”), Angus Duncan (“Shattered city: The Halifax Explosion”, “The Real Howard Spitz”), Lisa Gerritsen (“Insight”, “Phyllis”), and Cloris Leachman (upcoming “The Comedian”, “Creative Galaxy”).

The series was created by James L. Brooks (“How Do You Know”, “The Simpsons Movie”) and Allan Burns (“Lou Grant”, “A Little Romance”).

The series would run from Sept. 19, 1970 to March 19, 1977 on CBS. It would go on to be nominated for 67 Emmy Awards, winning 29, 23 Golden Globe Awards, winning three, and 10 Writers Guild of America Awards, winning one among other nominations and wins.

I can’t believe I’m watching this show! It’s unbelievable. And it’s all due to SundanceTV and its new block of classic programs called “The Set”. During weekday mornings (which are really, really early for West Coasters, 3 a.m.) the network will be airing five shows, which include this one along with “M*A*S*H”, “All in the Family”, “The Bob Newhart Show”, and The Andy Griffith Show”. I’m not sure why this new move is that exciting but it is! I’ve never really thought about taking any time to check out this series, or any of the other ones listed, but with it airing on a network I happen to love, it seemed more appealing. Perhaps that’s all I needed. Somehow this really seems like good incentive to watch a classic comedy series. And I must admit, that at the time of this writing, hell, even as I write this, I’m currently on episode four! I’m genuinely enjoying this and hope I can continue to until the very end, if I last that long. We’ll see.
I’m not sure why I was skeptical going in, but I was. It could’ve just been dated joke after dated joke. When it’s something like that, more often than not, it’s hard to ignore and enjoying it at all is pretty much impossible.

Definitely not the case here. I won’t completely dismiss the fact that, yeah, it is pretty dated in some respects (sets, costumes, etc), but not in that overbearing and obnoxious way.

No, it’s just funny. And that’s a tough thing to describe. It just had me laughing from the get go. I even enjoyed the now classic theme song and opening sequence. For a series premier that’s almost 50 years old, it’s incredible that I can find so much funny! The next best thing, which I don’t think I realized until the second or third episode, is the fact that I was laughing with the live audience (don’t think laugh tracks were used much then) and not because of it. Too often when watching comedies I find that I’m not sure if my laughing is genuine. I know there have been instances where I’m just on cue because of the audience or laugh track used, which is also why I can’t stand comedies that still use them. It definitely makes it feel like there’s something dishonest about it; like the writers couldn’t get people to laugh so they went with some sort of Pavlovian response trigger. In so many ways, it’s just another reminder of what used to be and how much any one audience member can and probably does miss it.

A notable standout, which was amplified even more as the series continues, is Moore’s character, Mary Richards. She’s a single woman who’s focused on having a career, which is slightly funny given that in five episodes it doesn’t really seem that she works all that much. Not to mention, that because she doesn’t seem to work that much nor do what I imagine associate producers do (then and now), she’s almost a glorified secretary. It’s really quite sad when you think of how she impacted the television world in the ‘70s, but also of what her legacy is. That being said, there’s still a lot to love and take away from her character. I was surprised, and I feel that if other newbie’s see this, they too can learn something. She’s still something of an inspiration.

She’s obviously more independent than most women of the time, even though she still wants to date and potentially fall in love, which appears to be a slight setback for this series thus far, but it’s not the only thing she thinks about. She focuses on work. And in this episode, which was a standout moment overall, she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. She just wants a job, but in securing one, will only tolerate so much. After a fun, quirky, and lighthearted exchange of banter between Moore and Asner, it not only culminates in her getting the job, but a nifty quote that just amazed me even more in context.

Asner says, “You know what, you got spunk.”
Moore replies, “Well…”
Asner interrupts her, “I hate spunk.”

Witnessing their back and forth, which was Moore’s job interview, and having that quote told me so much about who she was. And it held up the rest of the episode. She didn’t take crap from anyone, including Harper’s Rhoda, but still made sure to be as polite as she could. See? Even as a career oriented, single woman she knew that manners would always be a good thing to have on hand. Not bad.

One thing in the pilot, that has yet to really go away, but hopefully does, is this superficial tone. There are a few standout moments, semi referenced above, that move beyond this and make the episode feel a bit serious, but not much else. Even in the subsequent four episodes, there’s not been much that goes beyond a superficial level, even where the other characters are concerned. It’s all lighthearted fun and sunshine and roses. Nothing bad about that, per se, but it’s not what I was expecting. Perhaps it’s just the legacy that allowed for me to believe this show quickly achieved much more than it really did. If it doesn’t go beyond this level, fine, I won’t stop watching, but I’ll forever see this show differently. Mind you, I can only truly imagine how impactful Moore’s character was to many people, especially women and young girls. There’s a reason she changed the television landscape in some ways. That’s what allows for her and her character to remain so memorable all these decades later.

Classic comedies exist in some form all over the place. There’s ample opportunity for people to watch, but do they? Why not? Did they like what they saw? With older shows it’s a lot harder to tell how one will react. Sometimes a show’s just too old for it to matter. Even the pilot can’t do what it’s supposed to. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give one of these shows a chance, even if it is just the pilot. No matter the age, the purpose of a series premier can still be achieved. Perhaps you’ll discover things you never knew and be inspired. Or, simpler and just as wonderful, you’ll discover a show you didn’t think you could love.

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