The popular spin-off of the beloved Mary Tyler Moore Show finally arrives on DVD. It all begins as Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) goes home to New York for a visit. When she unexpectedly meets the
guy, Rhoda decides to move back. Joe Gerard (David Groh), the ruggedly handsome and divorced owner of a demolition company, is the perfect match for Rhoda. The couple works hard to keep their relationship solid in spite of, and sometimes because of, nonstop interference by Rhodas manipulative mother Ida (played by the brilliant Nancy Walker), her needy, depressed sister Brenda (Julie Kavner, The Simpsons
), her loving but ineffectual father Martin (Harold Gould, The Sting
) and, of course, Carlton the Doorman. In the first season, Rhoda and Joe met, fell in love, got married and set up life together. This first season won Golden Globe Awards for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy. Valerie Harper won the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy that year. Rhoda would go on to win our hearts during its five season run.Bonus Features: Remembering Rhoda
: Creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns and stars Julie Kavner and Harold Gould look back at the creation and success of Rhoda.
It’s easy to see why Rhoda
fans are ecstatic that the series has finally appeared on DVD (with all 24 first-season episodes on four discs), a mere 35 years after its broadcast debut. Shows like this are the comedy equivalent of comfort food: uncomplicated, reliable, not very spicy but tasty and filling. Sitcom meatloaf, you might say. Spun off from Mary Tyler Moore
by co-creators James L. Brooks (whose formidable resume as a writer, director, and producer also includes The Simpsons
, and movies like Broadcast News
and As Good As It Gets
) and Allan Burns, the show finds Valerie Harper’s Rhoda Morgenstern returning to her native New York after a decade in Minneapolis. What begins as a short visit turns into a full-blown homecoming when she meets and immediately falls for the manly-but-sensitive Joe Gerard (David Groh); Rhoda at first lives with dowdy, amusingly neurotic sister Brenda (Julie Kavner, later to achieve considerable fame and fortune as the voice of Marge Simpson), but we’re barely a third of the way into the season when she and Joe decide to tie the knot.
Debuting in 1974 (it ran for five years), Rhoda is an interesting reflection of its times. Harper’s character is a feminist ("Thank you, Ms. Magazine," she says when Brenda congratulates her for taking the initiative with Joe), but still old-fashioned enough to balk at moving in with a man before they’re married. Sexual revolution notwithstanding, references to sex are chaste and fleeting. And in this pre-PC era, the show is unabashedly, old-school ethnic, with its broad Bronx accents and Rhoda’s stereotypically hovering, meddling, hard-to-please Jewish mother (hilariously portrayed by Nancy Walker). But if it seems a little out of date, Rhoda makes up for that simply by being funny and likable; the hour-long "Rhoda’s Wedding," one of the highest-rated TV episodes of its time, is a riot, featuring Harper’s former Mary Tyler Moore mates (Moore, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Georgia Engel, and the inspired Cloris Leachman) having an absolute field day. And let’s not forget show producer Lorenzo Music as the drunken Carlton the Doorman, never seen but often heard via intercom. The sole bonus item is a paltry reminiscence with Brooks and Burns but none of the actors. --Sam Graham