The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Fourth Season
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The complete fourth season of the TV series Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The multi-Emmy-winning fourth season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed us the sassy side of Betty White and the softer side of Ed Asner's Lou Grant. Cast against type, White makes a memorable first impression in the season-opener as steely "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens, who makes Martha Stewart look like June Cleaver. The episode "The Lars Affair" earned an Emmy for Cloris Leachman, and it is arguably her finest half-hour, as the ill-equipped Phyllis tries to domesticate herself after her husband has an affair with Sue Ann. Consider the bee, a dejected Phyllis tells Mary and Rhoda (Valerie Harper). "Once the male bee has... serviced the queen, the male dies. All in all, not a bad system." Sue Ann's debut is but one of this superb season's historic moments. The other is when "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite." "The big question," Murray (Gavin McLeod) asks, "is where do I sit to get the best view?" The event even exceeds the anticipation. "Let's talk shop," Ted (Ted Knight) tells the speechless Cronkite. "What words do you have trouble pronouncing?" The character who goes through the biggest changes this season is Lou. In the Emmy-winning episode, "The Lou and Edie Story," Lou is heartbroken when his wife moves out, leading to one of the season's funniest episodes, "Lou's First Date," in which an unwitting Mary sets Lou up with an 80-year-old woman to bring to an awards ceremony. Lou's difficulty handling displays of affection is put to the supreme test in "Happy Birthday, Lou!" in which Mary ill advisedly decides to throw him a surprise party. Speaking of disastrous parties, the classic episode, "The Dinner Party" (the one with the Veal Prince Orloff) firmly establishes one of the series' best running jokes: Mary's disastrous track record as a hostess. That's Henry Winkler as an extra, unexpected guest forced to sit at his own table. Moore was honored this season with an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy. No doubt her Emmy reel included "Best of Enemies" (co-written by Albert Brooks collaborator Monica Johnson), in which Rhoda's tactless revelation of one of Mary's secrets threatens their friendship, and "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Writer," in which Mary and Ted take the same creative writing class and Ted plagiarizes her story. Mary may be a bust as a hostess, but season 4, this classic series' best to date, is a real party. --Donald Liebenson
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Stills from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Click for larger image)
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Season 4 of the Mary Tyler Moore Show is my favorite of the seven seasons. It's the last one before Rhoda leaves for her own series set in New York and the season that introduces us to Sue Ann. That means this is the only season to feature all eight of the series main characters. And it features some of the best laughs of the show.
While Mary has given some bad parties before, this is the first season to really play up her ability to give a lousy party. It starts right out with the first episode, "The Lars Affair," when Phyllis' husband hooks up with Sue Ann. In my opinion, the best of these bad parties are on disc two. Mary must give "The Dinner Party" when a congresswoman accepts her invitation to dinner. She talks Sue Ann into cooking, only to have too many people show up for the actual event. Then, in "Happy Birthday, Lou!" she decides to give a surprise party for her boss, only to discover he hates birthdays and surprises.
Another standout episode is "The Co-Producers." Mary and Rhoda are given the green light to work on a Sunday afternoon talk show. The catch is they must use egotistical Ted and Sue Ann as the co-hosts. Georgette's final line in this one is classic.
Speaking of Georgette, she gets a chance to shine in "Almost a Nun's Story." After seeing Ted kissing another woman, she decides to join a convent. The final scene is hilarious and shows she is much smarter then she normally appears.
"Better Late...That's a Pun...Than Never" is another classic. A tired Mary writes a flip obituary, only to have it read on the air the next night.
And I can't forget "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite." After finally winning a local award, Ted thinks that his idol has come to offer him a network job.
The show takes on some serious topics in this season as well. Most noticeably, Lou's wife leaves him and files for divorce. This is the first real story arc of the series, and plays out over several episodes, starting with "The Lou and Edie Story" in disc one. Some, like that one, are more somber. Some play up the comedy, such as Mary finding Lou a date old enough to be his mother in "Lou's First Date."
The writing has really gelled here, and all the returning characters are at their best. Sue Ann, intended to be a one episode guest star, is still developing. She isn't quite as snide as she is in later seasons, but her basic overbearing personality is in place.
The actors do a great job as well. They know their characters, take the great work by the writers, and make it shine. The result is a show that is hilarious and touching about a group of people we really come to care about. This season also features an impressive list of guest stars, including Brett Somers and a before they were famous Henry Winkler (Fonzie on "Happy Days") and Bruce Boxleitner of "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and "Babylon 5."
This set is just like the season three set. Unfortunately, that means no extras. Fortunately, that means the picture is sharp and the mono sound track is clear.
While there are still classic episodes of this sit-com to come, I've always felt the show looses something once Rhoda leaves. Therefore, I treasure this season when any character can walk into an episode at any time. It's wonderfully funny. Any fan of the show will love this set.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show dealt with the adventures of Mary Richards, a single, thirty-ish woman living in Minneapolis. At home, she spent a lot of time with her neighbor and best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern. She worked at WJM as associate producer of the news. In this office, the head writer was Murray Slaughter, the producer was Lou Grant and the anchorman was Ted Baxter. Baxter, played by Ted Knight, often steals the show: Vain, dumb and cheap, Ted nonetheless is endearing, especially when his façade cracks. But all the characters have their own, distinct personalities and they mix together almost perfectly.
The fourth season really demonstrates how the show has gone well beyond Mary, who often isn't even the prinicipal character. The opening episode illustrates this: Mary's landlady Phyllis finds her husband having an affair with Sue Ann Nivens. (For those only familiar with Betty White as the blissful airhead in Golden Girls and later shows, this role shows a completely different side of her.) Mary is more of an observer than an actual participant.
Throughout the season, other characters also take the spotlight: an ongoing story arc deals with Lou's separation from his wife, Edie. Ted pursues awards and meets his long lost father, Rhoda dates her boss (and Lou!); Phyllis becomes a real estate agent. In fact, of the 24 episodes in the set, just a little more than half have Mary as the central character. For that matter, little occurs on the romantic front for her; after one episode with a much younger man, she spends most of the rest of the season casually dating the station sportscaster (who is only briefly in a few episodes).
In sum, this show is as good now as ever. What's really nice is each episode is only twenty-five minutes long, so you can squeeze them when you need a quick break from the rest of the world. If you want to see how good TV comedy can be, this is a show well worth watching.