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Home Entertainment Review

Sophomore MTM Still Turns TV on with Her Smile
by Scott Holleran

Saturday nights on CBS during the 1970's were built around The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a bright, cheerful situation comedy, which aired from 1970 through 1977, starring Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People) as single, attractive Mary Richards. The popular program focused on her work, friendships and romantic life. Fox Home Entertainment's $30 Complete Second Season, despite the glaring absence of the incomparable Miss Moore, who ought to have been included, recreates that Saturday night excitement with fun extras and every episode on three snap encased discs. Any Hollywood hotshot wondering why television series are driving DVD sales need search no further. This stuff's better than some movie studios' entire release schedules.

Miss Moore is a star and the sophomore season—not yet the series' best—is rich with top writers, producers and directors, who let the show function as a showcase for the dancer/actress with the million-dollar smile. Mary Richards is a character worth getting to know better; by the second season, she has grown more comfortable working in TV news. She's no longer purely an ingénue in the city, having graduated to dining at foreign restaurants with her worldly neighbor, Rhoda (zippy Valerie Harper) and she is less intimidated by her boss, Lou Grant (gruff Ed Asner). Chipper Mary remains full of get-up and go.

Mary's studio apartment is her home—which was itself a radical notion in 1971—and she genuinely likes her downtown associate producer job, her new friends and her single life. She is happy, purposeful and making it on her own, though she watches her budget. If she can take a nothing day and certainly make it all seem worthwhile, season two shows that Mare is a self-made woman; alone in the world, for her own sake and barely even glancing for Mr. Goodbar.

Each episode has a plot, not a barrage of filthy jokes. The second season begins with "The Birds…and…Um…Bees" (air date: Sept. 18, 1971, written by Treva Silverman), one of several episodes reviewed, which addresses the subject of sex and establishes that Mary is neither a prude nor a bra-burning feminist. After she produces a program titled "What's Your Sexual I.Q.?", Mary's flaky neighbor, Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), asks Mary to explain sex to her daughter, Bess (Lisa Gerritsen).

It results in humorous tension between Phyllis and Rhoda, and the season premiere sets the tone for another year of Mary as a competent woman about town—the perfect, plucky type to offer a smart kid (who is more parent than child to Phyllis) reassurance that Bess is indeed a child, not an adult. Mary makes it look easy.

Other highlights include "He's No Heavy, He's My Brother" (air date: Oct. 2, 1971), written by series co-creator Allan Burns, contrasting Rhoda's street smarts with Mary's gee whiz awkwardness. "A Girl's Best Mother is Not Her Friend" (air date: Oct. 16, 1971, written by David Davis and Lorenzo Music), starring Nancy Walker as Rhoda's mother, Ida, is a hilarious satire of counter-culturalism and Jewish mothers.

"The Six and a Half-Year Itch" (air date: Nov. 27, 1971, brilliantly directed by Jay Sandrich) affirms Lou Grant as Mary's principled father figure, and "The Slaughter Affair" (air date: Jan. 15, 1972, written by Rick Mittleman and directed by Peter Baldwin), shows why Gavin MacLeod as copywriter Murray Slaughter would be especially central to the series for six more years. In both episodes, the comedy comes from a look, an act or a gesture—not constantly from a crack.

Though even diehard fans can skip watching three perfunctory episode audio commentaries and never miss them—assorted cast mates, writers and directors talk drearily about aging, weight gain and other shows—the features are generally fun. Select "Play All" on the third disc's B-side documentary, "8 Characters in Search of a Sitcom," a fresh trip down MTM lane, from Mary and Rho to Georgette and Sue Ann. It's brisk, welcoming and nicely done, with contributions from MacLeod and Harper, among others. Back to back theme songs (there were two versions) include a Karaoke sing-along crawl, and the trivia challenge is an intermediate level test of one's knowledge, hosted by piano-playing Miss Leachman. Other extras include a ridiculous spiel about the show's connection to Minneapolis-St. Paul, a grainy special on re-shooting the series' opening title sequence for the fourth season, and Emmy Award acceptance clips.

For seven wonderful years, Miss Moore's slice of Saturday night was a warm, friendly visit with an appealing American girl grown up, her merry band of hardworking Midwesterners and, thirty years later, watching Mary Richards make it on her own almost makes it feel like Saturday night after all.