After five seasons as Laura Petrie on the superlative The Dick Van Dyke Show, actress Mary Tyler Moore graduated to big movies like Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), but for various reasons never quite made it as a film star. She starred on Broadway in an ill-fated musical production of Breakfast at Tiffany's, a show so bad that its producer, David Merrick, reportedly closed it during previews because he didn't want to "subject the drama critics and the public to an excruciatingly boring evening." By 1969 Moore was playing a nun opposite ghetto doctor Elvis Presley in the infamous (though actually not all that bad) Change of Habit.
Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker then wisely adapted The Dick Van Dyke Show's formula for success: they carefully assembled a top-drawer ensemble cast, nurtured youngish writing talent (including David Davis, Treva Silverman, Susan Silver, Lorenzo Music, James L. Brooks, and Allan Burns), and built a successful sitcom around recognizable character types at home and at work. The show had three strong women; besides Mary Richards, neophyte producer of Minneapolis news show, there was her pretentious landlady, Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) and best friend Rhoda (Valerie Harper), a wise-cracking New Yorker. As Harper accurately describes them in the DVD supplements, "Mary was who you wanted to be, Rhoda is probably who you really are, and Phyllis is who you're afraid you'll become."
At the office, her co-workers (for now) were exclusively men: gruff, hard-drinking Lou Grant (Ed Asner), gregarious newswriter Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), a self-involved boob whose ineptitude in front of the camera drive Lou and Murray to distraction.
Like many of the best sitcoms, The Dick Van Dyke Show included, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (or, as it appears onscreen, simply Mary Tyler Moore) started out well but took another season or so before it really hummed. In its second year, the actors are more relaxed and assured in their roles, and the broad comedy by both the actors and in the scripts was wisely toned down several notches. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show, MTM shunned sitcom cliches insisting that its characters behave and have troubles like real people do, from Mary's notoriously bad parties to the disastrous visits by Rhoda's mother (Nancy Walker) and the inevitable mother-daughter conflicts that ensue.
Performances of the song-and-dance variety were a Dick Van Dyke Show mainstay, and that show often relied on Van Dyke's diverse talent and boundless energy. Moore attempts neither in her show; in the classic tradition of Jack Benny she surrounds herself with funny characters, and her reactions to their behavior thus are funny. These characters were pretty nebulous during the show's first season (and this may account for the reportedly lackluster sales of the DVD; the show hadn't yet hit its stride), but they blossom here.
There's also some great visiting talent, several of whom would go on to other MTM-produced shows: Michael Constantine, Florida Friebus, Jack Riley, Jack Cassidy, Bradford Dillman, Mary Frann, Bill Daily, and Isabel Sanford.
Video & Audio
The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Second Season is handsomely presented on three discs. There are eight 25-minute shows on each of the first two, single-sided discs. A third disc has the remaining eight shows on side A, with the majority of the supplements included on side B. The transfers are very good, despite the occasional bits of film damage (especially noticeable on "A Girl's Best Mother is Not Her Friend") but generally the show looks great with exceptional color and clarity. The English mono soundtrack is also clean and clear; optional audio and subtitles are available in Spanish but not French.
Though not up to the level of the supplements found on Image's Dick Van Dyke Show DVDs, The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Second Season is nonetheless fairly packed with extra features. Three episodes feature audio commentary tracks: "The Birds...and...um...Bees" and "The Six-and-a-Half-Year Itch" feature writer Treva Silverman, director Jay Sandrich, and co-star Ed Asner; "The Slaughter Affair" features co-star Gavin MacLeod and director Peter Baldwin. The tracks are both warm and chummy yet informative and insightful.
The most substantial supplement is the detailed if somewhat pokey and mechanical 8 Characters in Search of a Sitcom, a 57-minute examination of each continuing character, one-by-one. Jumping the gun a little bit, two characters not introduced until the next season, Georgette (Georgia Engel) and Sue Ann (Betty White) are also profiled. As with the supplements for the First Season DVD, the absence of Mary Tyler Moore leaves a gaping hole, leaving one wondering why she opted not to participate. Among those interviewed: co-creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns; writers Stan Daniels, David Davis, David Lloyd; directors Joan Darling and Jay Sandrich; actors Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel, and Betty White.
Moore on Sunday is a real surprise - a very good, locally-produced documentary on MTM's location shoot (cost: $15,000) in Minneapolis for the program's fourth season title sequence. David Davis, James L. Brooks, Grant Tinker, and Lin Ephraim are featured, and several turned up uncredited in the final version of the opening titles. WCCO-TV Channel 4 produced the piece.
Excerpts from the 1971-72 Emmy Awards feature the acceptance speeches from Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Ed Asner and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Valerie Harper. (Sandrich, Brooks and Burns also won awards, but these are not shown.)
Love is All Around Karaoke is exactly that, a karaoke version of both the First and Second Season title songs. Newsbeat Segment is a fairly annoying faux news magazine piece (made more annoying by its proximity and similarity to the real Moore on Sunday one). This 11-minute featurette offers present-day views of the locations used for the various title sequences and a lot of unfunny comedy.
A photo gallery mostly consists of script pages and review excerpts, while a Mad Magazine parody, "The Mary Tailor-Made Show" is amusing. Neither extra is reproduced well; even on a big TV the text is often too small to read. Finally, an All-Star Trivia Challenge has the aforementioned interview subjects asking trivia questions. It's okay if you're into that sort of thing.
Let's hope we don't have to wait until May 2008 to sample The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Third Season. It's too good a series to hold back another three years. Highly recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.