I grew up on the outer edge of the impact that Norman Lear had on television and situation comedies, with All in the Family, Good Times and in my case, I was devoted watcher of Jeffersons re-runs after school. Of the spinoffs from the show with Archie and Edith Bunker, Maude may have been the most impactful not only from a storytelling perspective but from cultural and social ones as well.
The title character was played by Bea Arthur (The Golden Girls), a middle aged-politically and socially liberal women, often outspoken, at times to her detriment. She is married to Walter (Bill Macy, The Holiday), her fourth husband in the show, and they have a daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau, The Cannonball Run), from an earlier marriage by Maude. They live in the New York suburbs next to their Republican friends, a doctor named Arthur (Conrad Bain, Different Strokes) and his slightly ditzy wife, played by Golden Girls co-star Rue McClanahan. We get to watch their lives on a soundstage, in a traditional three camera shoot, performed in front of a live studio audience.
In its third season, seeing the ensemble of Maude have such a grasp on their characters and knowing how to play them is impressive. When you dig a little further, along with Lear's influence on the show, Hal Cooper was the director of almost the entire series' run. Cooper worked on I Dream of Jeannie, Mayberry R.F.D. and The Courtship of Eddie's Father among others, and his filmography is basically television comedy of the last half of the twentieth century. In between Lear and Cooper, the cast could focus on the characters knowing that everything else was in such good hands .
After tackling topics like abortion, alcoholism and domestic violence in Seasons One and Two, the show continued tackling tough topics for the era like inequality in the workplace ("Maude the Boss," when Maude supervises several men at the office), and homosexuality ("Maude's New Friend," when Maude's new friend, played by Robert Mandan of The Holiday fame, comes by and bristles Walter). Each are handled well and balance humor with understated substantive discussion nicely. Having heard about how the show handled such topics, seeing them actually play out was fun to see.
The show wasn't without its moments of comedic payoff. Season Three opens up with a guest cameo by John Wayne, of all people. Smaller familiar faces like Jill Clayburgh, Audra Lindley and Hector Elizondo also make one-off guest appearances, and you can even spot a very young James Cromwell in an episode as Mrs. Naugatuck's (Maude's Maid) gentleman caller. The cast does great throughout the course of their 23-episode run with little noticeable drop in performances, everyone goes all out for the roles they portray.
After hearing about the impact of Maude threw the years, seeing it play out was nice to see, and surprising to see how well the show did in tackling serious topics as well as the funny ones, even during the Gerald Ford presidency. It's not handling ultra serious topics, seemingly stepping away from throwing itself headlong into the fray. But even a B/B+ performance in Maude is better than the A's of any others out there.The DVDs:
Full frame video for all 23 episodes of this season of Maude split over three discs and all look as good as they are likely to. There is some banding on the image, along with some noticeable noise. Also the flesh tones push a notably pink, and I'm not sure how much of that is due to the lighting of the time. Given the source material, there wasn't a lot that could be done to improve on it, but still.The Sound:
Stereo tracks (bumped up from a mono track maybe?), all sound OK. Dialogue is good, the show was filmed on a soundstage and the crowd's whooping and hollering sounds good. Everything occurs up front and again, the source material doesn't do muchExtras:
Within the context of previous seasons of the show, Season Three may be a step down in quality of Maude, but outside of that context, and in a vacuum, it's a good comedy that occasionally shows its age. But it was ahead of itself in terms of subject matter and the show should be seen by anyone with even the slightest fondness for television comedy. Technically there isn't much to complain about, but it could have used an supplement or two for it to be truly enjoyable.