When this show first premiered in January 1976 it gave Saturday Night Live a run for its money in being one of the most daring and inventive shows that had been aired. Louise Lasser’s deadpan delivery as the often put-upon, under-appreciated Mary was delightful, and the show had a very talented supporting cast. Besides doing a great job of satirizing the problems of life in the 70′s, it was a deft parody of soap operas in general, such as when Martin Mull returned as Barth Gimble, the twin brother of Garth Gimble, who had just died. Dabney Coleman was also great as the mayor, a true cynic who was much more interested in staying mayor than actually accomplishing anything. This show also gave birth to that great satire of the talk shows, Fernwood Tonight. Life probably wasn’t too far from art in this case, since the first season ended with Mary in a mental institution, and I think putting out a new episode every night, just like an actual soap opera, took its toll on the whole cast, and Louise Lasser in particular. If you happen to remember the episode of Saturday Night Live that Louise Lasser hosted during that time, you know what I mean – the stress really showed. People looked forward to each new episode – just like a real soap opera – and there were 130 episodes in the first season alone. Thus, although I am grateful that we have the first 25 episodes, that doesn’t even get us through the first one-fifth of the first season, so I hope more releases of this show are pending.
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First, I never realized the enormous influence MH2 had on the Simpsons… I realized the trademark Normal Lear mix of social/pop culture satire and great writing, but there are even charactors from MH2 that seem to have made their way to that show as well….!
Anyway, I know I’m not the only person who’s been waiting for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to either make its way back to TV reruns or DVD… and the only who was ANGRY how long overdue it was, but now, finally its HERE… though I remembered it as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, to be honest, I didn’t remember just HOW great it was, otherwise the wait would have been harder…
Starting with the first episodes (complete with the overhead mic slipping into the frame) the show is on a heavy roll… There’s no laugh track, and no time killing… Jam packed with great script delivered by a crack ensemble. In fact, the writing is SO brilliant you get broadsided by the humor sometimes and find yourself gigling without even realizing why… then if you go back a half a minute and watch it again you’re like… “oh my god ! ! !” (am I the only person who reacts like this?) The strange, soap opera spoof, non-sequitor double entendre lines, TV commercial derived dialogue and strange scenerios all delivered in the dry quirky uniquely MH2 style makes this a must have/must see/must repeatedly see view… and Mary Hartman’s unforgetable young, unhappy, valium dazed housewife is so great… (and actually reminds me of my mother’s friends and neighbors… back then going to shrinks and getting your tranqs to deal with the stresses of middle class American life was really in!)
Anyway, as you watch you marvel at the ensemble, but can see them doing their best to hold back from cracking up over their own lines and delivery… the show also strikes an edgy nerve… almost like Vonnegut on Valium. – - Though Louise Lasser may best be remember as one of Woody Allen’s ex’s, you can actually feel the Allenesque “zeitgeist” quirk via her brilliant acting. (Of course, the acting allegedly backfired when people actually believed that her nervous breakdown on the show was real!)
Watch Mary Hartman… the ultimate spoof of the American soap opera… and dysfunctional family life ! Over 9 hours packed onto 3 DVDs in a nifty slimline box set. Meanwhile… when’s FERNWOOD TONIGHT gonna hit DVD ???
2/17/07 Amazon does it again. While listing the “stars” of this show, it fails to mention Louise Lasser (who Made the character of Mary Hartman), Dody Goodman (Mary’s “long-suffering” mother), and Mary Kay Place (lovable neighbor Loretta Haggers). Sheesh! What’s up with that? Hopefully Amazon will correct this major oversight soon. Certainly this isn’t the first time that Amazon has listed television shows without the main star included – looks like the help need to pay a visit to Google.
Mary Hartman, for many, was a great guilty pleasure. People who scoffed at soap operas in the 1970s sat down and watched each night while Mary, early on, dealt with such issues as the waxy yellow buildup on her kitchen floor or her grandfather being arrested for exposing himself. Neighbor Loretta’s funniest moments included her day stint appearance on The Dinah Shore Show cooking her sweet potato pie and making a crack that almost ended her career (Loretta’s, not Mary’s) , which included Dinah playing herself. Then there was the rivalry between Mary and her sister Cathy for the attentions of the police officer Dennis Foley. The show was also played “straight” and not for laughs, which added to the campiness and watchability of the show. Season One (probably the most famous season) ended with Mary melting down on the David Susskind Show. Season One also helped to spawn, briefly, the singing career of Mary Kay Place both as Loretta and under her own name.
I sincerely hope that the powers-that-be can arrange for the 1976 hilarious spoof of Mary Hartman from The Carol Burnett Show to be put on as a future extra. It was called “Mary Mary Quite Contrary, Mary Mary Quite Contrary” and had Carol as Mary, Vicki Lawrence as Loretta, Jim Nabors as Charlie, and Tim Conway as grandfather who liked to play peek-a-boo.