Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (Norman Lear, 1976)

I first decided to watch this because it was one of the shows featuring one of my earliest crushes, Debralee Scott. I only knew her from Match Game and Welcome Back, Kotter. Expanding those horizons before we decide to cancel DVD service with Netflix became a priority.

Mary Hartman Mary Hartman is a mock soap opera starring Louise Lasser and developed by television legend Norman Lear. Lear was responsible for All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, One Day at a Time, and Fernwood Tonight (Mary Hartman Mary Hartman takes place in Fernwood). While it has many absurd elements, it is not like Soap, which was more of a direct parody. Mary Hartman Mary Hartman is a dry, dry satire of the soap opera, consumerism, suburban fear, and the sexual revolution.

Louise Lasser as the titular "Mary Hartman"

The story in season one has many arcs, but the "impending doom" aspect comes from the murder of a family that no one in town really knew. It is a clever device that writers can go back to without getting to deep, and smartly without tying the show to a specific time. The impending doom could be any of the things going on in '76, but murder is universal.

Bedroom troubles plague Mary and Tom (Greg Mullavey)
Part of the show's appeal is in the straightforwardness of its raciness. They bring up topics like impotence and perversion without dancing around them. Apparently these are all things that regular soaps talk about, but use euphemisms (I don't watch soaps, though wish I had watch that crazy-ass Passions). In episode three, Mary and Tom even discuss masturbation, which was hardly television fodder at the time.
Mary and her sister Cathy reading Orgasm and You
Another big part of the show is the consumerism aspect. There is a lot of product placement here. There are almost always products in the shot, and they are not hidden. If a can of Shasta root beer is on the table, it is displayed dead on. Note the Orange Crush can above. Certainly part of this was for actual product placement purposes, but also to show how brand dependent we can be in the States. There are also story elements that discuss how much we trust brands and their advertising. In the first episode Mary is waxing the floor and says it is glowing. Her sister says it is wax buildup. Mary returns that the people who make the product say there is no wax buildup and they certainly know better than her sister.
Cathy Shumway (Debralee Scott), Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place), and Mary questioned by reporter Clete Meizenheimer (Michael Lembeck) about the Lombardi murders

In all this is a fun show, but dry, dry, dry. It is so subtle at times, and then smacks you with something silly, or something silly goes on in the background; you don't miss it, but it looks like reality. Well worth checking out if you have a strange sense of humor.


Wings1295 said...

I was way young when this aired, but I do have memories of watching. Back then, it was just weird to me.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I don't remember it, but think I was in Alabama at the time. As I understand it many markets would not show it until 11:00/11:30. It is weird, but can be awfully funny.

Jamdin said...

I remember catching some of the episodes just for Debralee Scott.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I am tempted to watch some old Welcome Back Kotter just to see her.

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