THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON / / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / $29.95
Sitcoms don't come any better than The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which set the gold standard for consistent, sophisticated and yet accessible comedy during its seven-season run on CBS beginning in 1970. When TV Guide chose television's 100 funniest moments, it included MTM's famous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode, in which Moore's Mary Richards can't believe how crass everyone is being about the death of WJM-TV's beloved Chuckles the Clown, but then has to fight the urge to laugh during a eulogy celebrating his philosophy of life: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."
That episode didn't air until the show's sixth season, which, at the rate Fox is releasing DVDs of the show, won't be available until 2009. But let's not complain; a few years ago, MTM co-creator Allan Burns sounded pessimistic about anything appearing on DVD beyond season one, and here we are ready to celebrate the release of season three.
And celebrate we should; few TV shows, comedy or drama, were as note-perfect. Moore herself, as the associate producer of a Minneapolis television station's news show, served as the rock-steady nexus around which one of the finest casts ever assembled could do their best work. She was great, a rare combination of vulnerability and determination that proved especially welcome at a time when the idea of a working woman was something of an anomaly. But Moore never hogged the spotlight, always making room for the comedic genius of Edward Asner as her blustering boss, Lou Grant; Valerie Harper as her tart-tongued best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern; Ted Knight as the vacuously egotistical news anchor, Ted Baxter; Gavin McLeod as newshound Murray Slaughter and Cloris Leachman as Mary's egregiously self-obsessed landlady, Phyllis Lindstrom.
Season three starts off with a classic episode, "The Good Time News." Mary is asked to craft a new happy-talk format for the WJM news, much to the consternation of Mr. Grant, who is defiantly old school when it comes to the news. "When I was an editor, I had to live with circulation numbers," he bellows at the upstart station manager demanding the change. "But when circulation went down, we didn't put the comics on the front page."
The exchange perfectly captures Lou's curmudgeonly persona. Equally brilliant is an earlier exchange between Ted and Murray, in which the perennially befuddled anchor ponders the rhetorical question, "Is the pope Catholic?"
"I'm sure he is," Ted says after some serious brow furrowing. "I don't think the last one was, though."
The three-disc set contains 24 episodes, and there's not a clunker in the bunch. True, the best was yet to come for MTM, especially after the fourth-season introduction of Betty White's Sue Anne Niven, WJM's Happy Homemaker. But there's nothing lacking in a season that includes "Rhoda the Beautiful," in which Rhoda competes in the Ms. Hempel's Department Store beauty pageant; "Farmer Ted and the News," with Ted earning extra money by working as a TV pitchman; "Lou's Place," with Lou buying his favorite bar and trying to run it just like lovable old McCluskey did; and "Put On a Happy Face," in which everything goes wrong for Mary as she prepares to attend the annual TV news awards banquet.
l Special features: Sadly, none. True, when a show is as good as MTM, what is there to say? Still, couldn't co-creators Burns and James L. Brooks have done a running commentary on a few shows? Harper's musings on "Rhoda the Beautiful" would have been welcome, as the episode marked a major turning point for her character.
THAT'S BLACK ENTERTAINMENT / / S'More Entertainment / $35.95
Mario Van Peebles narrates this three-disc tribute to African-American entertainers from the 1920s through the 1950s, with volumes dedicated to "Actors," "Comedians" and "Westerns." Profiles cover both the famous and the obscure, including Paul Robeson, Oscar Micheaux, Bert Williams, Herbert Jeffries and Bill Pickett.