Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976–1977)
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A more insightfully absurd and comically astute series has not been made. Mix the daily grind of ALL MY CHILDREN, the experimentation of MONTY PYTHON, the self-absorbed and urbane existentialism of WOODY ALLEN and the offbeat quality of BLUE VELVET and you have MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN.
What a fabulous cast and what kooky writing! This is black comedy at its most tongue-in-cheek.
TVLAND bring it back, please!
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a show that was unclassifiable by any standard of TV today. Now, I haven't seen the show in about 15 years (I watched the whole series on tape at a friend of mine's back in the mid or late 80s), but I am sure that it would be just as bizarre and wonderful today as ever.
Martin Mull was brilliant as the psychopathic wife beater, Barth Gimble. I hope that TV Land or some other such channel will pick this show up, because I would really love to see it again.
For a while the Lifetime channel brought this back. I wasn't sure if it would be as hilarious a second time around but it was. After a few weeks Lifetime pulled it for Unsolved Mysteries.
TVLand made a better attempt a few years ago. It went on longer and they got Martin Mull and Fred Willard to emcee. Great stuff !! Once again it didn't go on too long. I don't know what useless stuff is in its place.
If anyone hears of this one getting replayed or made available on DVD, send me an email !
This show set the template for other bizarre comedy series that followed in its wake, such as Married With Children, and Strangers With Candy. Like both of those shows, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was funny precisely because of it's warped premise, not in spite of it. It was the first TV comedy of it's kind, and the most avant-guard comedy on TV in the 70s.
Louise Lasser was brilliant as the flummoxed housewife, Mary Hartman. She played Mary with such a droll, dead-pan style, that she was utterly hilarious. Only Mary Kaye Place as Mary Hartman's neighbor, Loretta Haggers, was as drop-dead funny as Lasser. The other characters in this show, were only mildly amusing, by comparison.
I don't believe that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is in syndication anymore. But it's on DVD now. I definitely recommend it. Especially if you want to see a show by Norman Lear, that topped all of his others.
Once in a while something different and good would pop up, such as "Dallas" or "The Night Stalker". Heck, even bland family shows like "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" looked good against their juvenile competition. However, one series was really imaginative, bold, and different: "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman". This syndicated show was campy and ridiculous, but it was all in funit didn't pretend to be serious like the big network hits of the time. The show was also very daring, boldly taking on issues that the networks just wouldn't touch, really pushing the envelope with every episode. Like all good shows, the viewer always had to pay attention, and was rewarded with biting satire and some real laughs.
The story revolved around the day-to-day lives of the residents of Fernwood, Ohio. The cast was just perfect for the show, and included Louise Lasser (title character), Greg Mullavey, Debralee Scott, Dabney Coleman, Martin Mull, Victor Kilian, Mary Kay Place, and others. Since the show was syndicated, there was a new episode every weeknight, so writing and shooting had to take place at a lightning pace. It remained very unpredictable, fresh, and daring, even after Lasser left and the show ended as "Forever Fernwood" in early 1978. Clearly an imitation, "Soap" premiered later in 1978, but had neither the cast nor the one-of-a-kind style of "Mary Hartman".
Many people hated "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" during its original run, and others were just perplexed. However, it's a truly unique show that captures the 1976-78 period perfectly. Shout Factory released all 325 episodes in a DVD set in December 2013, so this classic and offbeat series is now available in its entirety. Unfortunately, "Forever Fernwood" was not included in the DVD release, but let's hope it will be released eventually.
Since then I've seen several attempts to bring it back on TV as a rerun. But like others have said on here, the ratings for the reruns are low and they cancel it after a month or so. I think there are several reasons for this. One, is that the show really changed as it got past its second month. I remember an article of the time that said that they ran out of their first year's worth of material after the first month. Now I know that the first month or so have some classic stuff in them - the couch dying in the chicken soup, etc., but they hadn't really found the pace of the show in the early weeks. So, while they have some classic stuff and some inking as to what's coming, the first month or so isn't really that good. So, in reruns, the new audience gets bored and it gets canceled. So yes, in reruns we get the classic "chickens and goats", grandpa Shumway being a flasher, but we don't get Sgt. Foley's heart attack and Mary and him finally getting it on in the hospital, grandpa's affair with Roberta, her joining STET, the sex surrogate for Tom, Loretta's aborted trip to California, Garth Gimble, etc. What's great about this site it it's reminded me of how much I've forgot about.
Something else that I remember about the show is that, well, not all the episodes were that funny. I think at the time we accepted that they had to come up with two and a half hours of TV a week and that not all of it would be great. I remember many episodes where there was only one real laugh. It may have been a great laugh, but today's audience isn't as patient as we were. The other thing is think of what the competition was for Mary Hartman. It ran at 11:00 PM and was up against the local news in an era of three broadcast channels and twelve cable channels. In my house, the only serious competition were re-runs of the Honeymooners on WPIX from New York.
The other thing that makes this tough on reruns is that Mary Hartman was so much a part of the 70's. What's hard to explain to people who weren't there, is how weird the 70's were. The whole country was in this very odd mood, partly giddy, partly freaked out, partly numb. I don't know if I can explain how Mary Hartman fit in to that, but it did and maybe not enough time has passed where it won't seem dated. The other thing is that the show had a whole parallel life running at the same time in the live soap opera of Louise Lasser's sudden fame. Her personal trajectory towards a nervous breakdown tracked Mary Hartman's. Do I need to remind everyone of her bizarre interviews in Rolling Stone, her bust for cocaine, and her appearance as the host on SNL, in which she also had a nervous breakdown. Years later it came out that this was not faked, that she was ready to refuse to appear on the show minutes before curtain time, and only agreed to appear once Chevy Chase convinced her that if she didn't go on, he'd go on in her place wearing a wig.
This show in its first run had a drama to it that is hard to recreate in reruns. Not only did it track Louise Lasser's breakdown, it also traced America's breakdown too.
I miss the show. It meant a lot to me, and it's sad that it's only a memory.
BTW, does anyone remember what is one of my favorite moments, when Mary's rival for her husband Tom's affection, Mae has tried to kill herself with sleeping pills? And she turns to Mary for support, who plies her with coffee, and the towering Mae flops all over smaller Mary before they both slump on to the floor and Mary ends up drinking the coffee. It's been over thirty years and I still remember that after only one viewing.
Or when Loretta came over to bring Mary Jell-O with Cracker Jacks suspended in it?