Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (TV Series 1976–1977) Poster

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a great American tragicomedy
cbestca28 March 2000
I first began watching MH2 in the eighth grade on the advise of my friend Todd. We would laugh hysterically each morning in homeroom at the strange absurdity of it all. Though we weren't getting all of it at that age, we understood a lot of their references and learned a lot in the process. And suffice it to say that when "Soap" came on the air a couple of years later, we could only see it as a network ripoff of a show they didn't have the guts to take on before the waters were tested (and by the way, I'm not knocking "Soap" which was a good show. It's just that MH2, for all its absurdities, was riskier and more truly satirical, didn't have a laugh track). One of the most special traits of MH2 was that it tended to focus on small town America's working class and the places they congregate such as the bowling alley or the factory break room. Though serials like All My Children and One Life To Live had revolutionized the soap genre in the 70s by focusing on more "topical" characters, it was still unusual for a soap (or a satire of one) to focus empathetically on the denizens of the other side of the tracks, sometimes referred to as dirty white trash (Roseanne would later revolutionize sitcoms in a similar manner). This was certainly part of MH2's charm. I grew to love Mary Hartman's kitchen (and other Fernwood locales) as if they were an extension of my own town and home. Too bad the show couldn't have lasted longer than it did. Let me finish by saying this...about 5 or 6 years ago Lifetime network began reruns of this show and I was in my glory. For some strange reason, they stopped very soon into it and never resumed. But, I was fortunate enough to have viewed, for the first time in 20 years, the first episodes in which Mary is held captive by the guy who "killed the whole Lombardy family, two goats and six chickens" and, from the vantage point of my 30s, I was finally able to really "get it"; Mary Hartman is one of the great emblems of the distress of the mid-20th century American woman. Her hair in childish pigtails while wearing those little girl dresses, Mary was an example of the overly-consumered, growth-stunted American housewife trying to function while in a semi-daze. Her confrontations with adultery, contemporary feminism, and countless other social issues (often found within her own family) while trying to be the perfect little housewife and mother makes her eventual nervous breakdown more than just another crazy plot twist. In actuality, it was an inevitable progression. Compare her and her friends and neighbors to Carol Burnett's Eunice and other 70s television characters like Edith Bunker and you'd have a rather fascinating college course, I think. Perhaps I need to put one together! So, for those of you who have a similar fondness for this groundbreaking, offbeat series and to those who have never seen it, here's to bringing Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman back in reruns. Fernwood deserves to be revisited! P.S. If you want to see Louise "Mary Hartman" Lasser in a recent role, rent "Happiness". Beware, though,
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TVLAND must bring this back for at least a few MARATHONS!
Enrique Sanchez21 December 2001
This should MUST be resurrected.

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!
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A demented,glorious, masterpiece
Joseph Harder16 February 2002
Truly one of the greatest-and least remembered -TV shows of all time.I loved this show back in the seventies. It was a rich tapestry of comic-and touching- characters, exemplified by the naive heroine, Mary Hartman,and her friends, perhaps most unforgettable of whom was would be Country Music queen,Loretta Haggers, played by the sadly underused -and brilliant-Mary Kay Place.But then this show was rich in fine acting-Dabney Coleman, martin Mull, and Marian Mercer, among others.If the Comedy channel can rerun "soap" why cant they rerun this masterpiece?
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Wow, what a bizarre show
A-Ron-27 July 2000
This was one of those seminal moments in television history, because the 70s seemed to be more open to experimentation and strangeness than certainly the 80s and definitely the 90s.

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.
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Candide in a consumer society
melvelvit-131 May 2008
A sharply satirical soap opera about a modern-day "Candide" (Louise Lasser) and the dysfunctional pre-fab Americana she inhabits. In the opening episodes (beginning 1/76), Mary has to contend with her impotent husband, indifferent daughter, pervert grandpa, hot-to-trot sister, and the massacre of a local family (along with their 2 goats and 8 chickens) but it seems the waxy yellow build-up on her kitchen floor subliminally affected the mass media-influenced Mary more than all the domestic drama combined. The absence of a canned laugh track can make viewers feel they're either losing their mind or experiencing a darkly comedic, penetrating pop-culture parody. Possibly both. I loved it then and I love it now!
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Funniest show I've ever seen
Frank Hankey3 May 2004
I was totally hooked on this show back in the 70s. Way out there, really dry. There are times when they'd set up a joke for several episodes running then spring the punchline on you. They tried to clone this into that show SOAP, but they added a laugh track that had the effect of killing the humor (at least for me). They really went out on a limb. That episode where Dabney Coleman stares silently into the camera for five minutes may be the most I've ever laughed at a TV show ("Look me in the eye and decide if Merle Jeter should be the next mayor of Fernwood"). I'm amazed that someone let them get away with this show.

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 !
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R D25 May 2007
Who would have guessed that 30 years later Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman would still be an absolutely hilarious and entertaining program? Controversial for its time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman still seems to walk the line of racy subject matters.....not subtle and not over-the-top. Watching takes you back in time. It is entertaining to see the fashion statements and listen to the dialog from so long ago. The series is really like a time capsule! Also enjoyable is the product placement, a real blast-to-the-past! Thanks to everyone who brought this program to DVD. I certainly hope that the entire series makes it to video.
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Most cutting-edge TV comedy of the 70s.
sonya9002829 March 2009
Just when you thought Norman Lear couldn't produce a more cutting-edge sitcom than All In The Family, he goes and outdoes himself, by creating Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Actually Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was not truly a sitcom at all. It could be more accurately described as a prime-time soap-opera. More specifically, a spoof of the soap-opera genre. Like the film Airplane poked-fun at those airport disaster movies, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a satire of the classic soap-opera.

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.
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One of the All-Time Great Series--Offbeat and Different
mrb198018 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not sure exactly what happened to American TV audiences in the 1970s, since there was a general dumbing-down of programming. Really, if otherwise intelligent people actually wasted their time watching junk like "Starsky and Hutch", "Laverne and Shirley", "Happy Days", "Three's Company", "Charlie's Angels", "Welcome Back, Kotter", and "The Dukes of Hazzard", we as a society must have been either bored, desperate, or just plain clueless.

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 fun—it 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.
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Why It Didn't Make It Into Reruns
outnaway9 March 2009
I was an original fan of the show, being about 16 or 17 in its first year. It was a cult hit for sure. My friends loved it. The jocks either hated it or hadn't heard of it. The cheerleaders I think were scared of it.

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?
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