Elevating the Mary Tyler Moore show to the cultural status of Beowulf — the oldest surviving long poem in Old English — is a bit disconcerting.
Since Moore’s passing people in academia that make their living overthinking the meaning of things such as stop signs have described how she was a groundbreaker for culture showing the world that single women who aren’t attached to or dependent upon men can be independent and not lose what makes them women.
I must have missed something.
I grew up in a world — or should I say a family — where that was the norm and not the exception.
Perhaps that’s why as a teen watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” I viewed it as being 30 minutes — minus the commercial breaks — of funny entertainment. I didn’t see it as a breakthrough cultural statement. And to be honest, I don’t believe TV Guide — the weekly magazine that once ranked right up there with the Bible and that now passé publication called a phone book as the most revered printed words in a typical American home — ever elevated Mary Tyler Moore to the same level as Susan B. Anthony.
The show was well written, witty, and well-acted.
Yes the show touched on a smorgasbord of societal issues such as Mary overcoming an addiction to sleeping pills and equal pay for women given a good comedy show mirrors the times. But “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” at its core was no “All in the Family.” Its primary mission was to entertain and make money for those involved, not to man the ramparts. Yes, it made “points” but that has been the case with entertainment from the start of the movies with Charlie Chapin in “The Tramp” to the beginning of live performances predating Shakespeare.
I get that everything makes a point when it comes to entertainment whether it is a love song or “Star Wars”.
Given that Allan Burns created the critically acclaimed “Mary Tyler Show”, “Rhoda”, and “Lou Grant” among others that academia devotes energy to analyze, one would wonder what they would tell of us of one of Burns’ earlier creations — “My Mother the Car.”
If you are over 50 and remember “My Mother the Car” don’t worry. There are a lot of worst things to remember such as paying $6.95 in 1975 to buy a Pet Rock as a Christmas gift. If you’re not over 50 let’s just say it is wiser to save up your money to buy a restored 1985 Yugo GV so-called automobile than a complete collection of the episodes of “My Mother the Car” that was the benefactor of a mercy killing before it completed an entire TV season.
There is always a point to entertainment even if it is a vulgar mindless point that is provided by most rap crap or so-called graffiti artists defacing the property of others to show the world that “My Mother the Car” did indeed inspire some people to greatness.
I’m sure that Moore probably appreciated the points that the show delivered without using a sledge hammer. That’s the beauty of comedy. But I’m willing to bet she was more proud of the legacy of laughter she created and the behavior she inspired.
In that aspect The Mary Tyler Moore Show was less groundbreaking than it was reaffirming.
It was OK to be like Mary. While professors receiving six-figure paychecks watching eight seasons of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” may one day roll out an upper division class delving into how Mary started a sexual revolution, Ted showed men for being the dolts they are, and Lou reflected grumpy old white men desperately clutching to old values if not their guns, Mary simply reflected where a lot of people were living.
Several days after Mary Tyler Moore passed away so did another TV actress — Barbara Hale.
Hale played Della Street — Raymond Burr’s rock-solid secretary on “Perry Mason.”
“Perry Mason” — without a doubt — is my favorite TV show of all time. Because of “Perry Mason” I decided I age 7 to be a lawyer. That lasted until the eighth grade when I met my first lawyer face-to-face at a Lincoln High career day gathering in a small group setting. And while the lawyer’s personality — an attorney who years later was elected to the bench and was removed by the Commission on Judicial Performance for his conduct — turned me off, I can honestly say the vast majority of lawyers I’ve encountered since then live up to and exceed ethical standards.
That aside, Barbara Hale as Della Street and Raymond Burr as Perry Mason reflected a world of ethical standards as opposed to let’s say “The Good Wife.”
Not saying the world is “goodie two shoes” as Mary was occasionally referenced on her show, but the character of Della Street probably reflected the rank and file in a high-powered law office more realistically than say Kalinda Sharma. The same was true of Mary and women in the 1970s.
At the end of the day, TV shows — like all forms of entertainment — work because they are a diversion and not a subject to critique for the final exam of Cultural Trends 101.
Mary Tyler Moore was in the business of entertaining people, not leading a revolution.
And one doesn’t entertain in a vacuum. You do so employing the familiar.
That said I seriously doubt “The Mary More Show” should it survive in some form 1,000 years after the last episode was written will ever be viewed as transformative art. It was just like Beowulf. It told a story of its time.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.