Maude: The Complete First Season review, Maude: Season 1 DVD review

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Buy your copy from Maude: The Complete First Season starstarstarstarstar Starring: Bea Arthur, Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain, Esther Rolle
Director: Various
Category: Comedy
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“Lady Godiva was a freedom rider; she didn’t care if the whole world looked. Joan of Arc, with the Lord to guide her…she was a sister who really cooked. Isadora was the first bra burner; ain’t ya glad that she showed up? And when the country was falling apart, Betsy Ross got it all sewed up.”

- Donny Hathaway

Ah, yes…but then there’s Maude. She’s compromising, enterprising and anything but tranquilizing. (She also had a really great theme song.)

Those who lived through the ‘70s know quite well that Bea Arthur’s comedic legacy isn’t just limited to her role in “The Golden Girls.” The character of Maude Findlay made her debut on “All in the Family,” where she was introduced as Edith Bunker’s cousin. Given that she was on a decidedly different political path than Archie, their clashing opinions made for some enjoyable verbal sparring, and the character proved so successful that she was quickly spun off into her own series. Surprisingly, “Maude” – which ran for six seasons (1972 to 1978) – hasn’t gotten much play in syndication in recent years. One could argue that it’s because Maude Findlay (Arthur) is an opinionated liberal who spends many episodes focusing on issues and politicians long since swept under the rug (they spend one episode watching the Nixon / McGovern election returns). But the family dynamic in the show isn’t so dramatically different from today’s society, and Arthur’s snappy wit remains funny, no matter what the topic.

Bill Macy plays Maude’s current – and fourth – husband, Walter. Maude’s withering sarcasm is certainly the star of the show, but if it weren’t for her husband, she wouldn’t get the opportunity to utter her trademark line: “God’ll get you for that, Walter.” (It’s an innocent enough line now, but back then, it was vaguely controversial to utter the Lord’s name for comedic purposes.) Macy’s timing and delivery provide as much of a reason to tune in as Bea Arthur, but she got all the glory. It’s a shame that he never received an Emmy nomination for his work. Others in the regular cast include the famously well-endowed Adrienne Barbeau as Maude’s divorced daughter, Carol (she lives with Maude and Walter, as does her rarely-seen son, Philip); the Findlay’s maid, Florida Evans (Esther Rolle); and the Findlay’s next-door neighbor, Dr. Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain).

Did you catch a couple of the names in the cast? Yes, that’s the same Florida Evans from “Good Times,” who left the Findlay’s employ after a few seasons to become a full-time housewife and mother. You may also recognize the name Conrad Bain; his more famous role is that of Mr. Drummond on “Diff’rent Strokes.” Interestingly, his character on “Maude” went on to get married to Maude’s best friend, Vivian, played by Rue McClanahan. Yep, it’s no coincidence that Arthur and McClanahan had such chemistry in “The Golden Girls,” because they had some experience working together (though it’s notable that the two of them actually look older on “Maude.”)

In this first season of the show, the most infamous episode is “The Abortion,” a two-parter where Maude gets pregnant, discusses it with her friends and family, and finally decides to have an abortion. Given that this was aired prior to the Supreme Court’s “Roe vs. Wade” decision, it caused enough controversy that the show was actually dropped by 30 stations as a result of its airing. “Maude” was pretty racy for its time (of course, most of it seems pretty tame nowadays). There are still jokes – usually couched between the lines – which are worth raising an eyebrow over.

Special Features: None. Not a one. And it’s unforgivable, frankly. Although it might not have aged as well as some of its peers, “Maude” was one of the seminal series of the ‘70s. Arthur, Macy, Barbeau and Bain – not to mention creator Norman Lear – are all among the living. Surely, this is a case of Sony not wanting to spend the money to get them involved in the set. (And if I’m wrong, Sony, please feel free to drop me a line to correct me.)

~Will Harris