- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t isn’t often that DVD producers listen to consumer reaction, or at least it doesn’t seem terribly common. Last year, Shout! released the first season of “Rhoda” and it was an atrocious presentation. Well over half of the episodes suffered cuts, and the audio and video quality were more often than not dodgy at best. (Indeed, in hindsight, I was generous in giving it three stars.) People complained, and it seems Shout! wisely listened. Season Two is presented in its entirety, uncut and remastered – and boy, the difference is truly a night and day affair.
Remember how perfect the first season of “Mary Tyler Moore” looked – back when Fox actively gave a shit? This is nearly, if not as good. The colors are bright and beautiful and the ‘70s fashions jump right off the screen and into your eye sockets. The picture is crisp and clean, and the sound is likewise really nice – well, about as nice as a sitcom from 1975 can possibly sound anyway. In any case, major props to Shout! for not covering their ears and intoning “La la la la la la…” when faced with disgruntled fans. Maybe someday they’ll even see fit to go back and give Season One a proper makeover.
Speaking of “La la la la la la” – that’s also the theme song for Season Two; Rhoda’s voiceover monologue from the first Season has been removed. It’s a group of children singing “La la la la, la la la laaaa” (forgive me for not punctuating the “las” to achieve the proper eardrum shattering effect) over and over and over. It’s on the opening credits, the end credits, and all over the menus. You’ll be thoroughly sick of this grating tune long before you get to Disc Two. It’s a terrible song, and for the life of me I cannot understand how “Mary Tyler Moore” can have one of the coolest, classiest theme tunes ever written, while its spinoff is saddled with this atrocity. There were so many great TV theme tunes in the ‘70s, but this is not one of them, and you’ll never find it on a TV theme tunes compilation for these very reasons. Further, as my wife pointed out, what does it have to do with the show? With the exception of Joe’s rarely seen son, children do not even factor into “Rhoda.” Perhaps they are Rhoda’s eggs, crying out from some unfertilized netherworld.
So the theme song sucks, but that’s the worst thing about Season Two of “Rhoda,” as the show really feels as if it’s hit its stride here; or perhaps it was just as good in the previous season, yet I was so underwhelmed by the presentation that I had a hard time seeing it. Having described the show last time around, it’d be repetitive to do that again, as the basic structure of the show remains identical to the first season. However, it hit me harder this time around that “Rhoda” is basically a chick’s show. “Mary Tyler Moore,” for reasons that mystify me, often gets saddled with that baggage as well, and yet there are far too many well-rounded male characters on the parent series for it to truly appeal only to women. “Rhoda,” on the other hand, is all about its female characters, and almost never gives the men anything worthwhile to do.
Joe (David Groh), Rhoda’s husband, suffers the worst. He’s practically a mystery to viewers, as he never gets a storyline of his own, which is pretty awkward for the guy who’s married to the main character. In one episode, Joe doesn’t come home until the early hours of the morning, and Rhoda is frantic, worried that he’s having an affair. When he gives her his reasoned explanation of where he’s been, it’s all too easy to think “Sure sounds like he’s having an affair,” even though, as viewers, we’re supposed to believe him. We make the leap because we’ve been given little reason to believe otherwise. Rhoda’s father, Martin (Harold Gould), fares slightly better, with two episodes (“The Return of Billy Glass” and “The Marty Morgan Story”) that are as much about his character as anyone else in the series. Both installments come so far out of left field that they’re unlike the rest of the season.
Probably the highlight of Season Two is the sheer amount of guest talent involved. Famous faces of TV days gone by pop up all over the place on this set. The first episode features Ruth Gordon as Carlton the Doorman’s mother, who comes to make Rhoda’s life hell after she gets Carlton fired. In “Ida’s Doctor,” Ida contemplates having an affair with Norman Fell. Think about that for a minute. The very idea of anyone, much less Nancy Walker, having sexy thoughts about Mr. Roper, operates on a level which the makers of this show weren’t even aware of at the time. John Ritter shows up in one installment as an insufferable would-be suitor for Brenda. (Oddly, both Fell and Ritter appeared together in a Season One episode as completely different characters.) A barely recognizable Melanie Mayron (“thirtysomething”) plays Brenda’s annoying friend Sandy in several episodes. No doubt the coolest guest spot is reserved for Vivian Vance, as an ad writer who moves into the building and befriends Rhoda, much to Ida’s annoyance. Later in the season, Rhoda and Brenda jokingly compare themselves to Lucy and Ethel, seeing the show operating on a weirdly meta level for the time. (Making the joke even funnier, one immediately thinks of Romy and Michelle arguing about who’s the Mary and who’s the Rhoda.) An incredibly young Tim Matheson shows up to woo Brenda, in one of the season’s best installments, “A Federal Case.” All these faces, and Stuart Margolin, too.
If there’s one season of “Rhoda” you’ll want to pick up on DVD, this is probably it. The show was riding a ratings high during its second season, but those viewing figures would decline drastically in Season Three, when it was given a massive narrative overhaul, which can no doubt only be likened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But we’ll come to that in due course when Shout! releases Season Three in July.
Special Features: Given that the Season One set only had one brief featurette, and also that Shout! had to spend quite a few extra dollars to makes these episodes look as pristine as they do, it’s should come as no surprise that there are no extras whatsoever. That’s fine, Shout!. Just keep doing what you’re doing with this series, as surely what fans really want is more of this, and none of what you did (or didn’t do, as the case may be) with the first season.