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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series DVD ReviewDVD Shout Factory Sony Pictures TV Reviews
Dec 02 2013 08:29 PM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
- Studio: Sony
- Distributed By: Shout! Factory
- Video Resolution: 480I/MPEG-2
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono)
- Subtitles: None
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 135 Hr. (approximately)
- Package Includes: Other
- Case Type: DVD Keep Cases in Slipcase
- Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
- Region: A
- Release Date: 12/03/2013
- MSRP: $249.95
The Production Rating: 4.5/5The recipe: Mix pop culture & satire, stir slowly & serve straight. - Norman Lear
Waxy yellow buildup, the Fernwood Flasher, a mass murder (including goats and chickens), a car crash with a busload of nuns – these are just a few of the iconic images of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Norman Lear’s satirical take on soap operas which made its television debut on January 6, 1976.
Lear developed the series in 1974, but after the networks rejected it as too controversial he put it into syndicated release. The show aired on local television stations in late-night time slots and was an immediate sensation. It aired five nights a week, and fans became addicted to the increasingly desperate life of Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser), a “typical” housewife in the fictitious town of Fernwood, Ohio.
Mary is married to Tom Hartman (Greg Mullavey), an assembly-line worker at the local automobile plant. Tom has lost interest in Mary (physically, at least), and Mary cannot figure out where she has gone wrong. Grandpa Larkin (Victor Kilian), Mary’s maternal grandfather, has been arrested for indecent exposure, an event which introduces Mary to police Sergeant Foley (Bruce Solomon), who would like to give Mary the attention she is not getting from Tom. The Lombardi family (including the Lombardi’s goats and chickens) has been wiped out by a mass murderer, and Mary’s younger daughter Heather (Claudia Lamb) may know who the murderer is. Mary’s best friend, Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place) is an aspiring country singer whose husband Charlie (Graham Jarvis) is working overtime at the plant so he can pay for the demo record which Loretta plans to record in Nashville. Also on hand are Mary’s parents, George and Martha Shumway (Phil Bruns and Dody Goodman), and Mary’s uninhibited sister, Cathy (Debralee Scott). As the series progressed there were notable additions to the cast, including Salome Jens, Dabney Coleman, Martin Mull, and Ed Begley Jr.
For the benefit of those who are unaware of the problems with the original release, it was apparent that there were issues with Episodes 22, 24 and 25. Episode 22 was missing the final scene where Charlie and Loretta Haggers are on their way to Nashville. Their car breaks down due to a radiator leak and they meet up with two hillbillies. The entire scene was missing. Instead, it was replaced with a kitchen scene from episode 23, and that scene remained in episode 23. Episode 24 was missing a scene where Charlie and Loretta are talking in the car after they get back on the road. Sony never provided an explanation for the edited episodes, but earlier this year HTF member Mark Tay figured it out:
I finally figured out the strange edits on three episodes of the DVD set from Sony. To understand what happened we have to start back at the very, very beginning… Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman premiered on January 5th 1976 (at least on stations which were early adopters of this syndicated soap opera spoof). It ran weekdays (i.e. five episodes per week) with continuous new episodes through Friday, July 2nd 1976. At which point, having been on the air for 26 weeks and tallying up 130 unique episodes, it reached the end of “season one.” It was now time for cast and crew to take a well deserved break. Producer Norman Lear announced that videotaping of season two would begin in early August 1976, with the season two premiere occurring on Monday October 4th 1976. Unfortunately for rabid fans of the show, this left a gap of 13 weeks from the end of season one until the premiere of season two. Obviously re-runs from season one would be broadcast during the gap, however with a slight twist. An editor took the best (or most important) sequences from the original 130 episodes and created a new digest version of season one, condensed down to only 65 episodes. This digest version of season one allowed new fans of the show, to catch up on all that had transpired previously, and created a very nice build up as well as smooth transition right into season two. In 2007 Sony released the first volume of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman on DVD. Their intent was to include the first 25 episodes of season one, complete and unedited. However, three episodes on the DVD set were mistakenly substituted with digest versions from 1976. This unfortunate mix up occurs on what should have been episodes 22, 24 and 25. Owners of the DVD set can rest assured that the remaining episodes are all complete as originally aired. One can easily distinguish original early episodes by their end credits which crawl up the screen. The end credits on the digest versions fade in and out.
The first thing I did upon opening the complete series set was to look at episodes 22, 23, 24 and 25. The missing scenes have been restored and the duplicated kitchen scene appears only in episode 23. Since the original version of this review was published we have learned from knowledgeable HTF members that two episodes - #174 and #204 - had to be cut because of music clearance issues. That is unfortunate but apparently unavoidable.
I was a big fan of this show back in the day, and it holds up very well. Although it is very funny at times, there is no laugh track and no studio audience. Norman Lear had a great deal of respect for the intelligence of his audience, and he expected that viewers would get the joke without any prodding from him. The show has the look and feel of a real soap opera, albeit one taken to extremes for satirical purposes. It is a television classic, and the complete series is a welcome addition to DVD.
Video Rating: 3/5 / 3D Rating: NA
These shows were recorded on videotape, with all of its inherent limitations, but the images here are quite satisfactory. The picture is a bit on the soft side at times, but that likely is how it originally looked. Contrast appears to be stronger than what we saw in the 2007 release. In general the colors appear to be accurate and even vivid, although some of the flesh tones seem to me to be slightly oversaturated. Given the source material, however, that is a minor quibble and I would have to say that overall Sony has done a nice job with this.
Depending upon your monitor, you may notice some slight videotape underscan at the top and left side of the first two episodes. I also see this on the same episodes in the 2007 DVD set. I have not been able to look at all 325 episodes, but I spot checked many of them and did not observe this issue anywhere else in the set.
Audio Rating: 3/5The audio is nothing special, but there is nothing to complain about, either. The mono sound is clear and intelligible, which is pretty much all that you can ask of a 38-year-old television show.
There are no subtitles.
Special Features: 4/5There are two bonus discs which contain the extras.
First is "Inside the Funhouse Mirror," a featurette in which executive producer Norman Lear and stars Louise Lasser and Mary Kay Place discuss the making of the show. Lasser confesses that she didn't really begin to understand her character until she had made two episodes. The featurette is interspersed with scenes from the show. It has a copyright date of 2008 and presumably was made by Sony in anticipation of future DVD releases of the show.
"On the Verge Of..." has Lear and Lasser recalling the famous "nervous breakdown" episode which was the conclusion of the first season. This featurette was made at the same time as "Inside the Funhouse Mirror."
The two featurettes are followed by ten complete episodes of Fernwood 2 Night, the spinoff spoof of TV talk shows starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard. Louise Lasser, citing exhaustion from making so many shows, left Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1977 and was replaced by Fernwood 2 Night for the months of July, August and September. Martin Mull stars as Barth Gimble, the host of show, and Fred Willard plays his clueless sidekick, Jerry Hubbard. The show's accordion-driven band is called Happy Kyne and his Mirthmakers, and the bandleader is played by real-life film and television composer Frank De Vol. The assortment of episodes includes one from July, and the remainder are from August and September. Perhaps this is a harbinger of a complete series set.
The 325 episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman are spread over 36 discs, six discs per flipper keep case. The extras are on two discs which are contained in a slimcase. There also is a 40-page illustrated booklet with essays by Normal Lear and television critic Tom Shales, and it also contains a complete episode guide. The cases and booklet fit securely into a sturdy cardboard slipcase.