Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (Volume I)
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 564 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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 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 grandfather, has been arrested for indecent exposure. 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 Dabney Coleman, Martin Mull, and Ed Begley Jr.
Volume 1 includes the first 25 episodes, a full season for a sitcom today but just the first five weeks of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It’s a bit unclear how many episodes actually aired. TV.com lists 307 episodes, while other sources I have seen show 325 episodes. Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that Louise Lasser left the show early in 1977, citing exhaustion. The show continued for a while under the name Forever Fernwood and led to a spin-off called Fernwood 2-Night (which itself was subsequently re-named America 2-Night). The 25 episodes on this DVD set were originally televised between January 6, 1976 and February 7, 1976. Each episode appears to be complete, including the full closing credits and a preview of the next episode.
I was a big fan of this show, 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 lot of respect for the intelligence of his viewers, and he figured that people 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 a welcome addition to DVD. The only question in my mind is whether Sony will release the entire series, which at this rate would require at least a dozen volumes.
These shows were recorded on videotape, and the images here are quite satisfactory. The picture is a bit on the soft side at times, but that may be how it originally looked. In general the colors appear to be accurate, 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. By way of comparison, these episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman look significantly better than what we have seen thus far of All in the Family.
The audio is nothing special, but nothing to complain about, either. The mono sound is clear and intelligible, which is pretty much all that you can ask of a 30-year-old television show.
There are no supplements. Some things that I could suggest would include information about the cast and perhaps commentaries from the likes of Louise Lasser and Mary Kay Place.
The main menu allows viewers the option of playing all episodes or individual episodes. Disc 3 includes promos for other television series which have been issued on DVD by Sony.
The 25 episodes are spread over three discs which come in two slimcases inside a slipcase. Discs one and two each contain nine episodes; disc three contains seven episodes and the Sony promotional materials.
The Final Analysis
Fans of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman will be thrilled to see the show look so good on DVD. I only hope that it sells well enough to convince Sony to release future volumes. For those who have never seen the show, be aware of the fact that this is not a typical sitcom. Much of the humor is deadpan, and it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, it’s well worth viewing, if only to see what all the fuss was about.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: March 27, 2007