Discovering Mary in 2012

It wasn’t until my feminist role model Jennifer mentioned The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s forward-thinking plotlines (birth control in the 70s!) that I felt compelled to dive into the fabulously free Hulu archives and find out for myself why this TV show had earned its reputation as a classic. I watched the first few episodes and was genuinely surprised by my experience. I had assumed MTM would feel dated; its themes stale, distracting my attention the same way that Dana Scully’s awful 90s pantsuits prevent me from loving old X-Files episodes. It’s a testament to the show’s fantastic writing (and the revival of many fantastic ’70s trends) that the show feels not only relevant, but also refreshing in its honest and authentic portrayal of women.

Considering these women existed in a world of bell bottoms and berets, I did not expect to relate to Mary Richards and Rhoda the way I did. As a single 20-something New York woman working in television (as an Associate Producer!), I found much more in common with these women than Carrie Bradshaw and her brunch-loving company. Instead of a glamorized, sleek version of professional and personal struggles, Mary faces conflicts that are relevant and relatable 40 years later. One moment that struck close to home for me occurred when Lou Grant drunkenly comes knocking on Mary’s door, causing Mary to suspect, for the first time, that her typing skills weren’t the only reason she was hired at this company. I doubt any confident woman has not had the same suspicions during interviews.

Self-assured, single and beautiful, Mary and Rhoda are not the typical kind of ’70s women characters. They are believable in their struggle to stay afloat in the tumultuous world of dating. Within the first two episodes, they both encounter typical dating conundrums. Mary reconnects with a man who’s too into her, and naturally finds his desperation wildly unattractive. On the flipside, Rhoda realizes a man she hoped to date is completely unavailable (read: married). Rhoda gorges herself with snacks in a moment of rejection. This moment resonated deeply with me. One of my most effective coping mechanisms is bacon.

A flawed yet genuine character, Mary is stronger and more honest than most female protagonists on TV today. (Sorry, New Girl’s Jess Day and any lady on Whitney.) She’s honest about who she is and what she wants, yet she doesn’t feel sorry for herself that things haven’t shaken out in her favor. In a world before marriage was degraded into a reality show prize (thanks for that, The Bachelor and Millionaire Matchmaker), it’s comforting to see a woman embrace her singlehood without letting it define her. Relationship status is just one component of a complex, dynamic, and modern woman. MTM is a refreshing reminder that fulfillment isn’t about being either happily single or happily married – it’s about being happy.

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