I have to admit that one of my favorite MTM episodes is “Put on a Happy Face,” in which things go continually wrong for Mary as a journalism awards dinner looms. I thought it was interesting that many of her issues affect her looks–the hair bump, the stuffy nose, a wayward fake eyelash. She even says from onstage, accepting her award: ” I usually look so much better than this.”
It’s a bit disturbing that Mary puts so much stock in her appearance…but then again, don’t we all? Mary is usually so perfect-looking, nary a hair out of place, that it’s fascinating to see her lose it when her appearance for once is beyond her control.
This won’t last long though, as Rhoda knows: “You’re having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 3000 peanut butter cups and die.”
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.