Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!

Place: Which Wich
Lunch: Italian Grinder (toasted on white with mozzarella, yellow mustard, spicy mayo, pickles, red onions, mushrooms, and olives), Pibb XTRA (with super awesome pebble ice)

Ohhh I'm serious this is the best sandwich ever you have to have one or two or three...

I started last week with a cold.  Seriously congested.  Completely wiped me out on Thursday, and largely over the weekend.  I hate it when that happens.  I suppose I was due...I can't remember the last time I was major league sick.

So I took some Ny-Quil and a decongestant, and tried to sleep.  Usually, I either can't sleep and think about very odd things, or I DO sleep and dream about very odd things. 

I'm not sure if I slept or not, but the dreams/thoughts ultimately reared a completely out-of-the-blue subject from my childhood that I haven't thought of in years...

Mary Hartman.

Mary Hartman!  Mary Hartman!

For the uninitated, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was a Norman Lear-produced syndicated daily half-hour series intended as a satire on soap operas.  Over a period of roughly eighteen months in the mid-1970's, they produced an astonishing 325 episodes before star Louise Lasser (an ex-wife of Woody Allen) quit the show citing exhaustion.  The remainder of the cast (which included Mary Kay Place as neighbor/singer Loretta...probably the most memorable character besides Mary herself...Debralee Scott, Dody Goodman, and Claudia Lamb) continued on without her under the name "Forever Fernwood" for awhile longer (the show was set in the fictional Fernwood, Ohio), and it prompted a talk show satire spinoff called "Fernwood 2-Nite" starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard.

The show was highly controversial and usually aired late at night due to its content, mostly due to very frank discussions about sex and sexual-related topics, not to mention women's health.  You didn't hear the word 'cramps' on regular soaps.  You did here.  And while the primary women on the cast would adjust their dresses so as to not reveal anything to other characters, they acted like the camera wasn't even there.  Mary would adjust the right side of her dress as she turned to face another character while giving a full underwear shot to the camera.  Just one of those subtle jokes within the show.  Product placement and real brand name-dropping was another...we knew just from the script that Fernwood was home to a Safeway, Jack in the Box, Thrify Drug, and a Levitz.  (For being set in Ohio, Fernwood was awfully Californian.)  Mary regularly acted as if she were in a domestic product commercial.  Her very first dilemna in the first episode was about "waxy yellow build-up" on her kitchen floor.

But it wasn't all comedy.  Lasser delivered some incredibly emotional performances, particularly when fighting with her husband.

"Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was one of the most brilliant dark comedies ever devised and I knew it when it originally aired, even though I was ten at the time and a lot of the stuff went over my head.  From the debut episode with the mass murder of the Lombardi family ("all five of them...plus two goats and eight chickens") to Mary's nervous breakdown at the end of the first season, this was simply amazing television.

So I just had to see it again as an adult to see how well it held up.  It turns out just one DVD collection with just the first 25 episodes exists (don't think the fan base isn't peeved about that), so I picked it up. 

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed.  I thought it wouldn't hold up as well as I remembered, especially with the cough medicine having worn off.

I was wrong.

I was SERIOUSLY wrong.

What I thought would take a few weeks of spare time viewing to watch was done in three days. 

I couldn't stop watching until I was out of shows to watch.  It didn't help that Sony left the DVD set off at a seemingly random place.  They probably should have left it at eighteen episodes (where the Lombardi murders were resolved) if at all.

Listen to the fans, Sony.  We NEED the complete series.

We NEED it.

AND the spin-offs.

(YEARS LATER: Shout! Factory has come to the rescue and released the complete series on DVD.  YES.)