Maude, starring Bea Arthur, was probably the edgiest and most controversial situation comedy of its time. Maude The Complete First Season is a three DVD 22 episode set that firmly belongs in the it's about time category. Some viewers might have a hard time understanding why Maude was so controversial but all they have to ask themselves is would a modern sitcom dare take on such topics as abortion, race relations, or having an affair without sugar coating them? Then again, a modern sitcom wouldn't take on the kind of comedy topics Maude took on.
Back in the seventies television situation comedy was groundbreaking, original, funny, and about real people and real issues. Norman Lear can be credited for a lot of that. He created All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, One Day At A Time, and Sandford And Son to name a few. The Norman Lear comedy family tree is about as hard to follow as a redneck's. Simply put, All in the Family begat Maude which begat Good Times. Maude, as The Complete First Season shows, is a solid branch on that tree.
The first episode of Maude The Complete First Season is not a solid introduction to the series. In part this is because Maude's Problem is not a pilot (the show's pilot is part of the second season of All In The Family, Maude being Edith Bunker's cousin) so the show kicks off midstream when she learns her daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau) is seeing a shrink. The confrontation between the psychiatrist and Maude is a bit too mild.
What made Maude is Bea Arthur. Her ability to play the role seriously and over the top at the same time as well as her great skill at deadpan made the character. The first season of Maude also features Conrad Bain (of Diff'rent Strokes fame) as Arthur. Arthur is a solid conservative match for Maude both in terms of debating her and lighting her fuse. Lear makes him a bit of a straw man but there is enough to the character to make him more than a conservative patsy.
Arch-liberal Maude is not above being proven wrong or perhaps a bit hypocritical. Aside from the Doctor Doctor episode where the beauty of the human body is the topic, there's also the fact she hires a black housekeeper, Florida Evans (who would go on to have her own series Good Times), and is then uncomfortable about having a black person clean for her. Esther Rolle is great as Florida and the character is more than a match for her employer.
Florida makes a very good black guest of honor and militant in episode 5 when she fills in for Maude's only black guests and her guest of honor at a fundraiser party she is throwing. Watching Maude getting loaded on booze and tranquilizers during the party is a hoot. The show gets a bit out of control but is a lot of fun.
Most ironic while watching Maude The Complete First Season is realizing the 1972 Maude is the exact and now extinct liberal Bush Republicans and the right wing nut jobs are complaining about in 2007. DVD 2 opens with the most famous Maude episode ever, Maude's Dilemna, where Beatrice Arthur's character discovers she is pregnant at 47. This causes Maude to have to make a serious decision and the first of its kind on a television situation comedy.
Less stellar episodes are The Slum Lord where both writing and story go nowhere and Walter's 50th Birthday where Walter's long lost friend croaks and everybody overacts, especially Bill Macy, though the line "middle-aged people always look better to other middle-aged people; that's what keeps us from killing ourselves" is a gem. Walter's Secret, where Maude discovers Walter might have cheated on her, could have been better.
All in all though Maude The Complete First Season is a solid seventies situation comedy that has survived very well even if a few of the historical and political references may be lost on even those who saw the original shows. For those wondering about it, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has once again released a sitcom uncut. Unlike the syndicated version of the show, each episode on Maude The Complete First Season features every single minute including the very funny show epilogues. Unfortunately, there is nothing in terms of extras here.
Other seventy situation comedy DVD reviews
Our review I Dream of Jeannie The Complete Series
Our review Mash Season 8
Our review The Mary Tyler Moore Show Best of Season One
Our review Welcome Back Kotter Season One
Our review Bewitched Season Two
Our review Good Times Season Four
Our review Gilligan's Island Season Three
Our review One Day at a Time Season One
Our review Sandord and Son Season 6
Our review Barney Miller Season Two