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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
"Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" Volume 1 is going to be a tough sell for anyone under 50. It's one of those shows where you 'had to be there' to appreciate. I'm not sure it holds up for modern audiences nor will it acquire new fans.

My memory of the show takes me back to my college years at NYU (1975-1979). My various dorms (Weinstein, Brittany) were noisy until 11:30 PM. You really couldn't study or even think with all those stereos blasting disco music. I went to the library or worked on my 16mm student films or attended the various Repertory cinemas like The Elgin, Bleecker Street Cinema, 8th Street Playhouse or Cinema Village to see classics at night to avoid the ear shattering noise. However, from 11:30 to Midnight the stereos turned off and everyone's portable 12 inch black and white televisions in the dorms were tuned to this show. You could hear it in every room that had a TV and it was a hit with college age students.

Was it good? A tough question. It was certainly campy and outrageous...for 1976
that is. Norman Leer couldn't sell it to Networks because of it's content so he marketed it to syndicated stations which usually played it late at night to avoid viewer complaints. It tackled similar controversial subjects that "All in the Family" did but with a far darker sense of humor and less of an overt Leftist agenda. Virtually everyting was mocked from religion to middle class morality. Venerial disease (in the pre-AIDS days), serial killers, impotency and infidelity were all incorporated for laughs. The cast was strange to say the least. Woody Allen's ex-wife, Lousie Lasser, starred and played her 'desperate housewife' in a deadpan manner. Dody Goodman ("Grease") played her mother which was a quirky bit of casting since she was also a complete flake. In later episodes Dabney Coleman and Martin Mull were featured. They were the only ones to take off after the show. The rest of the cast disappeared.

The shows were cheesy and cheap looking. Tacky sets with flat lighting. Lots of flubs by the actors who would miss a line then pick it up and say it again. Obviously shot quickly and off the cuff but that was part of the fun. For those
who follow fashion trends, there was a whole lotta hair in the seventies. The difference was it was styled. In the late sixties, long hair was a statement of
rebellion. In the seventies it was just part of the fashion. Scraggly, long and
dirty hippie hair was replaced by long and fluffy stylized hair. Most of the cast members have huge hairdos even though they are past thirty (and according to rhetoric can't be trusted). The male actors who have hair (and are not bald)
also have long styled hair too (i.e. the two reporters outside the laundry).
Lasser's hairdo is truly bizarre as is Mary Kay Place which looks like it's exploded
on top of her head.

Unfortunately, other than those watching it nostalgically like me (bringing me back to my college days), they really haven't aged well. References like the runaway
inflation of the seventies will be lost to contemporary viewers since we've had a stable economy for decades despite our other problems. Later soap opera spoofs like "Desperate Housewives" or cable shows like "Sex in the City" are far more outrageous making this one seem tame in comparison. And the production
value is very poor compared to these shows.

Then again, there are still some crazy episodes in this first set including an accident where a bunch of nuns are run over which is played for laughs. Bruce Solomon is also amusing as an amorous cop trying to sleep with Louise Lasser (for completely inexplicable reasons since her personality is very annoying). His perpetual grin is funny to watch.

This is a show that you had to be patient with. You'd sit through about three or four episodes that seemed like standard soap opera material until something outrageous would happen to remind you that this was a Leer production.

I guess my main objection to this first set is that it's incomplete. It's obvious they are missing episodes. There's an incident when Charlie and Loretta are terrorized by hillbillies (a spoof of "Deliverance") that is missing the beginning. All you get is the end of the scene. In other episodes, most of the previous one is shown before you get to new material. It's possible that the original two inch videotapes deteriorated or were lost since this show left the airwaves in the seventies. Old videotape was very unstable and technicians often have only one pass to try to transfer it from analogue to digital before all of the oxide flakes off. Two inch videotape is also an obsolete process making it more difficult to convert.

In summary, unless you're a devoted Norman Leer fan and/or like soaps in general, you may not enjoy this show. It's pretty tame compared to current soaps (both legitmate and spoofs). The characters are very obnoxious or annoying which you'll either find funny or excruciating to watch.

It's also very surprising that there are no extras at all. Many of the cast members
are still around including Lasser and even Dody Goodman. No interviews or commentaries at all. (I did look up the fate of the actor playing "Grandpa Larkin".
I was disturbed to find out he was murdered by robbers).

I hope they release the later episodes although this edited for DVD version has not been getting good reviews and angering older fans because of the missing footage. Since the show was on five days a week for a few years, it will take many more volumes to complete the series.

There was a spin-off called "Fernwood Tonight" that was funnier and might have
contemporary appeal. It was a take off of a talk show starring Martin Mull and
Fred Willard ("Best in Show") that was a riot. It's only available on bootleg DVDs.

It's a shame that Norman Leer wasn't diligent about preservation of
his shows. Unlike so many other Television producers who shot on
35mm film, he made all of his series on highly volatile and archivally
unstable two inch videotape. Many were re-edited for syndication which
he didn't seem to object to either. I guess for him it was a 'one shot
deal' and anything else was icing on the cake as opposed to others who
were making shows for the future on formats that would last or could
be adapted to anything that might be invented (i.e. 35mm or 16mm
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