Wednesday, February 19, 2020

There's Something About Mary Tyler Moore

A few weeks ago I picked up The Mary Tyler Moore Show on DVD. The price was right, and the show has a superb reputation on top of my fond memories of the few episodes I saw back in the 1970s in Leaf Rapids.

I've watched the first dozen episodes, and the show holds up; the comedy is organic, character-based, rarely cheap, and the dramatic moments are well-earned. Yes, there's an annoying laugh track, but that's part of the package for TV programming of this era.

For reasons I'm struggling to articulate, however, this show has struck a deeper chord than simply enjoying well-crafted entertainment. From the moment I started watching the pilot episode, which begins with the famous theme song played atop a montage of Mary's move to Minneapolis - her new beginning after a failed engagement - tears sprung to my eyes, despite the hopeful theme of both the music and the narrative. The show is about Mary building a new life for herself in an exciting environment, making new friends, and being free and single at 30. There shouldn't be anything sad about that, and yet as I watch the show I can't help but react strongly to everything that's been lost from that era; not just the surface things, like the fashion, the interior decor, the old analog technology, but also the sense that western civilization was not yet a dystopia. Decaying, perhaps, and ridden with crime, malaise, and poverty, but somehow still alive and vibrant and rich with the promise of better days to come.

This is of course not a true reflection of the show, but my own particular demons at this moment in time. I think I must be looking for escape to a simpler time, even if I know that, objectively, the 1970s was as fraught with existential threats as the 2020s.

I'd feel differently, I think, if the past wasn't sealed off; if we could visit once in a while, like we would another country, just for a month, a week, a day, even. Just to smell the air and rediscover things long forgotten. Maybe then I'd feel like we might just make it after all. 

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