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Monday, July 5, 2010

DVD Dish: Rhoda Morgenstern's Third Season

Tomorrow Shout! Factory releases a 4-disc box set of the third season of Rhoda, in which she and her TV series go through a period of transition. After two years of wedded bliss to the hairy-chested Joe Gerard, the producers of the sitcom decided to break up the couple and make Rhoda a single lady once again. Apparently it was too difficult for the writers to come up with interesting stories about a happily married heroine, so a painful separation and divorce was the only solution. However, it's not easy to watch some of the early episodes of the third season as Rhoda is obviously depressed over her failing marriage. But as the series continues and Rhoda gets on with her life, she becomes happier, which makes for a much more entertaining viewing experience. In fact, I actually prefer Ms. Morgenstern without a husband - like her old friend, Mary Richards. Although Rhoda's first season wedding episode is a classic, she should never have married Joe, which was a big mistake. But forcing us to watch this couple split up was an even bigger mistake. They should've just written Joe off the show and began the third season after their divorce, so Rhoda would have been ready to move on.

Another major change during the series' third season is the absence of the wonderful Nancy Walker as Rhoda's mother, Ida, who goes off with her husband, Martin, on a Bicentennial road trip. The actress, meanwhile, starred in two short-lived sitcoms of her own - The Nancy Walker Show and Blansky's Beauties - before returning as a regular for Rhoda's fourth season. It's a shame that this had to happen right when Rhoda was having all her marital problems - she needed her mother more than ever during this time - and the show needed Ms. Walker, whose presence I definitely missed.

However, despite Rhoda and Joe's separation and no Ida, the 24 complete and unedited episodes of Rhoda's third season still feature the fabulous Valerie Harper and Julie Kavner as Rhoda's sister, Brenda. Together these two lovely ladies provide many laughs and make the series worth watching again. Also, there's a groovy retro feel to the show with many pop culture references (Ms. Magazine, The Gong Show, Sonny and Cher) and, of course, all the wild clothes of the mid-1970s. But I would love to know why Rhoda has a poster of the 1969 Broadway musical, Dear World, on her apartment wall - did she see the show or is she just a big Angela Lansbury fan? Anyway, below I've selected 10 of my favorite episodes on the DVD, which I recommend for any fan of the series.

1) "The Separation" (Original Air Date: September 20, 1976)
Rhoda wants to buy a house; Joe doesn't - and this leads to him confessing that he's not happy and needs some time to himself. Nancy Walker makes her only appearance of the season as Ida comforts her daughter in a touching scene. Although it's a sad episode, I think the writing is quite good and effective.

2) "Together Again For The First Time" (September 27, 1976)
Actor David Groh (Joe) is shirtless for an entire scene as Rhoda visits Joe's new apartment and they go out together for the first time since their separation.

3) "Meet The Levys" (November 15, 1976)
The best new character of this season is Ron Silver's Gary Levy, a jean-store owner who trades apartments with Rhoda and becomes friends with her and Brenda. And this funny episode has Rhoda agreeing to play his girlfriend when they visit his parents. The always amusing Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) appears as Gary's mother, Sylvia.

4) "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" (January 3, 1977)
Rhoda throws a New Year's Eve party, in which she shakes her groove thing, Carlton the doorman makes an unexpected appearance, and Brenda gets drunk and tells Gary that he's sexy. Gary also wears a denim pantsuit that is definitely a sign of the times.

5) "Love For Sale" (January 10, 1977)
Rhoda and Brenda help Gary out at his clothing store, and he and Brenda get "swept away by the madcap clearance sale" and share an unexpected kiss.

6) "Somebody Has To Say They're Sorry" (January 23, 1977)
Rhoda's new neighbor is a prostitute with an inviting happy face on her door, but undercover police officer Ernie Joyce (played by Lou Grant's Robert Walden) mistakenly arrests Rhoda for soliciting. This, of course, upsets Ms. Morgenstern, who later confronts the cop to request an apology. Ray Buktenica appears for the first time as Benny Goodwin, who goes out on a blind date with Brenda.

7) "Rhoda's Mystery Man" (February 6, 1977)
Rhoda receives roses, candy and a real diamond ring from a secret admirer, who turns out to be Las Vegas lounge singer Johnny Venture (played by Michael DeLano). He appears in three episodes during the season, and I enjoyed the banter between him and Rhoda, who refuses to wind up as another trophy on his mantel.

8) "Nose Job" (February 20, 1977)
Brenda decides to get a nose job in order to be beautiful, but Rhoda thinks it's a foolish idea.  Plastic surgeon David Ogden Stiers (who later joined the cast of M*A*S*H) delivers a great line after he tells Brenda that many women want to look like their favorite actress. But when she reveals that Barbra Streisand is her favorite, he responds with: "I fix them, I don't break them."

9) "The Second Time Around" (February 27, 1977)
A handsome Frank Converse plays Brenda's boss at the bank, who asks Rhoda out on a date.

10) "Pajama Party Bingo" (March 6, 1977)
Brenda's insecurity with her looks continues in this episode as she changes her hair, which - according to her sister - makes her look like Harpo Marx. Beverly Sanders shows up as Rhoda's high school friend, Susie, whom Rhoda invites over for a pajama party.

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