The Ninjabot

Mama’s Family DVD Release and Top 10 Episodes

Posted on September 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Nathan Tolle

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On my list of movies and TV shows that I’ve been hoping would get a much-deserved and long-overdue DVD release, the 80’s series Mama’s Family was always at the top. The first season was released many years ago, but like so many programs, Mama’s Family got better as it went along; therefore, year after year, I was saddened by the lack of news regarding the other seasons being released. But my patience will finally be rewarded later this week (hopefully tomorrow, c’mon FedEx!) when Time Life sends me the entire series of Mama’s Family on DVD, along with several hours of bonus features. From my understanding, all of the seasons will be available individually on Amazon in the near future, but the only way to get the special features is to buy the complete series on Time Life’s website for $200.

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Mama’s Family was a spin-off from a recurring skit that ran from 1974-1978 on The Carol Burnett Show. After only one and a half seasons on NBC, it was cancelled in 1984 because of low ratings, but was revived a couple years later in a new incarnation on first-run syndication. In addition to the color scheme being changed, half of the characters were written off, and the personalities were slightly altered for those remaining. Major characters like Buzz and Sonia completely disappeared and were never mentioned again. Also, during the hiatus, Rue McClanahan and Betty White signed onto The Golden Girls on NBC so they were unavailable to return. Joining Mama, Vint, and Naomi in the new version were grandson Bubba and next-door-neighbor Iola, two immensely entertaining and likable characters. I enjoy the early episodes, but all of the changes made for the new version were for the better, and as a result, the best seasons of Mama’s Family were easily the last four.

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To celebrate Mama’s Family‘s arrival on DVD, I’ve decided to make a top ten list of my favorite episodes—even though I haven’t watched the show in many years, I practically memorized every episode as a young lad so I still remember them well enough.  Some programs that we adored as children lose their humor or uniqueness as we get older, but I am confident that Mama’s Family will be as fresh and funny as ever in 2013.

10. “Mama Gets a Job”
Season 1

When she hears that Aunt Effie got a job as a file clerk, Mama believes that a life outside of her home and her family’s shenanigans might do her some good, so she finds employment as a receptionist in a travel agency. She can’t figure out how the phone works, she is rude to the customers, and her family keeps calling her to resolve petty issues between them, so it’s unlikely that she’ll still have the job by the next episode.

Funniest moment: When Mama practices the obligatory introduction, “It’s a GREAT day here at the Raytown Travel Agency. Can I HELP YOU??!?!”

9. “Mama Fights Back”
Season 6

When Mama gets into a spat with a local radio consumer advocate, the station’s manager is so impressed that he makes her the new host. The Harpers broadcast out of their home and all goes well until Mama decides that she’s done being nice granny Harper. Much to the horror of her sponsors, she goes on venomous attacks against businesses who sell disappointing donuts and dangerous toys.

Funniest moment: With just a minute to go before Mama goes on the air for the first time, chaos ensues when Iola is reminding her that thousands of people will be listening to her every word, Bubba is teaching her hand signals, and Roselle Huplander, the Bob Sacomano of Mama’s Family (often mentioned but never seen), is calling to request Mama’s fudge recipe.

8. “The Love Letter”
Season 3

Ah, misunderstandings, where would sitcoms be without you? When Vint and Naomi’s marriage is in desperate need of romance, the “cold fish” Vint asks the “steamy Romeo” Bubba if he could write a love letter for him, but this affectionate, albeit poorly-spelled piece of paper ends up being mistakenly passed around and misinterpreted numerous times.

Funniest moment: When a shocked Mama thinks that the refrigerator repairman wrote the love letter to her, he isn’t exactly clearing his name when he tells her to lie back and enjoy (the reduction of her bill).

7. “Rashomama”
Season 2

Mama is hospitalized while cooking gooseberry jam, and Naomi, Ellen, and Eunice take turns telling their side of the story. These flashback scenes naturally contain a lot of inconsistencies and embellishments, and it’s a riot how a character can be cartoonishly evil in one interpretation, and benevolently angelic in another. In the early seasons, you could always rely on the feuding sisters played by Betty White and Carol Burnett to spice up an episode, and they both receive a refreshing amount of screen time here.

Funniest moment: Eunice’s story is probably the funniest; since she was such a miserable crab in the first two flashbacks, it’s hilarious to see her brimming with positivity and not being bothered by a wicked witch Ellen and a dimwitted tramp Naomi.

6. “Reading the Riot Act”
Season 5

Mama’s Family was a very funny show but it also had its heart in the right place, and would occasionally touch on serious topics such as homelessness, equal rights, sexual harassment, etc. In this episode, Thelma is fed up with Lolly Purdue, the President of the Church Ladies League and persuades the board members to impeach her, but in a surprising dramatic shift, Lolly confesses something personal about herself that is profoundly moving to Thelma.

Funniest moment: When Lolly tells Thelma in her kindest Church Lady manner to unseal the envelopes, take the “Christ may have risen but not our prices” advertisements, and stick ‘em in.

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5. “My Mama, Myself”
Season 5

Stupid title aside, this is a unique episode where Mama is haunted by the ghost of Grandmother Crowley when she is considering selling a family heirloom. As grumpy and bossy as Mama is, Vicki Lawrence truly turns the grouch level up to 11 playing the Grandmother, and it’s delightful to see the two Vicki Lawrence characters play off each other. But what really makes this episode work is how the other characters react to Mama’s suddenly bizarre behavior.

Funniest moment: At the dinner table, Grandmother Crowley ridicules Mama’s cooking, among other things, and Mama has to deal with her while simultaneously engaging the family in awkward conversation. The result goes something like this:
Mama: You’ll lose a finger like Uncle Roy
Bubba: Who’s Uncle Roy?
Ghost Crowley: You never told him about Uncle Roy?
Mama: I’VE GOT ENOUGH ON MY MIND BESIDES UNCLE ROY!
Bubba: Then why’d you bring him up?
Ghost Crowley: Are you gonna let him talk back to you like that?
Mama: Don’t talk back to me like that.

4. “The Really Loud Family”
Season 5

Bubba needs to make a documentary for his class, so he goes cinema verite and turns the camera on his family (and of course Iola) to capture what life is really like for an average family in Raytown, Missouri. It takes some time for everyone to relax and act naturally in front of the camera, but they all eventually share fond childhood memories and give Bubba plenty of heartwarming material. Unfortunately, nobody realized that the camera was malfunctioning in the most inopportune times, giving an edginess to their seemingly harmless tales.

Funniest moment: Obviously, that would have to be when Bubba’s video airs on television, much to the horror of Raytownians.

3. “Child’s Play”
Season 4

I always adored the episodes with Reverend Meechum (who just had to be the inspiration for Reverend Lovejoy in The Simpsons) and his wife, Alberta, played by the great, late Anne Haney. A medical emergency prompts them to ask Mama if she wouldn’t mind babysitting their precious grandson, little Eugene. The actor playing this devil child does an amazing job in manipulating and terrorizing the Harper family, and turning their home into an explosion at the Cool Whip factory.

Funniest moment: Iola, under the impression that all this boy needs is a little love, understanding, and mental stimulation, gives Eugene a present: a ball on a stick. But when he decides to break this cheap toy, Iola explodes into her one of her classic “pent-up aggression-fueled” rages.

2. “Harper versus Harper”
Season 2

The majority of this episode takes place in a courtroom, where Thelma and Naomi are suing each other for damages stemming from an incident where Naomi’s vacuum cleaner and Thelma’s rug destroyed each other. An impatient, stressed-out Judge clashing with the crazy Harper Family—the kind of formula that has made Judge Judy the most successful daytime show for years—is surefire comedy gold, and you can’t blame the poor judge for throwing both Thelma and Naomi in contempt, and then storming out for a much-deserved combination of beer and Tylenol.

Funniest moment: Just when the Judge thinks this case can’t get any more ridiculous, an emotional and distraught Aunt Fran (played by the delightful Rue McClanahan) approaches the bench and throws herself on the mercy of the court by confessing that she removed the ugly little tag that says “do not remove under penalty of law.” Even though I preferred the syndicated version of Mama’s Family by a mile, I always missed Aunt Fran.

1. “April Fools”
Season 5

This episode reminds me a little of the Roseanne Halloween episodes where a family takes great delight in playing pranks on each other. Mama despises April Fools Day because she is always the victim of trickery, and this one gets off to a particularly bad start when she allows a rubber snake, a joy buzzer, a Rump Roast sign, and an unappetizing lemon sponge cake to get the best of her. She decides it’s finally time to turn the tables on her relatives and she does it in a way that would have made Roseanne proud.

Funniest moment: I consider this to be the funniest Mama’s Family episode so there is a lot of material to choose from. However, it’s tough to beat the scene where the absolutely adorable Iola surprises us all with her holiday spirit, giving Thelma her favorite dessert. “You’re lucky I didn’t bring the bear claws”

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