Rhoda, you haven't changed a bit. The sarcasm, the wishy-washiness, the inner-turmoil surrounding a mother-daughter relationship -- it's still boiling over and inviting as ever. Mary, you're a whole lot harder to write for, and attempting to put a few scars on the smile that turned everyone on is a tricky proposition.

Rhoda, you haven’t changed a bit. The sarcasm, the wishy-washiness, the inner-turmoil surrounding a mother-daughter relationship — it’s still boiling over and inviting as ever. Mary, you’re a whole lot harder to write for, and attempting to put a few scars on the smile that turned everyone on is a tricky proposition.

The grand return of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern lacks the zing of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” taking obvious routes one moment, heading into slapstick the next and then negotiating curves in the plot that are just plain baffling.

Taking characters from a great sitcom and moving them into this feel-good drama is a tough task, one that the script isn’t up to. There are too many unsympathetic characters, among them the leading ladies’ two daughters, to recapture the magic of the classic MTM. Fans of the great sitcom will certainly ask, “Where’s the humor?”

Mary and Rhoda are single, and both have returned to New York, though neither has spoken to the other for years. Mary, now Richards-Cronin, has been in Italy since the death five months earlier of her congressman husband. Upon her return, she immediately learns her daughter Rose (Joie Lenz) has moved in with a boyfriend. At least she’s still enrolled at NYU.

Rhoda’s daughter Meredith (Marisa Ryan) is less than thrilled to see mom at the doorstep. Meredith — get it? the daughters are Mare and Ro — is confused why Rhoda, after wandering around Europe in search of personal answers after her divorce, would wind up in Gotham. It’s a perfect place, she says, to jump-start her passion for art and photography.

Naturally, Mary and Rhoda attempt to find each other, and when they do, all is forgiven and whatever one needs, the other can deliver. Rhoda needs a place to stay; Mary has an extra room. Mary fears being alone; Rhoda is still a chatterbox and a shoulder to lean on. Both are concerned they’re not on equal footing financially and, surprise, Mary’s husband spent all the money during his last campaign. Mary needs a job. She’s 60 — a fact she harps on — and it has been eight years since she last worked for ABC News.

Taking a job at a station that’s the evil antithesis of WJM, Mary gets devious after working on a story about a white teen gang member who has committed murder. Vain anchorwoman Cecile Andrews (Christine Ebersole) wants to stay in the good graces of impatient station head Jonah Seimeier (Elon Gold) and gives her news report a dishonest twist. Mary recuts the seg and switches tapes, which wins over her colleagues and patrons at a bar who watch the news with her.

Valerie Harper, who mugs her way through a job as a photographer’s assistant, brings Rhoda to life with no baggage. Her depiction is pure and comfortable.

Over the years, she has lost none of her spunk, and her bitterness toward her ex flows without exaggeration. Her relationship with her daughter is at a great stage of imbalance, a reflection of the manner in which she and “mom” Nancy Walker went toe-to-toe during the 1970s. It’s a well-executed version of a woman not wanting to repeat her mother’s mistakes.

Mary is more multi-dimensional — or at least that’s what this telepic tries to say — and it’s harder to get a grip on who she truly has become. Sure she still can’t throw a party, but this now threatens the family unit. She appears to have lost her sense of humor, and when she has to face the caustic people behind the nightly news, she suddenly puts on a brave face and decides to do things her way. Calmly and determined.

That would be acceptable were the script not forcing odd awkward situations upon her. Side issues are labored, and the supporting cast is limited to one-dimensional characterizations, which shortchanges Lenz and Ryan. Were this a series, as had been planned, its ability to have a life beyond an initial 13 episodes would have been doubtful.

Theme song, “Love Is All Around,” gets a great revving up from Joan Jett; review cassette lacked a final score. New York locales are well shot.

Mary and Rhoda

ABC; Mon. Feb. 7, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New York City by Fox Television Studios and ABC. Executive producers, Mary Tyler Moore, Susan B. Landau. Producer, Cecilia Kate Roque; director, Barnet Kellman; writer, Katie Ford.

Crew

Camera, Adam Holender; production designer, Christopher Nowak; editor, Jeff Wishengrad; music, David Kitay; casting, Phyllis Huffman. 120 MIN.

With

Mary Richards Cronin - Mary Tyler Moore Rhoda Morgenstern Rousseau - Valerie Harper Rose - Joie Lenz Meredith - Marisa Ryan Jonah Seimeier - Elon Gold Cecile Andrews - Christine Ebersole With: Steve Ryan, Mia Dillon, Tommy Hollis, Jeff Skowron, Rick Gomez, Eddie Korbich, John Rothman, James Handy, Barbara Garrick, Joe Zaloom, John Roney, Jean DeBaer, Patrick Garner.
With: Steve Ryan, Mia Dillon, Tommy Hollis, Jeff Skowron, Rick Gomez, Eddie Korbich, John Rothman, James Handy, Barbara Garrick, Joe Zaloom, John Roney, Jean DeBaer, Patrick Garner.

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