If you are a child of the 70's, then you might remember that the early 70's were a time of great change in the world of television viewing. It was a time when many new sitcoms such as The Jeffersons, Good Times and All in the Family became staples of the airwaves. Times were becoming political and writer/producer Norman Lear was cashing in big with his sitcoms which had a decidedly liberal edge. Thanks to Lear and a few others like him....many shows were off limits in my house. Well...off limits for me as I was just a young child and these shows were considered way too mature for kids. My mother however did watch many of them....at least for awhile. The three shows that I remember Mom watching but being completely taboo for me were Maude, Soap and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. Since we only had one tv and Mom held all the power in the house....I had no idea what I was missing all I knew was if I couldn't watch it....it must be good!
With the channels now like TVLand, Antenna TV and MeTV.....at least some of these shows are getting new life breathed into them. New generations are getting to see a birds eye view of what the world was like through the eyes of Lear and others. TV was quickly changing from squeaky clean Ward and June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver and heading straight into a raunchier and somewhat edgier Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family.
What I have learned from watching these shows as an adult is.....for that time these shows were ground breaking. They were a mix of edgy bordering on blue humor along with a lot of political and social statements. The thing most of these shows had in common were that they were superbly acted by stars such as Carroll O'Connor, Bea Aurthur, Sherman Hemsley and Billy Crystal. In a conservative climate...these shows were shaking up the airwaves, causing some to turn off their tv's and in some cases causing even more to turn them on (albeit ushering their children from the room) to see what Archie and Maude were going to do this week.
The three as I said that we never were allowed to watch were considered the more risque' and shocking of the new order of sitcoms. Soap was one that went at every social taboo of the time from infidelity to homosexuality and hit them head on. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to this day as an adult I am not sure what it was about. It was filmed as an old time soap opera with a modern (1970's) comedic twist. As I recall it was another one that broke ground, threw out everything everyone had ever known about soaps and comedy and wasn't afraid to offend. I have seen several episodes as an adult and quite frankly....I wasn't that impressed, maybe because I found it ridiculous....but back in the day, it was a guilty pleasure for many. Finally.....there was Maude. My mother (a very conservative lady) watched Maude until Maude did the unthinkable and had an abortion. My mother refused to watch it after that. Well for awhile anyway.
Other than knowing that Maude had an abortion....I really knew very little about Maude until recently. Yes....I am still kid enough to think that if Mom forbade it....then I just had to know why. Thanks to MeTV......I have been able to find out. For the early 1970's Maude had to have been culture shock. The premise is a four times married liberal woman who constantly feels the need to prove her liberalism while putting up with her neighbors/best friends who are far more conservative than she. The show dealt with the ERA (equal rights amendment), civil rights, homosexuality, divorce and yes...abortion. All of these were hot buttons of the 70's and some had never before been discussed on tv. To think of going from Lucy and Ricky having to have separate beds to Maude discussing premarital sex had to have caused the vapors in more than one household.
Looking at Maude now though....I have to laugh. First, let me say that Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan were just as funny in the 70's on Maude as they were in the 80's in the Golden Girls. Arthur had a stage presence and a way with physical comedy that few other actresses of her day or any other for that matter.....had or have. Her facial expressions alone could keep an audience laughing well into the next scene. By today's standards Maude is mild mannered and pretty non-offensive (sans the abortion episodes), but the humor remains timeless.
What I find most interesting though..... is that in so many ways....Maude's liberalness was more of a persona she wanted rather than who she really was. Examples of this are Maudes stand on free love. In the 70's free love was the new hot button. Sex was becoming casual and couples were having sex outside of marriage and even living together. Maude was all for it....except when it came to her grown daughter. Just the thought of her adult and divorced daughter Carol having sex in her house sent Maude into a melodramatic frenzy. Her liberal views on sex also did not trickle down to her teenage grandson who was not allowed to be alone in the house with his young girl friend. Maude also went overboard with her civil rights views when hiring a black maid. Rather than hire a white maid (yes....they still called them maids even in the enlightened 70's) she actively sought out a black maid to prove how socially progressive she was. Then in her guilt over hiring the black maid....rather than let her work, Maude was treating her to three martini lunches and telling her how supportive of black issues she was....all the while racially insulting both the maid (Florida) and blacks in general far more than any racist ever could. Even when it came to her abortion....Maude believed other women could have abortions but for her it was inherently wrong. If not for the urging of her daughter....the Maude character likely would not have had the abortion because even in her self proclaimed liberal ideology....right was right and wrong was wrong.
What I see in Maude is much what I see in a lot of the liberals of our current generation. So many liberals wish to be seen as forward thinking, accepting of all views and both civilly and socially conscience to the extent that right or wrong they tend to support any liberal agenda. Thus when you try to get to the center stone of why they feel or believe a certain way....they can't really tell you, because they really don't know. They simply want to be viewed as liberals and all that implies....even if they aren't sure what all that implies. Maude is very much this way in the respect that often she tries to support what she thinks any good liberal would, but when push comes to shove.....it becomes almost ridiculous because her core belief is simply not there. She also learns that like it or not.....she does have prejudices and even some conservative values that she just can't get beyond. I think Lear got it right with this character. Just as he did with Archie Bunker the polar opposite of Maude. Bunker's hard core conservatism didn't always bid well for him and as the character grew both Bunker and the audience found that underneath the racist, hard nosed extreme conservative exterior lay a man who didn't really hate anyone who wasn't white and even grew to tolerate his liberal son in law.
I think Lear tried to show us that in every liberal there are some conservative values and in every conservative lies a little social liberalism. Possibly this was modeled after his own experiences. Lear was a decorated WWII soldier who fought proudly for his country. His politics and social views were and I assume even at 90 something still are, liberal but when he felt the Carter administration was a failure and not a good fit for the country he fought for.... he was not afraid to vote against the democratic party. Many of his characters also show this same strong but not unbendable stance which in my opinion makes them both human and likable regardless of your own politics or beliefs.
Yes...I have to say that watching Maude of late has made me laugh to the point of tears at times. I love the contradictions in Maude and can sort of understand how my ultra conservative mom was drawn into the show all those years ago. Although Mom was the antithesis of Maude, to her I am sure this new sitcom was like a train wreck. You just couldn't not watch. I think aside from the pure humor that Maude creates with every episode....I also appreciate both the writing and the acting of this show. Arthur, McClanahan, Conrad Bain, Bill Macy and Adrienne Barbeau were a cast that was hard to beat....although Arthur, McClanahan and Bain are by far my favorites on the show and sadly....they are all gone now.
So it is Saturday morning....snow is on the ground, we didn't get to go to St. Louis and I have obviously been watching too much tv. Two 4 day weekends in a row is just a little too much tv time. However...if you are like me and are really tired of all the reality shows, the blood and guts crime shows and some of the current sitcoms that have a whole lot more "sit" going on than "com"....I encourage you to take a walk down memory lane. Check out Maude or if Maude is not your cup of tea....MeTV has everything from My Three Sons to Emergency. All the shows we grew up with and even those that some of us were not allowed to watch. ;)