DVD Review: Mama’s Family (The Complete Collection)

Persistence and the ability to adapt is the key to survival. This is also how Mama’s Family was able to hit 130 episodes. The series had its origins as a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show back in 1974. The plight of the suffering Eunice Higgins and her stubborn elderly mother allowed the staff to find humor in a Tennessee Williams-esque family environment. While The Carol Burnett Show went off the air in 1978, Mama wouldn’t stay put in syndication reruns. In 1982, she’s return to TV in a TV movie called Eunice. The ratings for the special convinced NBC that Mama was ready to get her own sitcom. Mama’s Family made the prime-time schedule as a replacement series in the winter of 1983. But the show was canceled at the end of its second season. This would normally be the sad story as to why Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection is squeezed inside a small boxset. But this boxset is huge because producers wouldn’t let Mama go. They knew they had a show with a loyal following. After nearly two years off the air, Mama Harper’s blue hair appeared on TV sets around the country thanks to a syndication deal. The risk of going without a network paid off royally as the series lasted four more seasons. There would be 130 episodes for fans who enjoyed Mama’s comic adventures.

The transition from sketch to sitcom wasn’t quite as daunting since the original sketches were around 15 minutes long. The writers merely had to type out a few more pages. The viewers wouldn’t be exhausted by the new length. That’s not saying that there wasn’t an issue in the adaptation. “The Family” sketches had Eunice as the sympathetic character and Mama as the antagonist. She was amazingly effective when it came to being a monster to her daughter that had let her down. Vicki Lawrence had no problem reviving the character full time. Carol Burnett was only making guest appearances as Eunice. Mama would be carrying the heavy load for her sitcom. The 1980s were not the time of the anti-hero in TV shows. Mama had to be altered slightly to make her more appealing than horrific character from The Carol Burnett Show. She became more of a curmudgeon than monster for the sake of the show. “Vint and the Kids Move In” marks the arrival of her new relative to receive her attention without the complete wrath attack. Mama is living with her sister Fran (Golden Girls‘ Rue McClanahan). Their a prickly pair in the big house. But rather quickly their space vanishes. Turns out Mama’s son Vint (F Troops‘ Ken Berry) has been dumped by his wife. She’s gone off to live her dream of serving up cocktails in Las Vegas. Vint’s stuck with their kids Sonja (Karin Argoud) and Buzz (Eric Brown). They have no where to go so Mama reluctantly takes them in. She sticks her son in the basement. There’s a bit of a blow up between Mama and Fran over the new living arrangements. Vint’s broken heart mends fast when his next door neighbor turns out to be Naomi (Dorothy Lyman). Betty White (The Golden Girls) appears in the pilot, but not Carol. “For Better Or Worse” rushes the romance between Vint and Naomi. He’s shocked when she sells her house and plans to skip Raytown to take over a trailer park in Arizona. He can’t stand to see her go. He’s had a crush on her since their school days. But is Mama really going to put up with two love birds in the basement? “The Wedding” is a two part episode that gets Vint and Naomi hitched. Eunice shows up and the family secrets pour out. She has a fine time with Ellen (Betty White). The second part brings even more trauma including a major rip off exposed. But the show isn’t one giant dramady. “Family Feud” takes Mama and her beloved onto the legendary show. She gets a big old smooch from Richard Dawson (Hogan’s Heroes). “The Return of Leonard Oates” has Jerry Reed (Smokey and the Bandit) play Naomi’s ex-husband. He’s rich and ready for her to get back with him.

When the series was revived for syndication, changes had to be made. Harvey Korman no longer did his faux Masterpiece Theater openings to class up the show. Carol Burnett had stepped away from making guest appearances as Eunice. “Farewell, Frannie” had Fran die instead of merely visit a farm upstate. This wasn’t a shocker since Rue had a lead on Golden Girls. Buzz and Sonja do vanish from the house. But there’s little time for Vint and Naomi to enjoy the basement. Mama’s grandson Bubba (Allan Kayser) is sprung from juvenile detention. He needs a place to go and Mama’s help to go straight. Also arriving on the scene is Iola Lucille Boylen (Beverly Archer) as the nosy neighbor. She takes over Rue’s role as a foil for Mama. “Best Medicine” marks the end of Betty White’s visits to the show. She also found herself busy with the success of The Golden Girls. “Birthright” gives Vint the promising news that he might have been adopted. “Mama’s Cousin” has Vicki Lawrence playing Mama and her cousin. The fourth and remaining seasons don’t have any major changes on the show. The characters remain stable. “Mama on Jeopardy!” brings back the old way the game was played. This is classic Alex Trebek. Her ability to question the answers leads to the two part “Mama Goes Hawaiian.” “The Really Loud Family” has Mama and the Harpers become a reality show family decades before the Kardashians. “Tri-State’s Most Wanted” brings a touch of romance to Mama’s life until she sees her beloved on a regional version of America’s Most Wanted. Can she deal with dating a TV star?

Mama’s Family grows on you simply because of Vicki Lawrence’s performance that illustrates crotchety. There’s an artform to her scolding Vint. She brings a bit of force to the small screen. She’s lucky that Ken Berry can handle her verbal attacks without looking like a complete abuse victim. The swapping of the kids for Bubba turned out good for the show. Bubba has a bit more comedic value and a rubber face that can absorb a slapstick moments with a smile. It’s a show the endured and transformed into a long running sitcom. The Mama that appeared in 1974 to dig into Eunice wasn’t given a little more heart by the time Vicki hung up her blue wig in 1990. Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection will make you part of the family.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded on standard definition so the image isn’t quite so crisp. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are fine enough for you to not miss a single word Mama speaks.

Eunice (73:52) is the movie length TV special that brought the characters back. Betty White guest stars. This is a Tennessee Williams-esque comedy.

Sketch from 1976 (15:49) has Mama and Eunice rummaging through an attic. Betty White guest stars.

Sketch from 1975
(14:46) guest stars Maggie Smith as a teacher about to be exposed to the Higgins family.

Vicki Lawrence interviews Mama (4:26) is a fun doubles act. She still looks like Mama.

Branches (16:44) gives more details on Eunice and Ellen’s relationship.

The Roots (19:52) explores Eunice and her role as an ’80s version of Archie Bunker.

The Sprout (11:04) is all about Bubba. How did the abandoned kid get onto the show? Allan Kayser gets praised by cast and crew for not being the normal TV teen.

Mama’s Family Tree: The Neighbors
(15:59) focus on Iola Boylan’s dropping by Mama’s living room.

Mama Knows Best: A Mam’s Family Cast Reunion (24:43) has them enjoying the fact that they can recognize each other. Vicki, Ken, Beverly, Allan and Dorothy reunite back in the kitchen. Vicki forgets that the cast reunited on her old talk show.

Under One Roof: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (27:43) has the cast describe how the censor’s cut out an veggie incident. The big discussion is how they find out they’re dead on the internet.

The First Ever “Family” sketch from The Carol Burnett Show (12:35) features Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) as part of the family. This aired in 1974. Lyle Waggoner introduces the sketch. Mama is brutal to Eunice.

Mama’s Family Tree: The Love Birds (13:54) explores the relationship between Vint and Naomi. The actors had a natural chemistry together.

Family Business is a Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (33:42) gathers the cast around the kitchen table to discuss their time on the show. Beverly Archer had never seen the sketches.

Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers
(13:54) has plenty of flubs. Betty White causes the most crack ups from guests.

The Seeds (17:36) lets Carol and Vicki explain how it started as a sketch and transformed into a sitcom years later. The producers wanted to spin it off as a sitcom while The Carol Burnett Show was on the air. It didn’t happen, but after the variety show ended, Carol did the Eunice TV movie. This eventually led to the series

Family Style: Creating the World of Mama’s Family
(25:20) lets Bob Mackie and Ret Turner explain how they gave the show such a shabby chic look.

Game Shows and Showdowns on Mama’s Family
(11:48) recounts their time on Jeopardy and Family Feud. Alex Trebek’s mustache is back.

The True Stories behind Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers
(13:55) gets the cast to explain how things go wrong during a scene.

A Little More about Vint and Naomi (20:13) is more time with the couple.

The Hometown (8:34) gives the details on Raytown and its residents. It’s a colorful any town U.S.A.

Family Folklore (14:24) lets the cast remember their favorite episodes.

Interviews with Beverly Archer, Allan Kayser, Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, Ken Berry, Tim Conway, Ret Turner, Rick Hawkins, Jim Evering, Bob Mackie, Betty White, Carol Burnett, Ret Turner and Manny Basanese.

Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection is as complete as a TV boxset can come. Devoted fans will spend hours delving through all the bonus features that explore every element of their favorite series. Casual fans will be amazed at seeing how the sketch from The Carol Burnett Show was transformed into a beloved sitcom.

Time Life, Warner Home Entertainment and Star Vista Entertainment present Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection. Starring: Vicki Lawrence, Ken Berry, Dorothy Lyman, Betty White and Carol Burnett. Boxset Contents: 130 episodes on 24 DVDs. Released: September 24, 2013.

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