DVD Review: Maude (The Complete Series)

“And then there’s Maude!”

When Bea Arthur passed away, America lost an icon. While recent generations knew her from The Golden Girls, she had made herself a TV star in the early ’70s as Maude Findlay. The character was spun-off from All In the Family as Edith’s cousin and Archie Bunker’s polar opposite. She was a liberal woman eager to change with the times. She’d already had two husbands before marrying Walter Findlay (The Jerk‘s Bill Macy) so she wasn’t stuck on tradition. Over the course of six seasons she went from opinionated housewife to Congresswoman. Maude: The Complete Series delivers all of Bea Arthur’s glorious work in the role.

Maude moved Norman Lear’s sitcom empire just outside of New York City to Tuckahoe. This was sort of like the suburbs even though Maude and her friends were distinctly urban folks. Her husband Walter owned an appliance store in the era before the Big Box stores. They were upper middle class since she could afford a maid (Good Times‘ Ester Rolle). Her daughter Carol (Carnivale‘s Adrienne Barbeau) and Carol’s son lived with Maude. Maude and Walter’s neighbors were also their best friends. Dr. Arthur Harmon (Diff’ent Strokes‘ Conrad Bain) and Vivian (Golden Girls‘ Rue McClanahan) spent a lot of visiting. Arthur was the conservative foil for sparring sessions with Maude. He could argue without turning into Archie Bunker with a stethoscope. Maude also had her own distinct fashion sense that included mega-vests that rival Mr. Furley’s wardrobe choices on Three’s Company. Maude arrived right on time for 1972.

The first season starts off rather soft. Maude discovers there’s no stigma in visiting a psychiatrist and Carol’s kid is caught playing doctor. Sure these aren’t episodes of Family Affair, but they aren’t quite biting. “Maude Meets Florida” delivers the goods when Maude hires Florida to be her maid. But Maude fears treating the black woman as her servant. This attitude starts driving Florida nuts. Racial issues get bigger play in “Maude and the Radical.” She wants to support a black candidate, but realizes her friend base is pretty white. The comedy kicks in when Maude learns about mixing pills and booze. “Maude’s Dilemma” is a two parter that really got tongues wagging. Maude discovers that at 47, she’s pregnant. Can she really raise a child that’s going to be graduating from high school when she’s ready for the retirement home? She and Walter discuss having an abortion. This episode aired shortly after Roe Vs. Wade so the topic was hot. Several TV stations refused to air the episode. “Maude’s Reunion” has her feeling bad for a visiting classmate. Maude thinks the woman is childless and stuck in the life of an Avon Lady. She’s in for a shock when the distant friend arrives at the front door. Maude goes from pity to being jealous.”The Convention” sticks Maude and Arthur at a fleabag hotel while attending an appliance show. Maude opens up about her frustration about life and being the stay at home wife.

The second season starts with the shock of Maude in bed with Authur in the two part “Walter’s Problem.” This is the original version of The Hangover as they piece together the night before. Turns out the biggest hangover belongs to Walter who just might have a drinking problem. “Maude’s Facelift” brings plastic surgery to the forefront. “Maude’s New Job” brings tension to the house since Walter misses her being home when he returns from the appliance shop. The third season being mega-star power for “Maude Meets the Duke.” Is John Wayne really going to drop by the show? At the time, Maude was a top four show in the ratings so he might ride into the set. The fourth season has Maude and Walter splitting up. “Rumpus in the Rumpus Room” has a very young Bernadette Peters as Walter’s date. The marriage is rocky. Things get weird in “Walter’s Ethics.” He’s about to sell his store for a fat profit. To seal the deal, he sets up the buyer with a date. Maude is disgusted at this arrangement. A few seasons later Walter’s store would go bankrupt. Oh well. “Walter’s Stigma” has him busted on indecent exposure. Could it be true? Maude has to protect him from the notorious gossipy Alice Ghostley (Bewitched). “Maude’s Ex-Convict” gets Bob Balaban (Seinfeld) brought into the house. Maude wants to give him a chance. Trouble is Bob was busted for killing his former boss. Will he try to do it right this time? The fifth season is when Maude had a dramatic drop in the ratings. Perhaps America was too bummed out at Walter’s business failing. He’s a depressed mess. The show would last a sixth season with the big twist that Maude gets sent to Washington D.C. to serve in Congress. She had gone a long way from being a house wife in the suburbs.

Maude was a massive hit when it aired. Syndication life in the last few decades hasn’t been so glorious for the hit like Seinfeld or Cheers. The humor is extremely headline driven. To fully appreciate the jokes and situations, you need to have a bit of ’70s history knowledge. If you don’t know about President Nixon, you’ll be confused why the studio audience is laughing. Episodes that focus more on Maude and Walter’s relationship have the most emotional pull. The series should be watched by people excited to see what half the Golden Girls were doing before they relocated to Florida. Bea Arthur set so many tones in the ’70s Maude: The Complete Series.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was shot on standard definition video so the resolution won’t let you absorb all the details of Maude’s wardrobe. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Episodes are Closed Captioned.

“Cousin Maude’s Visit” (26:07) introduced Maude on the second season of All In The Family. She immediately proves to be a match for Archie Bunker.

“Maude – Pilot” (26:00) ran as the final episode of the second season of All in the Family. It does feature Archie and Edith visiting Maude’s house. There’s a different Carol in the backdoor pilot. You should watch this episode before embarking on the next 141 episodes.

“The Double Standard” (23:21) is an unaired episode from the first season. This is rather amazing that they’d just bury an entire episode. The script would be slightly retooled and recast for season two.

“Maude’s New Friends” (26:29) is another unaired episode. Maude’s guests turn out to be swingers ready to play. This would be brought back in season five as “Arthur’s Friends.” It’s good that the original actors get their due.

Syndication Sales Presentation (26:02) is Norman Lear pitching why stations need to carry this series. Turns out Betty Ford loved Maude in the White House. It’s a clip show.

And Then There’s Maude: Television’s First Feminist (22:28) has Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Rue McClanahan and Adrienne Barbeau discuss what made Maude such a great character. It’s more clips than insights.

Everything but Hemorrhoids: Maude Speaks To America (14:32) has the folks from the previous feature discussing the episode where Maude gets knocked up.

Memories of Maude (19:50) are fresh interviews with Adrienne Barbeau And Bill Macy and archival chat with Bea Arthur. She talks about getting the part.

Maude: The Complete Series gives all the Bea Arthur goodness as the liberal woman doing her best to adapt during changing times. What really makes this boxset amazing is the two unaired episodes. Shout! Factory is offering the boxset a month early when ordered from their website.

Shout! Factory presents Maude: The Complete Series. Starring: Bea Arthur
Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain, Rue McClanahan and Esther Rolle. Boxset Contents: 141 episodes on 19 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: February 17, 2014.

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