The loss of TV legend Mary Tyler Moore reminds us just how much we owe the lovable and pioneering cultural heroine. Her groundbreaking 1970s show was insanely progressive. The Mary Tyler Moore Show introduced America to a funny, independent, single woman who focused on her career. Moore and her brilliant ensemble cast delivered a mix of hilarity and poignancy, with a hint of sex.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, who is the author of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, drew up a list of favorite episodes that demonstrate why the program was hugely influential. If you never caught an episode or were a devoted viewer, here’s a chance to recapture the magic.
“The Good-Time News”
Mary discovers that she makes less than the man who had the job before her. She argues for equal pay and wins a raise — though it doesn’t totally make up the difference.
“Will Mary Richards Go to Jail?”
Mary chooses jail rather than revealing a source to a judge. There’s some nice topical tension along with the humor of our little Mary in a jail cell with prostitutes. “What did they get you for?” asks one. “Impersonating a Barbie doll, right?”
“Just Around the Corner”/”You’ve Got a Friend”
It’s easy to blend memories of these two episode into the same half-hour. In “Just Around the Corner,” Mary ‘s parents harangue her about what she was up to staying out all night on a date. “You’ve Got a Friend” has Mary’s mother departing a family dinner with a shouted, “Don’t forget to take your pill!” Both father and daughter answer, “I won’t!” The big reveal: Mary Richards was on the Pill!
“Once I Had a Secret Love”
Mary accidentally lets slip to co-worker Murray (Gavin MacLeod) that Lou blundered into a regrettable one-night-stand with “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). This episode ends on a devastating dramatic scene in which Lou tells her he won’t fire her for the offense, but he doesn’t like her anymore. The two do reconcile, but the emotional effect is shattering.
“Lou Dates Mary”
Mary wonders, briefly, why she hasn’t dated Lou, her longtime boss and now close friend. She asks him over for a possibly romantic dinner. The date, of course, goes awkwardly from the start and culminates in a giggle fit when they try to kiss. The result is one more moment of bittersweet realism that defines The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
“My Brother’s Keeper”
Phyllis tries to set her brother up with Mary, but he spends almost all his time with Rhoda. Rhoda assures Phyllis that they’re just friends; he’s not her type. Phyllis lists his qualities: He’s great-looking, smart, funny … “He’s gay,” Rhoda adds. Phyllis replies, “Thank God.” The result was a show that accepted the idea of Ben being gay. The shocked laughter that lasted so long that it had to be cut came not at his expense, but Phyllis’s.
“Rhoda the Beautiful”
Rhoda loses 30 pounds to reach her target weight by following a dieting program. The episode serves as an example of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s groundbreaking willingness to take “girly” issues like body image seriously.
“Love Is All Around”
This episode introduces their brilliant ensemble cast and tells us Mary’s moving into a studio apartment alone in Minneapolis and looking for a job after leaving her non-committal ex. Stand-out scenes: Mary interviews for a job with Mr. Grant in a masterpiece of comic writing and timing that culminates in his famous line, “I hate spunk!”
“The Last Show”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show nailed this series finale. A buy-out of WJM leaves everyone fired except dim anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). The whole cast piles on in a teary group hug. Their subsequent group shuffle to the tissue box began as an ad-lib in rehearsal — the stars really were crying as they hugged — and stuck for the ages.
For additional stand-out episodes, read more at Vulture.