The Series (4/5)
Norman Lear as a producer created some of the most memorable, hysterical sitcoms of the 1970's. He is most well known for creating All in the Family, and the Jeffersons, but also created the bizarre soap opera Mary Hartmann, Mary Hartmann (later Forever Fernwood), and Sanford and Sons, amongst others. Shout! Factory have released most of Lear's greatest shows in elaborate complete box sets, and now we finally get Maude. Not the most popular of Lear's shows, but arguably his greatest comedic achievement for while show's like the Jeffersons and All in the Family might be better established in the pop culture consciousness, Maude maintained a certain consistency of quality throughout it's run that left it as funny and biting in it's last season as it was in it's first.
All in the Family being Lear's flagship show, he seems to have used it launch other shows he was producing at the time. He did this with the Jeffersons, and also with Maude. The character was first introduced as Edith's liberal cousin in a second season episode of All in the Family. This character acted as the precise opposite of Archie Bunker, 1970's television's most well known bigot. She would return at the conclusion of season 2 in a sort of backdoor pilot episode for Maude, when the Bunkers would visit Maude's family at there home, establishing the characters, situation, and premise, before going into a full season of Maude.
Maude stars Bea Arthur as the titular character. Maude Findlay is a woman on her fourth (and final) marriage to Walter (The Jerk's Bill Macy). The pair live in the New York suburbs ,and Walter for the first few seasons of the show runs a hardware store in their town. Maude is a very outspoken liberal character who tends to involve herself in important political issues of the day (some of which could still be considered relevant to modern viewers). The show also has a strong familial element that form the backbone to most episodes.
The series is grounded by a strong, timeless, and ultimate memorable performance by Bea Arthur who may be better remembered by this generation for the Golden Girls, but really fine-tuned her comedic and dramatic chops that were so well utilized by that program here. Maude as a show gave the cast an excellent springboard to exercise their dramatic and comedic skills. The show like many of Lear's did not play by the conventional sitcom rulebook, and thus the actors were given more room to dive into both their characters and their dialogue and do things unexpected with it.
This almost “anything goes” vibe gives way to a number of episodes during the run that play out almost like a stage play with just Bill Macy and Bea Arthur's characters acting off each other, and no review of Maude would be complete without mentioning the episode Maude Bares Her Soul. this episode is essentially Maude delivering 25 minutes of dialogue to an offscreen psychiatrist, and is one of the most daring sitcom episodes to ever air.
Shout! Factory have presented Maude: The Complete Series in a series of as good as it gets 1:33:1 full frame transfers preserving the original aspect ratio from the shows original broadcast. These shows were originally shot to tape, and it shows, but for what they are the episodes look quite good with a nice stable image throughout. The mono audio track in English is quite suitable for the material with dialogue and score coming through nicely.
Shout! Factory have put together one of their finest complete series extra packages for their release of Maude. We get 4 bonus episodes, the 2 episodes of All in the Family which introduced Maude to the world, and 2 unaired episodes of the show proper. We then get 3 featurettes, one of which contains archival interviews with the key cast and crew of the show. The set itself comes packaged in a very sturdy box, with a 40 page booklet.
Not Norman Lear's most well known show, but arguably his finest. Maude is 6 seasons of comedic bliss, anchored by a wonderful performance by Bea Arthur. The restoration from Shout! Factory looks quite good, and the extras really push this one over the edge. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.