Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection (DVD)

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A spin-off from a recurring series of comedy sketches on The Carol Burnett Show called The Family, which ran from 1974 to 1978; Mama’s Family was finally launched after the success of the 1982 made-for-TV movie, named after Mama’s daughter Eunice (played by Carol Burnett). One of the most popular series in syndication during its run, Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection is now available on DVD. For the time being at least, it’s only available online exclusively at MamasFamilyDVDs.com.

Given its variety show beginnings, it’s no surprise that Mama’s Family has the feel of a sketch comedy show—particularly during the first two seasons—than a traditional sitcom. Never taking itself or life too seriously, Mama’s Family was the kind of show teenagers and adults alike could watch to get a few laughs, yet still relate to. The atmosphere is warm, and the humor is consistently goofy.

Thelma Harper, aka Mama (Vicki Lawrence) a widow and lifelong resident of Raytown, lives with her never-married sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a writer for the local paper who dreams of publishing a novel. One day, Thelma’s son Vinton (Ken Berry), down on his luck, and divorced, convinces Mama to let him and his two children, Sonja (Karin Argoud) and Buzz (Eric Brown), move in with her. Not particularly ambitious, he content to work at at Kwik Keys as a locksmith, while waiting for one of his get-rich-quick schemes to pan out. Cantankerous, pesky and full of wisecracks, having her son and grandchildren under the same roof worked well for Thelma, it allowed her to comment on everything they did, and be in the center of all the chaos!

Several episodes into the first season, Vinton marries next door neighbor, and a woman Thelma considers a tramp, Naomi Oates (Dorothy Lyman), who also moves into Mama’s house, when the happy and affectionate newlywed’s plans to invest in, and live at an Arizona trailer park go belly up.

For a season and a half, this incarnation of Mama’s family ran on NBC from 1983-1984, with Carol Burnett turning up in six episodes as Thelma’s daughter Eunice Higgins in six episodes and Harvey Korman as Eunice’s husband Ed, on three occasions. For me, those times when Carol Burnett would show up are just comedy gold. She and Vicki Lawrence clearly know each other very well, and their timing is impeccable. The way Burnett’s Eunice screeches, “Mama!” just gets me every time. Unfortunately, the show was getting beaten pretty handily by Magnum P.I. in the ratings, and NBC cancelled the show.

I suppose fans should have known that pesky Thelma Harper would go away that easily! The show was revived for first-run syndication in 1986 by Carol Burnett’s now ex-husband Joe Hamilton’s production company and Lorimar-Telepictures. Gone was Rue McClanahan, now riding high as Blanche Deveraux on NBC’s The Golden Girls (though her The Golden Girls co-star Betty White would make a couple more appearances on the series as Thelma’s wealthy, egotistical daughter, Ellen), Carol Burnett as Eunice, who’d gone through a bitter divorce from Executive Producer Joe Hamilton in 1984, Harvey Korman, Eric Brown, and Karin Argoud. Mentioned briefly in the opening episode of third season, Buzz and Sonja were never brought up again, quickly replaced by Allan Keyser as Bubba Higgins, Ed and Eunice’s son. Recently released from juvenile hall, he’s forced to move in with Mama after his parents move to Florida without telling him. A true dimwit, Bubba was a great ‘straight man’ for Mama. The regular appearances of well-meaning , yet obnoxious neighbor Iola Boylan (Beverly Archer) was always worth a chuckle, especially since she had a crush on Vinton, which leads to a somewhat icy relationship between her and Vint’s wife, Naomi.

Like most StarVista Entertainment and Time Life series releases, Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection will take up some space on your shelf, but look great doing it. The full color box measures a hefty 9-and-a-half inches tall by 7-and-a half-inches wide and 4-and-a-half inches deep. It closes via a fairly sturdy magnetic flap. The front is cut out, allowing you to see Mama’s face, part of the full cover picture that graces the cover of the enclosed booklet. Inside are individually shrink wrapped DVD sets of all six seasons, and another two DVD set that houses the plentiful extras.

Each DVD case provides a nice summary of the season, and episode guide, complete with air dates. As a long time fan of television, I love watching shows that feature appearances by Hollywood legends and big name celebrities. I freely admit that one of the reasons I initially started watching The Carol Burnett Show so many years ago, is because she had some truly awesome guest stars. While Mama’s Family didn’t quite measure up in that department, the list of guest stars is fairly impressive nonetheless: Lewis Arquette, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Imogene Coca, Richard Dawson, Jack Gilford, Anne Haney and more. For those who might be wondering, the introductory segments starring Harvey Korman as Alastair Quince, absent from previous releases, have been restored here.

Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, these transfers are typical of the broadcast era. Colors aren’t what could be considered vibrant, but they aren’t faded. StarVista Entertainment says that all 130 episodes were transferred from their original masters, and there’s no reason to doubt that claim.

Audio is provided via a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, which is fine for this dialogue centered series. Voices are clear throughout; no hisses or pops are evident.

The extras spread across the six individual seasons and on that two-disc special bonus features DVD set are impressive. With over ten hours of goodies, fans get a good look at the history of Mama’s Family, and ample opportunity to here the cast reflect on their time doing the show.  I’ve broken them down by season:

Season One:

  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Branches (All About Eunice and Ellen) (16:45)
  • The Family sketch from an episode of The Carol Burnett Show aired on December 11, 1976. (15:50)

Season Two:

  • The made-for-TV movie Eunice, which aired in 1982. (113:55)
  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Roots (Mama and Fran) (19:53)
  • Vicki Lawrence Interviews Mama (4:26)
  • Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett Interview (20:01)
  • Betty White interview (12:33)

Season Three:

  • The Family sketch from an episode of The Carol Burnett Show aired on November 16, 1976. (14:46)
  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Sprouts (All About Bubba) (11:04)
  • Mama Knows Best: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (24:43)
  • Allan Kayser Interview (13:15)

Season Four:

  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Neighbors (All About Iola) (16:00)
  • Beverly Archer Interview (10:28)
  • Under One Roof: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion 27:45)

Season Five:

  • Vicki Lawrence Interview (20:40)
  • Dorothy Lyman Interview (10:23)
  • Ken Berry Interview (9:07)
  • Executive Producer Rick Hawkins Interview (27:26)

Season Six:

  • Writer/ Producer Jim Evering Interview (20:26)
  • Writer Manny Basanese Interview (21:38)
  • Vicki Lawrence and Executive Producer Rick Hawkins Interview (19:26)
  • Interview with Costume Designers Bob Mackie and Ret Turner. (31:55)

The Bonus Discs (available only with the Mama’s Family: Complete Series)

Disc 1:

  • The first appearance of The Family, on The Carol Burnett Show, March 16, 1974 (12:35)
  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Lovebirds (All About Vint and Naomi) (13:53)
  • Family Business: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (33:43)
  • Family Scrapbook: Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers (13:54)
  • Beverly Archer Interview (10:53)
  • Allan Kayser Interview (10:25)
  • Vicki Lawrence Interview (19:23)
  • Dorothy Lyman Interview (10:36)
  • Ken Berry Interview (12:34)

Disc 2:

  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Seeds (from The Family to Mama’s Family) (17:37)
  • Family Style: Creating the World of Mama’s Family (25:21)
  • Family Fun: Game Shows and Showdowns on Mama’s Family (11:49)
  • Family Secrets: The True Stories Behind Some Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers (13:55)
  • Mama’s Family Tree: A Little More About Vint and Naomi (20:14)
  • Mama’s Family Tree: The Hometown (All About Raytown) (8:35)
  • Family Folklore: The Gang Remembers Some Special Episodes (14:24)
  • Tim Conway Interview (12:57)
  • Ret Turner Interview (27:15)
  • Rick Hawkins Interview (27:04)
  • Jim Evering Interview (17:20)
  • Manny Basanese Interview (19:45)