Undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the history of television, Norman Lear Created, developed and produced some of the most popular and successful series of the 1970’s, including All in the Family, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son and Good Times. While the 1970’s had seen a new kind of independent woman emerge on television—Marlo Thomas’ That Girl Anne Marie and Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards— single, working women, with friends and active social lives. As independent as Anne Marie and Mary where, they never pushed the boundaries too far, and were careful not to offend.
That was not the case with Maude. First introduced as Edith Bunker’s cousin in a December 1971 episode of All in the Family, Maude Findlay (Beatrice Arthur) was a loud, middle-class unapologetic liberal from Tuckahoe, N.Y. Maude lived with her fourth husband Walter (Bill Macy), her adult daughter, Carol, a divorcée played by Adrienne Barbeau, and her young grandson. Though Walter owned a successful appliance store, and afforded Maude the activist lifestyle she enjoyed, Maude was the dominant force in the relationship. One of Maude’s stern looks, or a God’ll get you for that, Walter,” and he caved to her demands.
The Findlays’ next-door neighbors were Dr. Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain), a stuffy, often sarcastic Republican whose views often clashed with Maude’s. Despite their differences the two managed an occasionally uneasy friendship. A widower when the show began, Arthur began dating Maude’s best friend Vivian (Rue McClanahan) at the start of the second season and married in the middle of it.
Running for a total of six seasons and 141 episodes, Maude, like its sister show All in the Family managed to be funny while addressing serious issues such as infidelity, racism, equality, and rather infamously, abortion, in the series first season when Maude found herself pregnant at 47.
That two-part episode, “Maude’s Dilemma,” originally aired just a few months before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. One of the more sensitively written episodes of Maude, it’s as controversial and affecting today as it was in 1972. Part two of the episode dealt with men and their responsibilities, as Walter considers a vasectomy and ultimately backs out. Several CBS affiliates refused to air the episode and the network received thousands of complaints.
It was fashionable to refer to Maude as the anti-Archie Bunker, but in truth, they were more alike than they would have liked to admit. Though Maude sees herself as politically correct, she hires a black housekeeper named Florida Evans (played by Esther Rolle, who would leave the series for her own spinoff, Good Times in 1974) Like Archie, Maude had her heart in the right place, no matter what came out of their mouths. After hiring Florida, Maude is so afraid of treating her like a servant, that it starts driving Florida (who can be just as sassy as her employer), absolutely crazy.
In one of the series best episodes, season four’s “Maude Bares Her Soul,” Maude finds herself in a psychiatrist office discussing her life. With the psychiatrist doing little more than listening, Maude makes some startling realizations about how her relationship with her father as a young girl, affected her relationships with men as an adult.
A big hit for most of its run, Maude never avoided difficult issues. Maude and Walter’s marriage was a rocky one; they even separated at one point. Walter had to face his alcoholism; he considered suicide when his business went bankrupt. Unlike many shows before it, Maude dealt wholly in realties. To fully appreciate the jokes and situations, it helps to have a sense of the issues that permeated the ‘70s. A constant target, if you don’t have a basic understanding of President Nixon and his downfall, you’ll likely be confused as to why the studio audience finds some of the jokes so funny. Even so, Maude remains hilarious more than thirty-five years after it first aired and serves as a true landmark in changing how women and couples were portrayed on television.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the show was shot in the ‘70s on standard definition video. While the colors, detail and resolution won’t blow you away, Maude’s maxi-vests look just fine, considering the age of the material.
The audio is presented in a simplistic Dolby Digital mono that provides clear dialogue throughout.
Episodes are closed Captioned.
The following extras are available:
- Cousin Maude’s Visit (26:07) The episode that introduced Maude during a second season episode of All in the Family. She immediately proves herself equal to Archie Bunker’s opinionated rants.
- Maude – Pilot (26:00) Aired as the final episode of the second season of All in the Family. There’s a different actress playing Carol.
- The Double Standard (23:21) an unaired episode from the first season. The script would be slightly retooled and recast for season two.
- Maude’s New Friends (26:29) Another unaired episode. Maude’s guests turn out to be swingers. This episodes theme would air in season five as “Arthur’s Friends.”
- Syndication Sales Presentation (26:02) Norman Lear pitches Maude to various stations. First lady Betty Ford loved to watch the show!
- And Then There’s Maude: Television’s First Feminist (22:28) Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Rue McClanahan and Adrienne Barbeau offer some insights on what made Maude such a memorable and important character.
- Everything but Hemorrhoids: Maude Speaks To America (14:32) Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Rue McClanahan and Adrienne Barbeau discuss their thoughts on “Maude’s Dilemma,” where Maude finds herself pregnant at 47.
- Memories of Maude (19:50) are fresh interviews with Adrienne Barbeau and Bill Macy and archival chat with Bea Arthur. They discuss their roles.
- Booklet: The 40-page booklet offers an episode guide, as well as an interesting essay about the show by TV critic Tom Shales.