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Sunday, April 17, 2011

WEEKEND REWIND: Rhoda

RHODA












September 9, 1974-December 9, 1978
110 episodes
Starring: Valerie Harper, Julie Kavner, David Groh, Nancy Walker, Harold Gould, Ron Silver, Ray Buktenica, Kenneth McMillan

Before Frasier, Rhoda was arguably the most successful spinoff in TV history. Based on a wildly popular character from the wildly popular The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda was a show that started off on the right track the first season with a highly publicized and widely watched wedding but lost its way later in its run and fizzled out during its fifth season.

At the beginning of the run, the show focused on Rhoda's (Valerie Harper) return to her hometown New York City after living in Minneapolis. Almost immediately (to ensure that people would be watching as it aired against Monday Night Football), Rhoda met and fell in love with a man named Joe (David Groh). The perpetually single girl was finally getting married and her wedding was viewed by the second biggest audience (at the time) in tv history. Soon Rhoda and Joe settled into an apartment in the same building as sister Brenda (Julie Kavner), who was basically Rhoda four years ago - slightly overweight and jumping from one bad date to the next. A popular guest star from Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Walker was a regular here as Rhoda's overbearing and very Jewish mother Ida. Rounding out the original cast was Rhoda's loving father Martin (Harold Gould).

Rhoda went on for two solid seasons under this premise but then the creators and writers made an inexplicable decision. They felt that the Rhoda character had better stories to tell single and so they decided to divorce Rhoda and Joe. The third season was one long season about their separation and then divorce, making Rhoda one of tv's first main divorced characters. There was nothing inherently wrong with this idea as Joe was good but not great on the show. The problem was that they never really recovered and the show began to get weaker and weaker. Lame characters were added like Brenda's boyfriend Benny (Ray Buktenica), her cranky boss (Kenneth McMillan) who was a poor man's Lou Grant, and the swinger bachelor upstairs Gary (Ron Silver).

By the end of its run, Rhoda was a shell of what it once was. But at its best, it was a spinoff that worked - an extremely likable character from a popular show who was strong and developed enough to carry her own sitcom. It will never be in the same category as its parent series, but it was certainly good in its own right... at least for awhile.

THE TOP 10 EPISODES OF "RHODA"
As always, this is based on personal opinion

10. #30 "The Party" (first aired October 6, 1975)
Rhoda and Joe throw a party and a psychiatrist runs a group session there. It's a plot right out of The Bob Newhart Show but it works here to see some unique party guests and their quirks, including Rhoda and Joe.

9. #74 "The Return of Ida" (first aired October 2, 1977)
After a season off the show, Nancy Walker makes a great return to Rhoda to find Rhoda divorced and other surprises. This episode shows how badly she was missed during her season off the show.

8. #2 "You Can Go Home Again" (first aired September 16, 1974)
Rhoda can't find a place to live and decides to move back home but it's not long before she and Ida cannot live under the same roof. This is a great mother/daughter episode and part of Rhoda's strong start to its run.

7. #55 "Two Little Words: Marriage Counselor" (first aired October 25, 1976)
The separated Rhoda and Joe decide to visit a marriage counselor and it does not go very well. There's a great sight gag of Rhoda and Joe's poor attempt at a trust fall and a deep secret revealed. The separation and divorce was a muddy storyline but this was a good episode.

6. #14 "S Wonderful" (first aired December 2, 1974)
Rhoda suspects that the man Brenda is dating is married and tries to go about proving it in a disastrous double date. This is a great performance by Valerie Harper as Rhoda is snarky and suspicious about the man and his background. 

5. #1 "Joe" (first aired September 9, 1974)
Most shows take awhile to get going but Rhoda came out of the gate really strong with this pilot episode. She moves to New York and we get to meet her sister and a new boyfriend in an episode that really sets up the series well. 

4. #50 "The Separation" (first aired September 20, 1976)
This episode was the beginning of the end for Rhoda but it started on a strong episode. The big fight that leads to the separation of Rhoda and Joe is heartbreaking and well-acted by Valerie Harper and David Groh. It's an attempt at a serious episode that plays really well.

3. #37 "Friends and Mothers" (first aired November 24, 1975)
This episode features a great guest starring role by a much older Vivian Vance. When Rhoda becomes friends with Vance's character, Ida is jealous that Rhoda can be friends with someone her age and tries to be Rhoda's friend herself. This is a great episode all around but particularly when Ida tries to be "hip" at a dinner party.

2. #25 "Along Came Mary" (first aired March 10, 1975)
Any episode that reunites Mary and Rhoda is bound to be towards the top and this is a standout episode. Rhoda and Joe's planned weekend getaway is crashed by Mary, who shows up on a surprise visit. Seeing Mary blindly be unaware of Joe's frustration and Rhoda's attempts at peacemaker makes for a great premise and episode.

"Rhoda's Wedding"
1. #8/9 "Rhoda's Wedding" (first aired October 28, 1974)
Of course this episode would be at the top. There are so many classic elements to this episode - the WJM staff coming with Mary for the wedding, Phyllis forgetting to pick up Rhoda, and Rhoda running through the streets of New York in her wedding dress. It's a classic episode all the way around with many great performances from the actors of Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was a must see TV event and it holds up well today. 

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