38. "Put on a Happy Face," The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
We've all been there, Mary. Whether it's getting called on at a big staff meeting, running into an ex-lover at the supermarket, or accepting a Teddy Award, everyone has a moment in the spotlight while looking like an idiot.
In "Put on a Happy Face," the usually perfectly-put-together Mary Richards has a cascade of bad luck that begins with a leaking coffee mug, proceeds through a "hair bump" and slippery floor, and (presumably) ends with her struggling to stay on her feet for what should be one of the proudest moments of her career.
The episode has some similarities with Seinfeld's "The Opposite," and Rhoda typically puts it all in perspective.
Rhoda: (to Mary) You're having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 3000 peanut butter cups, and die.
There are a couple of nice MTM touches to this episode. One is the lack of any possible explanation — a broken chain letter, a curse, a disregarded fortune teller — for Mary's streak of calamaties. Call me a godless humanist (or cute as a button), but sometimes these things just happen. Another is that Mary is put through a lot of indignities, but she's never completely humiliated. She does not, for example, soil her pants the way Julia Louis-Dreyfus's character recently did on Veep ("Frozen Yoghurt"). So would viewers accustomed to 21st-century comedies think that "Put on a Happy Face" is ridiculously tame? (Or would they just complain that Mary is too self-absorbed and insecure — too Girls and not enough New Girl?)
• In one scene, Ed Asner has to carry Mary Tyler Moore in his arms for nearly two minutes, bouncing her in the air a couple of times to catch his breath. You won't see that in an uninterrupted shot on a single-camera sitcom. This may be their longest physical contact until she falls asleep on his arm in "Mary's Insomnia."
• Rhoda again puts things into perspective: "Remember what my mother always says: 'There are millions of children in Europe who would be thrilled to sit around and have the flu in a gorgeous room like this.'
• The phrase "bad hair day" has been credited to Jane Pauley (see "Sit. Stay." item here) and the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I know I'm not the only one who will always associate it with this episode — though it's never uttered, and Mary technically has a bad hair week.
• The song "Put on a Happy Face" was made famous by Mary's former co-star, Dick Van Dyke, in the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie (awkwardly adapted for film here).
• Instead of Mimsie the Cat, Mary appears in the MTM logo at the end of the credits, saying "That's all, folks!" in the style of Porky Pig.