The scoop on the ”Mary Tyler Moore” and ”Homicide” reunions
”The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is my favorite sitcom of all time, and ”Homicide: Life on the Street” is my favorite TV drama, so it was with considerable consternation that I watched these series’ upcoming reunion films, ABC’s ”Mary & Rhoda” (airing Feb. 7) and NBC’s ”Homicide: The Movie” (Feb. 13). Why mess with my memories of small-screen masterpieces? As it turns out, one of these projects is a perfect example of how to do a TV reunion – and the other one’s a perfect disaster.
Worst things first: If you loved ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” do yourself a favor on Monday night – and watch ”Everybody Loves Raymond” instead of ”Mary & Rhoda.” Ray Romano’s warmly uproarious CBS comedy comes closer to capturing the ”MTM” spirit than the dour ”M&R” ever does. Moore’s Mary Richards spends the entire two hours on the verge of tears – her Congressman husband just died in a rock-climbing accident, leaving her in debt and forcing her back to work in TV news. Yet while ”MTM” made Mary’s weepiness seem hilarious, here it’s just incredibly depressing.
Valerie Harper’s mouthy Rhoda Morgenstern still cracks a few wan one-liners (”If you can make it there, you still can’t afford an apartment,” she quips creakily of New York City, the film’s setting). But ”M&R” spends more time beating viewers over the head with such Important Issues as ageism and sexism in the workplace, gang violence, journalistic ethics, and animal rights (a pet cause of PETA supporter Moore).
The makers of ”MTM” never felt the need to lecture viewers, only to entertain them. Sadly, the makers of ”MTM” had nothing to do with ”M&R.” Instead of multiple Oscar winner James L. Brooks, it’s written by Katie Ford (who also penned Nancy Travis’ TV tearjerker ”My Last Love”). And instead of multiple Emmy winner James Burrows, it’s directed by Barnet Kellman (best known for ”Murphy Brown,” a preachy ”MTM” rip-off).
”Homicide: The Movie,” on the other hand, was written by three of the show’s finest scribes (Tom Fontana, Eric Overmyer, and James Yoshimura) and directed by the series’ long-time cinematographer, Jean de Segonzac. Plus, more than 20 cast members return, from first-season casualty Jon Polito to Emmy winner Andre Braugher. (”The fact that every single actor was willing to come back – especially for the s— money NBC paid – was a real tribute to the show,” Fontana recently told EW.)
All these characters come back together after Yaphet Kotto’s Lieut. Al Giardello, who has retired to run for mayor of Baltimore, is shot on the campaign trail. It’s a killer case, and ”Homicide: The Movie” also ties up various leftover loose ends, including the question of whether Kyle Secor’s Tim Bayliss committed cold-blooded murder in the show’s final episode.
That’s why it makes sense for ”Homicide” to do a follow-up film – devotees needed more closure than the rushed, unsatisfactory finale could provide. ”MTM,” meanwhile, offered the single most memorable sign-off in TV history, so there was simply no reason to do a reunion.
”Mary, what were we thinkin’?” Rhoda asks her old pal at one point, wondering why they lost touch. ”I don’t know,” Mary answers. ”But let’s never think it again.” One can only hope Valerie Harper and Mary Tyler Moore had the same conversation after making ”Mary & Rhoda.”