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Mary and Rhoda catch up on old times

Sunday, February 06, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Oh, Mr. Grant!

ABC and writer Katie Ford took the character who symbolized successful, well-adjusted single women everywhere and married her off - to a congressman. Also when we weren't looking, they gave her a daughter. After that, they killed off the husband in a rock-climbing accident.

And that is how Minneapolis newswoman Mary Richards turned into a 60-year-old widow, now living in New York, with a college-age daughter. Meanwhile, her best friend Rhoda Morgenstern got married for a second time (first husband Joe, you might recall, was bad for the ratings), gave birth to a daughter and got divorced again.

"Mary and Rhoda," airing tomorrow from 8 to 10 p.m. on ABC, reintroduces two of television's most beloved women. As far as reunion movies go, it's not embarrassing - Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper look fabulous - but it's also not up to the heady standards set by the 1970s series.


'Mary and Rhoda'

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

Starring: Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper


"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was blessed with a brilliant ensemble cast: Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel and the late Ted Knight. If they were good, their writers were even better.

Except for Harper, none of the supporting players make an appearance here; their names aren't even mentioned, although Rhoda jokes about Mary's famously disastrous parties. The detail-obsessed, however, will be happy to know Mary still has that wooden M. It's been painted gold and now hangs in her spacious Central Park West place; her balcony is bigger than her old kitchen.

"Mary and Rhoda" opens with the recently widowed Mary's return to New York after four months in Europe. Rhoda, meanwhile, is back in the Big Apple after living in Paris, taking up photography and embarking on a "spiritual quest." The women learn they're in the same boat: Age 60 or almost, looking for work, trying to understand a daughter.

Mary, who earned a master's degree in journalism after leaving WJM-TV, became an in-studio producer for ABC News. She left that job eight years ago. "I'd had it with having it all. I left to raise my daughter."

But now, when Mary goes on job interviews, she doesn't find any Lou Grants. She encounters a 33-year-old punk (Elon Gold) who specializes in reality shows, such as "Final Regrets," featuring people about to die. When Mary does get hired, her boss gives her these marching orders for her first story: "No nice. No boring. No thinking."

Rhoda, who apparently ditched window-dressing years ago, is pursuing her new passion of photography. She, however, can only get hired as an assistant, which means go-fer.

If the women thought they were grappling with age in the '70s, that was nothing compared to their new status: "Invisible." Complicating their lives are their daughters, one of whom wants to leave school to become a stand-up comedian.

When Moore and Harper first started talking about reuniting, it was for an ABC television show. That may explain the presence of the younger actresses - Joie Lenz and Marisa Ryan - but they are the least interesting characters here.

The best part of "Mary and Rhoda" takes Mary back into the newsroom, where she tries to bring honesty and respect to an emotion-charged story about a shooting. She's up against a reporter (Christine Ebersole) who is hard-edged, undiplomatic and willing to engage in some creative editing to get a tabloidy, ratings-ready story.

Late in the movie, Mary gets a chance to shine on two topics. She reminds her multi-tasking, wet-behind-the-ears employer, "I was taught that the news was about something." And then she gets to ruminate on being 60.

That's our Mary. Not thrilled with confronting her boss, but unable to walk away. Gutsy. Funny. Honest. But just about when the movie gives us our role model back, and confirmation that she's going to make it after all, it's time for the closing credits.

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