The Film (4/5)
Shout! Factory sure have the market covered on unearthing notable pieces of obscure pop culture, and lavishing them with quality editions on DVD and Blu-ray. They have put out excellent editions of everything from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to The Howling, and if that wasn't enough have the Nick at Nite crowd covered with wonderful releases of shows like Route 66. Their latest DVD triumph is a Complete 38 disc box set release of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman a series that I will describe as a soap opera spoof, but is much more than that.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the creation of 70's TV mastermind Norman Lear. A man who at the time seemingly could do no wrong as far as creating shows that were a ratings bonanza. Throughout the 70's he created such classic fare as the Jeffersons, All in the Family, Maude amongst others. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a show Lear brought to life in 1976, a show that was meant to satirize both the concept of daily soap operas, but also the modern consumerist culture (Mary frequently trys to improve her stagnant existent by purchasing products off the TV), and middle American culture.
The series follows Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser) as she goes about her day to day life in the small town of Fernwood, Ohio. She is surrounded by a husband who has fallen out of love with her, and a daughter who is indifferent to her. She is surrounded frequently by her family (her parents live next door), and frequently has to deal with a bizarre yellow waxy build up on her floor.
The series starts out with a more over the top comedic atmosphere with eventually is dialed down (but never truly far away) to allow more serious drama to enter into the show and Mary's life. The show does perform a fine balancing act of comedy with drama, and manages to deal with controversial (for the time) topics without feeling like the themes are being pounded into the audience's head. The performances across the board, are befitting to the material. It appears that the cast knew how to strike the precise balance between comedy and drama to make their characters work in this setting, and over the course of thes series are effective in their respective roles.
Being a person who grew up obsessively watching Nick at Nite, and vintage television, I had heard of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, but had never seen an episode prior to this box set. However, when it was announced I knew it was an opportunity to view one of the most unique television experiments to air in the 70's. The show is certainly that, and this box set will allow fans of the show, and vintage television overall to experience the show from the beginning the way it was meant to be seen.
Shout! Factory have presented Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in the show's original 1:33:1 OAR for their complete series release. The show looks to be as expected, and it doesn't look like a lot of restoration work was done here. However, it is a nice clear stable image for the most part. It is a bit faded in places, and certainly does show it's age, however, this release is very probably the best the series will ever look.
The Dolby Digital Mono track in English like the video is quite serviceable. The dialogue comes through nice and clearly, as does the various musical cues and sound FX.
Shout! Factory have put together a nice few features for their release of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman on DVD. It kicks off with an interview segment featuring Norman Lear, Mary Kay Place, and Louise Lasser called In the Funhouse Mirror. We also get a piece called On the Verge... Which features Norman Lear and Louise Lasser discussing the Nervous Breakdown episode. We also get 10 episodes of the Talk Show spinoff of the show Fernwood 2 Night.
Shout! Factory has resurrected another wonderfully obscure television show from pop culture obscurity, and put it out in a truly epic DVD release. The A/V is of decent quality, and the extras are slim, but fun and informative. Due to the very nature of this set, I have to call it HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.