by Marc Hirsh
If you're like me (okay, at least in this regard), you may have managed to make it through your entire childhood without ever seeing an episode of Rhoda.
For reasons unknown, Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show were distinctly absent from the batch of sitcoms that I watched every day after school, unlike Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Jeffersons and Taxi.
Lord, how I watched me some Taxi growing up.
Rhoda, on the other hand, has been akin to a myth seen only in fleeting, multicolor-headscarfed glimpses, which means that I approached the recent DVD release of Rhoda Season One with a completely fresh perspective.
Fashion aside -- also a theme song that manages to incorporate both tuba and wah-wah guitar, which, seriously: very impressive -- there's not a lot to date the show 35 years after the fact.
It's very well-made. It's still funny. And certain things that were probably meant to be borderline-shocking at the time -- such as the fact that Joe, Rhoda's soon-to-be-husband, was a divorced father -- were presented and dealt with in such a way that a modern viewer wouldn't even know they were once issues.
There are, however, two things that date the show, both of which are inadvertently showcased in "I'll Be Loving You, Sometimes," the third episode of the show's five-year run. And it all starts with the clip up at the top.
In this scene, Joe, who started dating Rhoda not long after she returned to New York from Minneapolis in the first episode, tells Rhoda that he loves her. And what's the response from the live studio audience?
Nothing. No "ooooh!"s. No gasps. Not a "Wooo!" to be heard. Nothing. The audience simply let the scene play out and laughed at the jokes.
Compare that scene to this one 20 years later on Friends, in which the audience is a little more, I don't know, vocal.
Let's go to the video, after the jump...
"But Monkey See!," you cry. "Viewers had been investing themselves in a Ross/Rachel pairing for one and a half seasons by that point! The audience was simply reacting to a year's worth of tension finally being released!" I hear you. Which brings me to the second thing that dates Rhoda: the pacing of the season.
The thing is, the sudden courtship of Rhoda and Joe is misleading. Even though it happened in the third episode, audiences had four years of familiarity with unlucky-in-love Rhoda to draw on by then, thanks to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In essence, this is the show's fifth season, which is different from taking two brand-new characters that we're just getting to know and throwing them together with lightning-fast speed.
And so, faced with a central character that they didn't need to waste any time letting the audience get to know, the writers simply let Rhoda meet Joe and then move quickly and cleanly to the wedding, the new apartment and her new job, all in one season. It's a far cry from even a great current show like The Office, which runs on sublimated feelings that only come to the surface after many episodes (and sometimes seasons) of dithering.
In terms of both matter-of-factness and a general sense of being unimpressed with its own central romance, maybe only NewsRadio compares in the reasonably modern age. One of the many pleasures of that show was the way that the writers seemed to tweak sitcom convention by throwing David and Lisa together right away. To hell with building sexual tension over time.
In Rhoda's case, that actually created problems. In the DVD's lone extra, the ultra-brief "Remembering Rhoda" featurette, the show's creators share their belief that marrying her off so quickly was a mistake that left them scrambling to find a purpose for the series. Considering that hints of the trouble that would lead to divorce begin appearing towards the end of the first season (I said I never saw the show before, not that I lived in a cave), they seem to have found one.
Up to then, though, Rhoda refused to either jerk its viewers around with artificial drama or constantly goose them with shmoopiness. By that measurement, it's practically a relic. And, to someone coming at it for the first time, it's awfully refreshing.