Sunday, May 11, 2014

THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW: The Loud & The Furious

From 2010
I'm currently nearing the end of Disc 7 in the eight-disc THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW Complete Series collection. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the series was a two-season wonder from producer Desi Arnaz that ran on NBC Sunday night between megahits WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY and BONANZA from 1967 through 1969.
THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW was a big, brassy sitcom built around sweet, lovable wisecracking actress Eve Arden and loud, abrasive musical-comedy performer Kaye Ballard. The two are cast as long-time neighbors: WASPy Eve Hubbard and ethnic Kaye Buell whose college student children (Eve's daughter Susie and Kaye's son Jerry) have decided to marry. The two moms are constantly competing with each other — and for attention of their lovelorn children. After the kids marry they move into the converted garage between the Hubbard and Buell houses, creating an additional reasons for friction between the Moms.
Eve and Kaye's henpecked husbands, the cantankerous lawyer Herb Hubbard (played by Herbert Rudley) and frugal TV writer Roger Buell (played by gay actor Roger C. Carmel in season one, replaced by gay actor Richard Deacon in season two), always get drawn into the ludicrous situations their wives create. The Lucy-like plots usually wind up with all four of the parents either covered in some kind of goop or performing a big musical number.
While some episodes border on unwatchable, there are several that stand out as great time capsules of the late 1960s when "the generation gap" seemed to be the trigger of so many comedic conflicts between television characters. One interesting episode features handsome game show panelist Scoey Mitchell as a lawyer who tries to rent the garage when Susie and Jerry plan on moving out. The girls are trying to be open minded about having an African-American tenant but wind up coming off as extremely prejudiced. It's an awkward situation and aside from a terrible watermelon joke, it's very well-played.
Jokes always seem to stem from situations involving Roger's cheapness, Kaye's Italian heritage, and Eve's penchant for redecorating. The Hubbards and Buells have a love-hate-love relationship and often end up arguing loudly about something ridiculous before each episode is over. Kaye and Eve can't help but interfere in almost every aspect of their kids' lives - a situation aggravated even further in season two when Susie gets pregnant.
Other recurring gags include Eve being referred to as "Mother Hubbard", the garage door in the kid's apartment opening to comedic effect, Kaye insisting that their grandchild will be a boy and Eve convinced it will be a girl (spoiler alert - Susie has twins!). All-in-all the show is quite entertaining. The live studio audience adds to the theatrical feeling and the performers always seem like they are giving it their all. A  special treat and curiosity on Disc 8 is the unsold Desi Arnaz pilot for THE CAROL CHANNING SHOW. 

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