Last night, the five leading ladies of " The Mary Tyler Moore Show" were reunited onscreen for the first time in 36 years, and it felt so good.
The much-anticipated episode of "Hot in Cleveland," the TV Land series on which "MTMS" alum Betty White (Elka) is a regular and Georgia "Georgette" Engel has a recurring guest spot as Elka's ditzy gal pal Mamie Sue, featured the quintet — rounded out by Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, and Cloris Leachman —playing new characters, but the nods to the time they spent together in Minneapolis from 1970 through 1977 were many.
Here are our seven favorites:
1. The Intro
The setup was that Elka and Mamie Sue were once members of a legendary bowling team called GLOB (Gorgeous Ladies of Bowling). They had promised to uncork a bottle of wine 50 years down the road, but a championship 1962-63 season went to their heads and ruined their friendships, and they drifted apart. For the annual birthdays setup, Elka asked her roommates Melanie, Victoria, and Joy to gather the Queenpins. When they inquired who the other women were, Mamie Sue whipped out a team poster with giant illustrations of the gals' heads circa the '70s atop pins. The live studio audience immediately went crazy with whistles, hoots, and hollers, and you could feel the love all around for those iconic mugs and all the hours of quality TV they represent.
Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves, and Valerie Bertinelli discuss working with comedy legends:
2. The Frienemies
Harper, in a loud patterned blouse and jumbo earrings Rhoda Morgenstern would surely approve of, was the first to appear. She was quickly followed by Leachman (Phyllis Lindstrom), who was accidentally seated with the wrong group of seniors, telling them how they "hadn't changed a bit." (A cheap sight gag, considering one of the women was African American.) When she was called over by the right trio, she hugged Engel and White and paused at Harper. "Wait a minute. Did I like you?" After Harper responded, "You always said you did," Leachman deadpanned before giving in to the embrace, "Well, I'm a pathological liar." It was a knowing wink at the adversarial-but-friendly bond Phyllis and Rhoda shared on "MTMS."
3. The Theme Song
Several funny and nostalgic moments used the unforgettable "MTMS" title song "Love Is All Around" as a jumping-off point, including the title of the episode. Elka mentioned a couple of times that Diane (Moore) was not going to be able to make it. As they meandered to their reserved table on the patio, they found someone sitting at it with her head buried in a menu. The menu dropped to reveal an incredibly petite Moore. White cracked, "Looks like she made it after all." Sure, it was a joke you probably expected they'd make somehow, but it still hit us squarely in the heartstrings, and judging by her ecstatic face and open mouth of pure joy, it had the same effect on Harper. Later, when their diva sides started to rear their ugly heads once again, Harper snarled about how Moore ruined their shot at a Life magazine cover and complained, "How come she got to be in the center of every single picture?" Moore jabbed, "Because I had the smile," a reference to the theme's line, "Who can turn the world on with her smile?"
4. The Ditz
In the early part of the reunion, they debated who played what role in their group. Harper called Elka the bombshell, herself the legs, Moore the brains, and Mamie the ditz. Leachman and White assigned other people those titles, but every time Mamie Sue landed squarely under the banner of resident ditz. Engel joked, "Well, the joke's on all of you. You're not any of those things anymore, but I'm still ditzy." Her "MTMS" character was always portrayed as sweet and naive, and it is a device they have smartly used often in her time on "Cleveland." Mamie is a dingbat of the highest order except in those moments when you least expect it, and then she spits out something brilliant.
Valerie Harper opens up about her health:
5. The Affair
Leave it to White, whose Sue Ann Nivens was a man-obsessed host and home wrecker who often used sexual double-entendres, to get in a few dirty jokes. After Leachman called Elka a tramp for "backing into the hand dryer to blow up her blowing skirt," Elka retorted, "That was an accident … every time." Later in the show, fans were reminded that Sue Ann had an affair with Phyllis's husband on "MTMS" when Harper said, "We had our differences but we went out on top." Without skipping a beat, Leachman said, "Just like my husband." White jumped in with, "At least he died doing something he loved," which was followed by Leachman acknowledging jokingly, "That's right. Cheating on me."
6. The Champs
The moment when fiction and nonfiction collided at the end of the episode was priceless. Especially as we almost didn't realize they were patting themselves on the back for jobs well done all those years ago and the undeniable changes in programming and roles for women they kick-started. After small talk turned to grandkids, White proclaimed, "We didn't come here for old lady chitchat. We came here because we're champions. A classic." Harper chimed in, "We were the best there ever was." Then Mary added, "Every Saturday night all eyes were on us."
Watch this scene now:
7. The Cat
After a sentimental toast to friendship, which obviously had deeper meaning than what was written on the script page, the camera panned away from the group and settled on a teeny tiny kitten sitting on the windowsill. The minute it let out a triumphant meow, it was obvious that it was a reference to Mimsie the Cat, who herself was a spoof of MGM's roaring lion mascot. The cat was used in the credits of the shows produced by Moore's company Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises, including "Remington Steele," "Newhart," "St. Elsewhere," and, of course, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Rumor has it that the original Mimsie wouldn't meow on demand, so they used a yawn run in reverse and added a sound effect. The cat was also dressed up occasionally to fit the theme of the series, as when they put a tiny policeman's hat on her for the credits of "Hill Street Blues." This precursor to Internet cat videos is just another example of how ahead of her time Moore was.
Check out Mimsie the Cat in the "MTM" credits: