Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

“Mama’s Family”

Popular ‘80s Show on DVD

By David Luhrssen
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In many ways, “Mama’s Family” was an old fashioned sitcom situated in a family living room. But this popular ‘80s show, spun-off from “The Carol Burnett Show,” was neither a genial “Leave it to Beaver” nor a politically pointed “All in the Family.”

Episode one on the DVD “Mama’s Family: The Complete Season Three” touches on one of the show’s subtexts: the decline of the American Dream. Thelma (played by multi-talented Vicki Lawrence) is the irascible matriarch of a clan clinging precariously to its middle-class status. Her son Vinton (Ken Berry) and despised daughter-in-law Naomi (Dorothy Lyman) are living in the basement of her old house. Thelma’s sister has just died and the “kids” are eager to move upstairs to the dead woman’s bedroom. Instead, a nephew released from reform school, an idiot metal head, gets the room. The refrigerator is stocked and the mortgage paid, but money is tight.

And then there is the humorous misanthropy of “Mama’s Family.” The characters are greedy and selfish; the veneer of unctuous hypocrisy is often punctured to funny effect by Thelma’s sharp tongue. “Disfunctional” is a misused cliché and too strong a word for Thelma’s clan. Let’s just say they function, but with little grace. Many of the punch lines remain laugh-out-loud decades later.

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