Mama’s Family, a spin-off of The Carol Burnett Show was canceled by NBC after only two seasons. Remember it airing more than that? That’s because a short time after the original cancellation, the show was revived in first-run syndication (meaning someone else, not the network, made the show and sold it for broadcast) for another four seasons. The first year of that reboot will soon be available in a four-disc set from StarVista and Time Life.
Based on Carol Burnett Show sketches, this iteration of Mama’s Family features some changes that set it apart from its first years. Mama (Vicky Lawrence), her son, Vinton (Ken Berry), and Vinton’s gal, Naomi (Dorothy Lyman), remain. But Vinton’s kids, briefly mentioned in season three, then never brought up again, are out of the house, as is Mama’s sister, Fran, after a “natural” death.
From a practicality stand point, Rue McClanahan, who played Fran, was not able to come back because she had accepted a role in a little show called The Golden Girls. Ellen, Mama’s sister, is played by Betty White, who only appears in one episode of the syndication reboot for the same reason. So it’s not like those ladies were not funny, or were unceremoniously kicked off the series. As for the kids, well, that’s a different matter, and rumors swirled over Ed and Eunice’s (Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett) departure.
To plug the hole in the cast, Bubba Higgins (Allan Kayser), Eunice and Ed’s son, joins the clan, fresh out of a stint in juvie. His parents are said to have moved to Florida, and Mama is left to straighten Bubba out. Luckily, Mama has Iola (Beverly Archer) to rely on for support, her best friend and the other new main cast member.
The focus of the series shifted more to Mama herself by season three. She became a much more dominant personality, with Vint and Naomi being more obedient, making for less bickering. Perhaps America didn’t want to see so much strife in a loving family, or maybe the writers just wanted to highlight the fantastic Lawrence even more, but whatever the reason, The Complete Third Season is a bit of a different show.
Make no mistake about it, though; Mama’s Family remains a funny, beloved classic in this third year. In fact, this version may be the one many fans are most familiar with, the early seasons running for a shorter length of time. So there’s no reason to shy away from The Complete Third Season.
Among the installments of note in this set are: “Farewell, Frannie,” containing Fran’s funeral and Bubba’s arrival; “Where There’s a Will,” where Mama is forced to keep her temper in order to inherit Fran’s money; “Best Medicine,” in which Ellen returns and apologizes for missing the funeral; “Mama and Dr. Brothers” features Dr. Joyce Brothers (herself) helping Naomi with her bedroom troubles; “The Love Letter,” a comedy of errors; “Where There’s Smoke,” in which Mama tries to charm herself a leadership position in the church league; “Santa Mama” finds Mama playing Santa Claus at the mall; “Mama’s Cousin” has Lawrence playing two roles; and “The Best Policy,” in which Naomi may be trying to kill Vinton.
Honestly, though, I could have easily added more titles to that list of episodes to watch. Most of the entries in this set are really funny, and the show holds up tremendously well. Combined with some special features including a classic “Family” sketch featuring Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith, a featurette on Bubba, an interview with the actor that plays Bubba, and a cast reunion, this is a good release.
Mama’s Family – The Complete Third Season will be available this coming Tuesday from StarVista.