Chris Hicks: Soap opera satire ‘Mary Hartman’ makes its DVD debut this week

Published: Saturday, Dec. 7 2013 1:00 p.m. MST

Fans of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” have reason to rejoice as the entire series finds its way to DVD for the first time, leading these TV shows released on home video this week.

“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series” (Shout!/Sony, 1974-77, 38 discs, $249.95, 325 episodes, featurettes, 10 episodes of “Fernwood 2 Night”; 40-page booklet). Although it preceded “Soap” and “Twin Peaks,” this was not the first show to lampoon daytime-TV soap operas. Carol Burnett’s “As the Stomach Turns” skits date back to 1968, and there were no doubt others.

But “Mary Hartman” was unique in the way it was presented, airing as a daily half-hour program that worked as both a spoof and as a soap opera in its own right. This is dark, deadpan satire at its sharpest — and though it’s not necessary, it does help to have a working knowledge of the world of daytime soaps (infidelities, evil twins, kidnappings by cults, etc.) and life in the 1960s and ’70s, when TV advertising really did warn us about “waxy yellow build-up” on our kitchen floors.

Louise Lasser stars in the title role as a suburban homemaker in Fernwood, Ohio, surrounded by wacky characters and a variety of plot machinations that co-mingle comedy and tragedy, pulling no punches along the way. Not that one would expect anything less from Norman Lear, who also gave us “All in the Family,” along with myriad spinoffs and like-minded shows.

In the first episode, Mary hears about a mass murder on the next block, along with the family’s goats and chickens. “I can’t believe that,” Mary says in horror, “what kind of madman shoots two goats and eight chickens?” Whereupon the goats and chickens provide a running gag throughout the episode.

The cast is quite large but among those who impress are Mary Kay Place as an aspiring country singer, Dody Goodman and Philip Bruns as Mary’s parents, Debralee Scott as her younger sister, Dabney Coleman as the less-than-honest mayor, and Martin Mull as twins Garth and Barth Gimble. And it’s fun to see among the bonus features episodes of the follow-up series “Fernwood 2 Night,” a faux talk show hosted by Mull.

“Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited: Ninth-Eleventh” (BBC, 2013, three discs, $39.98, three 25-minute documentaries, six episodes, introductions). As with the earlier “Doctors Revisited” editions, this one has mini-documentaries on each of the three most recent doctors (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith) and a trio of two-part episodes, each introduced by current lead writer Steven Moffat.

“Hot in Cleveland: Season Four” (TV Land/Paramount, 2013, three discs, $29.99, 23 episodes, featurettes, bloopers). Terrific ensemble comic chemistry lifts this sitcom about Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves as middle-aged L.A. natives transplanted to Cleveland, where they move in with Betty White. Very funny, though unfortunately laced with the cheap sex gags all sitcoms fall back on these days. Guests include Carol Burnett, Shirley Jones, William Shatner, Regis Philbin and Jean Smart, along with recurring players Heather Locklear and Georgia Engel. And White has a reunion of sorts with Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman (they all co-starred on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”).

“Duck Dynasty: Seasons 1-3: Collector’s Set” (A&E/Lionsgate, 2012-13, eight discs, $49.99, 41 episodes, featurettes; Duck Camo bandana). Wildly popular reality show — with humor and heart, and a more positive, upbeat attitude than most — follows a backwoods family whose business caters to duck hunters. This gift set culls the first three seasons, includes all previous bonus features and has two new featurettes. (Also on Blu-ray, same price)

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