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The best, funniest episodes of Mama's Family...

There ARE Some Very Funny Episodes
of Mama's Family - Honest!

The best, funniest episodes of Mama's Family...

by Billy Ingram

Mama's Family is a show considered to be so bad it may be the worst TV production of all time, in many people's mind.

It might surprise you to know the series, in primetime on NBC for 2 seasons before entering syndication, was actually funny when guest stars Betty White as sister Ellen and Carol Burnett as Eunice appeared, reprising their roles from the 'Family' sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, what Mama's Family was based on.

Almost all of the first two seasons were co-directed (with Roger Beatty) by Harvey Korman, also from the Burnett show, he also appeared in short introductions as host Alistair Quince before the theme song and a few times as Eunice's husband Ed Higgins.

Between the Burnett variety hour ending in 1978 and the premiere of Mama's Family mid-season in 1983, there was a hilarious 90-minute special that aired in early 1982 on CBS called Eunice that expanded on some of the Family sketches, recast as a drama. Vicki Lawrence was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Thelma Harper in this special which may have been the impetus for Mama's Family being green-lit by NBC.

 

In my opinion, the 2-parter (episodes 3 and 4) 'The Wedding' is funnier than any other sitcom of the era with the exception of Cheers and a few others, the catfights between Burnett and Betty White are laugh out loud funny. This was the first time White and Rue McClanahan worked together, they would go on to star in another NBC series in 1985, The Golden Girls.

 

Episode 5 has Eunice and the family, including sharp tongue Ellen, appearing on Family Feud with guest Richard Dawson. White and Dawson appeared together on Match Game during the 1970s.

 

The next episode (6) finds Eunice, Ed, Vint and Thelma out at the Bigger Jigger where Mama and Eunice cause such a scene they land in jail, sharing a cell with a prostitute.

Episode 7 is enjoyable, with the focus primarily on Vicki Lawrence's Mama as she attempts the 9-5 life as a receptionist while keeping things together at home at the same time.

 

Episode 9 is a remake of a Family skit from the Burnett show, Mama's old boyfriend arrives in town to invite her for a weekend at his cabin. Not nearly as funny as the original sketch but passable.

Episode 10 gets its laughs from Betty White's Ellen as Ellen and Thelma attempt to find a replacement dress for one that was ruined before Fran returns home.

Eunice returns in episode 12, immersed in her positive thinking tapes in a desire to make uplifting changes in her life, very funny. Also based partly on a Family sketch. This was Harvey Korman's final appearance as Ed Higgins.

 

There were only 13 episode for season 1 of Mama's Family. When the sitcom returned in September of 1983, 22 episodes were filmed for season 2 but there was very little Betty White or Carol Burnett. Or laughs. But these 2 episodes shine:

Episode 16 has the family showing up and embarrassing Ellen when she is awarded Raytown's "Woman of the Year" at the Raytown Country Club.

'Roshomama', episode 18, was Carol Burnett's final appearance in the series as Eunice, Ellen, and Vint all tell a different story as to how Mama took a pot to the head, knocking her out.

The comedy for episode 20 comes from Ellen dating a much younger man, Betty White really shines here.

Mama's Family began airing in syndication in 1986 with cast changes, including dropping Rue McClanahan who was relieved that she was let go. "I didn't like my part," Rue McClanahan told Pop Goes The Culture. "No, when they offered me the role it was [Mama's] sister and she was supposed to be a fiery bombshell that was just as tough as Mama and they would go head to head. Well, I accepted the role of Aunt Fran. Then while my back was turned they discovered Dorothy Lyman from All My Children and they think she'd make a wonderful daughter-in-law, marry Ken Berry, and she will now be the one to lock horns with Mama and so they make Aunt Fran into the prissy little - Peter Pan collar, repressed, you know, little thing. It didn't really tickle my funny bone very much."

There is only a single episode from the 4 year syndicated run I would recommend. That is 'Best Medicine' (episode 38, the second show of season 3) which was Betty White's last appearance on the series.

Season 1 NBC Mama's Family opening:

 

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