MAUDE’s Third Season Saw an Already Great Show Hit its Stride

Maude (Bea Arthur), the hilarious liberal housewife from Tuckahoe, returns for season three of this iconic ’70s sitcom from the genius mind of TV titan Norman Lear.

Maude’s adventures continue as she takes on one crazy mess after another, blending classic situation comedy setups with some of the most topical issues of the day. Along for the ride with Maude are her husband Walter (Bill Macy), daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau), and best friends/next door neighbors Arthur and Vivian (Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan), all of whom are no match for the titular character’s wild antics and acid tongue.

Maude wouldn’t be a Lear series if there weren’t a number of hot button issues populating many of the series’ plotlines. Though Maude was heavily monitored by the censors, Lear and his writing team still found ways to interject real-life situations into Maude’s otherwise hilarious upper-middle class world. In season three, the characters were faced with issues such as wrongful imprisonment, homosexuality, and the notion of married couples fantasizing about other people. Meanwhile Maude herself dealt with the fear of having to undergo a hysterectomy and fighting for the right to be taken seriously when she is made manager of the real estate office at which she works. The exploring of such issues proved the genius of Lear’s touch as he showed that if what was happening in the real world could effect an affluent housewife, it could effect anybody.

Such issue-driven episodes are cleverly inserted in between some highly potent episodes built around farce and hilarious misunderstanding, showing Lear saw Maude as first and foremost a true situation comedy. In “Vivian’s First Party,” all of Maude’s efforts to ensure Vivian’s first time entertaining Arthur’s doctor friends goes perfect blows up in her face when she realizes she’s not invited, leading to her personal mission to sabotage the proceedings. Meanwhile, in “Lovers in Common” Maude and Vivian are both contacted by the same former flame and then proceed to fight over which one said lover preferred most whilst getting drunk on champagne cocktails.

The cast dynamics got a bit a shake up with the addition of live-in housekeeper Mrs. Naugatuck (Hermione Baddeley) to the assortment of wacky characters. As played by Baddeley, Mrs. Naugatuck proved to be a fun replacement for the previous season’s Florida (Esther Rolle, who had departed the series to star in the hit spin-off Good Times). Where Florida was reserved, but cool, the cockney Mrs. Naugatuck was loud, brash, and full of one tall tale after another. Her scenes with Maude oftentimes turned into fun-filled sparring matches with the character managing to steal every scene in which she appeared.

The dialogue in season three of Maude proved just as as sidesplitting as ever, especially when spoken through Arthur’s one of a kind delivery. In the series opener “Maude Meets the Duke,” Maude is completely against receiving movie star John Wayne in her home and proclaims, “Walter, you can’t expect me to have lunch with a man whose favorite part of the chicken is the right wing.” In the same episode when Walter asks his wife, “Why’d you lock the front door?” Maude replies, “To keep out burglars and Republicans.” Sometimes the dialogue proved envelope pushing by traditional network standards such as in “A Night to Remember,” when Walter says to a sleepless Maude, “You never had trouble sleeping in the six years we’ve been married…and in the 4 months before that.”

As always, Maude and Walter’s relationship proved to be the show’s anchor. Lear was smart to create a married couple that served as a shining and compelling alternative to his Archie and Edith Bunker. In the midst of all the chaos surrounding them, their marriage, which was comprised of equal parts tenderness and fireworks, is still great to watch and makes the third season of Maude, one of the strongest of an already fantastic show.

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