Love is All Around, aside from being the theme song for Mary Tyler Moore, was also the name of the first episode. First episodes of shows can be… rough, to say the least, but this is one of the better ones I have ever seen. It sets up the show very well without having much of the stiffness that a lot of first episodes can.
The episode starts off with Mary moving to Minneapolis after a breakup. She meets her friend Phyllis, who is also the property manager, in an apartment and prepares to move in. However, Mary meets Rhoda, who insists she actually has a claim on the apartment. We are introduced to the dynamic between Phyllis and Rhoda, that they really don’t care for one another. Phyllis also desperately wants her good friend to move in, and we get a peek at what later develops into a sense that Phyllis is a bit lonely, especially with how much she hovers over her daughter.
While Mary and Rhoda spend the better part of the episode fighting over the apartment, they also admit to one another that they kind of like each other setting up their later friendship.
Mary shows up at WJM-TV, the TV station she works at during the show, applying to be a secretary. She meets Lou Grant, Mr. Grant, as she calls him throughout the show, who tells her it’s been filled. Mr. Grant comments on her spunk and then declares he hates it. Despite this, he offers her an associate producer job. Mary also meets the hardworking but funny Murray and the incompetent Ted.
Later as Mary is settling into her new apartment, Mr. Grant shows up drunk.
– side note, other than it being weird that she has to use a couch bed, I really love Mary’s apartment and actually disliked when she moved later in the show –
Mr. Grant compliments Mary’s “caboose,” and Mary gets the idea that he only hired her for less than savory reasons. Before she can let the idea run too far, he immediately starts talking about his wife’s caboose. He says that his wife will be gone for a month, and even though it’s only been a short while, he already misses her. Mary realizes that Mr. Grant didn’t get drunk and show up to hit on her but because he loves his wife so much. He decides he needs to write his wife right at that moment.
While Mr. Grant is writing, Mary’s ex shows up and apologizes for making her wait so long, and Mary laments that it’s been two years. The way that they talk about how long two years is in this show is where I start to really feel the age of it. I understand it’s 1970, but two years seems normal? Anyway, the two years isn’t the only issue, as Mary’s ex is clearly there to win Mary back because he feels like it is what he should do and not what he wants. He can barely manage to say I love you. All of this after Mr. Grant is depressed over not being with his wife. Mary is struck by this and ends the relationship for good. Mr. Grant tells Mary that she’s not missing much in an attempt to comfort her while Mary, in a bit of self-confidence, says no, she’s not, but he is.
This is not the funniest or more clever episode in the series, but it comes back to the fact that it’s a great first episode for me. We get a good look at the dynamics that will be at play for almost the entire show. – I feel they messed some of those dynamics up in the later seasons, but that’s for another time – Phyllis and Rhoda both being good friends to Mary but barely tolerating each other. Phyllis’ sometimes cute, sometimes hovering relationship with her daughter. Also, the office dynamics that this show is so well known for. Murray and Ted and them sniping at each other. Mr. Grant being both the gruff boss but also a complete sweetheart when it counts and the almost familial relationship he has with Mary.
It is also a good look at Mary’s character and the traits that made her so beloved as well as a pretty forward woman. She does want to be married but not enough to settle. She is kind but not a complete pushover. She was going to give up the apartment but eventually stands up for herself. She wants to work, and complains about not being given enough to do. And when she thinks that Mr. Grant has hired her for her caboose, she is upset and ready to fight over it. Mary was a great character because she was such a good blend of characteristics that presented her as both feminine and strong. With age, it certainly leans more to the feminine side, but for the time, she really was a pretty forward character and paved the way for many more like her in TV.
And even though it’s not the funniest, it is still solidly funny. The great thing about this show was how well the characters played off of each other and the timing, and while it reached higher, this episode was a great place to start.
So bottom line? As I said at the start, not all first episodes are good, and frankly, some can even be skipped because oftentimes, they are more worried about introducing everyone than actually allowing the story to present itself. This is one of the better first episodes out there and worth watching if you are looking to get into The Mary Tyler Moore Show or even want to re-watch some episodes. You get a brief look at each of the characters, a good look at Mary, and get a feel for what the comedy style will be. It’s got some laughs, introduces the characters fairly naturally, and gets the show off to a good start.