Where There’s Smoke, There’s Rhoda is the 21st episode of the 2nd season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and is all about a well-known reality. One that many of us have had experience with. Living with your friend is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a pretty hilarious episode, and while I don’t enjoy watching Mary and Rhoda fight, it is done in amusing ways. It also helps that it’s a show that you know everything will work out.
The episode starts with Mary and Rhoda having pre-work breakfast together. They hear sirens approaching and start to smell smoke. Rhoda realizes the sirens are coming to their place, and Mary panics. She can’t decide “what to take,” while Rhoda insists on taking herself. Even once they figure out the fire is in Rhoda’s upstairs apartment, Mary continues to flip out while Rhoda remains cool and collected. Sadly her cool and collected attitude doesn’t change that her apartment and everything in it is destroyed. Despite that, the normally negative Rhoda takes it in stride, for the most part, a bit surprising for the character.
Phyllis joins the two and is more annoyed than concerned, of course she is, especially when she realizes she can’t blame Rhoda for the fire. This show was pretty incredible about making characters that should be unlikable, likable, Phyllis being one of the top.
Rhoda’s only main concern is where she will stay while Phyllis, the property manager, gets the place fixed. Mary insists that Rhoda stay with her, and Phyllis feeling like she’s being upstaged, also offers. Rhoda quips that one of these days she will take Phyllis up on her fake generosity just to see what she does.
The ladies realize they are late to work and rush off in a panic. While Mary is working, Rhoda calls and starts to make plans for the evening, making Mary promise not to be late for dinner, etc. The cracks are already starting to form as Mary realizes she is going to have to work around things with Rhoda instead of just being able to say, “I’m too busy.” The men also joke that Mary must have gotten a call from her wife as it’s one they are used to.
From there, things start to fall apart even more. First, who will sleep on the cot, and who will get the comfortable bed. Mary being Mary, insists that Rhoda take it before they agree to change nights. Also, I just want to say, while as a woman in my 30s, I wouldn’t delight in sharing a bed with another person (other than my husband), in this situation, I would just share the bed? This must either be to add more drama or a censorship issue, or perhaps both. Either way. Mary is an early sleeper, Rhoda is not. Mary finally convinces Rhoda that Rhoda staying up to watch TV won’t bother her… but it does.
Things keep snowballing. Mary is stiff from the cot. Rhoda is mad at Mary for not waking her up. Rhoda is messy. Mary wants everything tidy. The list goes on. Finally, Mary wakes up on the third morning and can’t find Rhoda. Rhoda comes out with Mary’s suitcase and tells her she’s borrowing it to go to a motel. Mary is hurt and wants her to stay, but Rhoda lists off all the ways that Mary drives her crazy, then says she is doing this because she knows she drives Mary crazy too. After some prodding, Mary admits that yes, she does, and the two decide it is best if Rhoda leaves.
Phyllis shows up and, seeing Rhoda leaving, offers once again to let Rhoda stay with them. In a close-out to the earlier joke, Rhoda accepts… which Phyllis’ panic is hilarious.
Overall this is not only a hilarious episode but a relatable one. The way the various spats play out leaves a lot of room for jokes. While the newsroom takes a backseat in this one, the guys are also there to get a few good lines in, including a funny moment from the underutilized Gordy. Mostly though, the focus is on Mary and Rhoda and the clear way that Mary is falling apart and starting to dislike her friend.
Not all of us, but many of us, have been in a situation where we thought living with a friend or becoming close to a roommate would be a great thing. Only to find out the harsh truth that people’s little quirks, or the ways we are different, are fine with space and distance but less so when you are right on top of each other.
It was also clever of the writers to tap into the fact that what made Mary and Rhoda have such a great friendship is exactly why this situation would never work for them; they are simply too different. That chemistry made for great jokes and a delightful friendship overall throughout the years that Rhoda was on the show, but had the show ever tried this long term there is no believable way to write two personalities like that working it out believably. It was a great way to highlight realistic limitations in the character types the show had created.
It’s also, again, really funny. The cleaning issue leads to a really hilarious scene, and this is an episode that does not lack for laugh-out-loud moments. Even knowing a lot of the jokes and visual gags I still chuckle when I rewatch it.
The way they work it out is also super sweet. Rhoda is abrasive and sharp, and it’s part of what makes her such a good character. Her being brutally honest with Mary but then telling Mary to do so back is actually perfect. She may be harsh, but she does not lack self-awareness and knows that Mary deserves to be just as annoyed by her as she is by Mary. These moments of Rhoda’s are part of why I love her so much as a character. She is not “I just say it like it is” while lacking respect or compassion for how that impacts the people around her, something that a lot of people who use that line as an excuse to be buttheads do. She says it like it is, but she also knows how it is for others. Much like Mary was a great character for her balance of feminine but strong, Rhoda is for her balance of brash but still caring.
Bottom line? It’s one of my favorite episodes, at least from a comedy standpoint and from the Rhoda and Mary relationship one. If your preferred dynamic with this show was the workplace relationships that it was so well known for you might find this one a little lacking. However, it’s still really funny and sweet. I again adore the way the ladies work things out, and I like Rhoda and Mary’s friendship a lot. I think it’s worth including in the list if you are looking for random episodes to watch.