In delighted receipt today of the complete box set of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, recently released a mere four and a half decades after it aired. I’ve placed it underneath my framed copy of the Rolling Stone cover (March 26, 1976) featuring star Louise Lasser, which I’ve carted around to at least 15 homes since then. 38 discs! 325 episodes! Plus 10 complete programs of Fernwood 2 Night!
If you were around for the original broadcast — way too weird for network, it began in syndication — MHMH is a scenic tour of the cultural trash fire of these United States. The show was hugely popular in its time, also a source of anxiety for viewers since, as a twisted soap, it broadcast five nights a week, and in those days the episodes were on and gone. (Woman I heard leaving a major Broadway revival: “God, I wish we’d seen Mary Hartman instead.”) It’s a very strange series: funny as hell but in a queasy, hypnotic sort of way. To see a thought entering Louise Lasser’s mind is an experience in itself. In that blank hang time before something registers — that her grandfather is the Fernwood Flasher, for instance — you can see her foreknowledge that whatever it is, it’ll be a bummer; she’ll have to cope with it; and when she’s done coping with it, everything will be worse than before. Every now and then the whole show has that feel, as if it’s lifting off like a trash bag in the breeze.
Wonderful stuff. 325 episodes. Right now it’s the next best thing to a vaccine.