Maude: Season One Movie Review
At a time when Vietnam still burned, Roe vs. Wade and the Equal Rights Amendment were in the headlines every day, and Watergate was warming up, Bea Arthur's unforgettable Maude Findlay, a harridan for the ages, became TV's most outspoken liberal voice, pleasing the left wing with her positions even as Archie Bunker was pleasing that same audience by demonstrating how distasteful right wingers could be. (It's amusing to imagine what Bill O'Reilly would say if Maude hit the airwaves today.)
Maude lives in suburban Tuckahoe, New York with her fourth husband, the much trod-upon Walter (Bill Macy), and her daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau). She rules the roost in a constant state of simmering rage, exploding at injustices big and small. Walter tends to cower from his rather butch wife, and every time he assets himself Maude shoots him a withering stare and mutters her famous catch phrase, "God'll get you for that, Walter."
The series dives right into controversy just nine weeks into season one when Maude finds herself pregnant and openly discusses getting an abortion (note that Bea Arthur was a rapidly graying 49 years old at the time). Maude also hosts a fund-raising party for a Black Panthers-like organization, discusses psychiatric treatment with her daughter, and fights for more lenient punishments for pot smokers.
Along the way Maude hires an African-American maid, Florida Evans (Esther Rolle), but then suffers all sorts of liberal guilt about it. (No problem, Florida will soon spin off to her own Norman Lear show, Good Times.) Though some of the episodes are built around conventional sitcom plots, especially those that involve next door neighbor Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain) and Maude's friend Vivian (Rue McClanahan), when big issues come up, Maude becomes a furious dervish spinning wildly in her living room.
Bea Arthur is the perfect embodiment of a polyester pants-suit-wearing outraged women's libber tearing her way through the '70s burning bras and picketing all along the way. (In fact, this reviewer, age seven when Maude premiered, vividly recalls being unsure whether Maude was a woman or a man. He's also surprised in retrospect that his mother let him watch it.) The show deserves its place in any '70s time capsule, and its theme song -- "Lady Godiva was a freedom rider/She didn't care if the whole world looked" -- will live on forever as one of television's all-time best. They don't write 'em like that any more.