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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Rural > Syndicated > Mamas Family The Complete Series (1983 - 1990/Star Vista/Time Life DVD)

Mama's Family - The Complete Series (1983 - 1990/Star Vista/Time Life DVD)

Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: B- Episodes: B-

The genius of The Carol Burnett Show cannot be expressed enough. So genius in fact that it managed to not only jump start the careers of many comedy greats, but concurrently create a spinoff series that holds merits of its own. The series under review here is Mama's House: The Complete Series from Time Life Video.

Mama's Family started its life (as previously mentioned) on The Carol Burnett Show (reviewed in several volumes elsewhere on this site) under the name The Family during the 1974 to 1978 series run. The Family was revived as a standalone series in January of 1983 as Mama's Family after Mama died in the Eunice TV special on CBS. The new series had initial success that eventually floundered at NBC once its timeslot was altered (apparently more than once); ultimately being canceled in 1984 after only 1 and a half seasons, landing itself into constant reruns.

After a period of time (perhaps due to favorable ratings on reruns) Lorimar-Telepictures saw the potentially Mama's Family had and revived it once again; albeit short a few characters and new cast members written into the series. The revamping seemed to work for Mama's Family and went on to run for a total of six seasons (including the original 1.5 seasons, as the first season was a mid-season replacement on then-struggling NBC) that garnered a huge fan base and pop culture significance.

The star and mastermind behind the series was Vicki Lawrence. Though Lawrence at first had her reservations about headlining an independent series that was only intended to be short sketches; with encouragement from the likes of her fellow Carol Burnett Show cast and the success of the standalone TV film Eunice, Lawrence reversed her original hesitations. Though accepting the role in Mama's Family created a long standing rift between Burnett and Lawrence that would last into the early 1990s. Lawrence starred as Thelma Harper, matriarch of the Harper household. She was a quick witted, snappy, snarky, somewhat curmudgeonly old woman who had little time for nonsense, but deep down inside had a heart of gold and lives for her family.

Other members of the cast who were in it for the long haul included Ken Berry (Vinton Harper) and Dorothy Lyman (Naomi Harper). Those that were lost (artistically not mortally) were the likes of Eric Brown (Buzz Harper), Karen Argoud (Sonja Harper), Ellen Harper-Jackson (Betty White), Fran Crowley (Rue McClanahan), and the great Carol Burnett (Eunice Harper). Then were those added once the series was resurrected such as Allan Kayser (Bubba Higgins) and Beverly Archer (Iola Boylan). All of this with the understanding that there were a host of other great comedic actors making appearances as recurring characters; just not part of primary cast.

The First & (short) Second Seasons (originally issued in shorter syndicated versions on DVD years ago) definitely have a different vibe than the later seasons with most of the cast being gone for Seasons 3 - 6; having been killed off, moved, or simply never mentioned again. The only remaining actors were Lawrence, Berry, and Lyman; White and McClanahan had moved onto to star in Golden Girls and Burnett having bigger aspirations than being a sidekick on a series she had helped create. The comedy style was the same, though somewhat more light hearted for Seasons 3 - 6 with many reoccurring zingers, tag lines, and quips that made the series very popular.

In the early episodes (and those familiar with Carol Burnett Shows - The Family) Mama [Thelma] was played much older and naïve. Mama often times got herself into trouble, was absent minded, and often put herself into situations that would end in embarrassment. By the time the revamped series premiered not only had the cast been overhauled, but their personalities as well. We would now see Mama playing a wise cracking, intelligent woman that at times seemed out of touch with the times but was no longer the bumbling naïve character she had been in the past; that role now being passed onto Vinton.

The most apparent change, as somewhat previously mentioned, was the lighter feel of Seasons 3 - 6 when compared to Seasons 1 & 2. Lawrence's Mama character was much darker, spiteful, and disagreeable on The Carol Burnett Show as well as in Seasons 1 & 2. Once the series came back writers and producers wanted Mama to be more likeable for longevity purposes. They (smartly) realized that audiences may get tired of the cranky Mama character (kind of a downer) and would be more excepting of her if she was emotionally multifaceted. Lawrence had her reservations, but eventually would give in, which was the right call and would lead to the series success as the curmudgeonly comedy remained, but concurrently showed Mama had values and a heart.

Overall, the early episodes (Seasons 1 - 4) are the better episodes as even Lawrence states by Season 6 she was bored with the character. The ratings were good even at the end, but Lawrence had enough and (smartly) was ready to move on. The comedy in the early seasons was fun, edgy (for the time), and still brings laughs to this day. Mama's Family is a fun series that most definitely is worth watching and will hold a place in television history.

The technical features of this HUGE complete series set are not the best (having somewhat of an analog tape quality), but are adequate and at least the complete series is now available for all to view. The picture is presented in a 1.33 X 1 Full Screen that has solid colors and not many light dark issues; but the contrast is off and does have a somewhat gritty quality about it, again like an analog tape. Color on the first two seasons is still impressive, being saved off of the final NTSC master tapes before they went bad and the rest are comparatively more refiined, but color is not as strong.

The sound is a simple, lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono that gets the job done as this is mainly a dialogue driven series, but comes wholly from the front; something that is not heard much these days.

The not only includes a large cardboard keep case with magnetic strips, but also a nice pamphlet/book that includes cast bios, a family tree, and other interesting tidbits. The video extras are all nicely housed on an independent disc:

  • Cast Reunion Roundtable

    • Lawrence, Berry, Lyman, Archer, and Kayser all divulge some interesting info and reminisce on good times and fond memories

  • Cast Interviews with all those mentioned above and additionally Betty White

  • Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence Interview

  • Lawrence interviewing Mama

    • Kind of silly

  • Crew Interviews

  • Eunice (1982 TV Movie)

  • Key Carol Burnett Show sketches featuring The Family

For our exclusive interview with Vicki Lawrence on the show and her amazing, enduring career, try this link:


To order the Mama's Family: The Complete Series DVD box set, you can order the set, Carol Burnett Show sets and much more at this link:


- Michael P. Dougherty II


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