All good things must come to an end, and that’s certainly true of sitcoms. While some shows leave at the top of their game, making the parting incredibly sorrowful for their many loyal fans, others fade out as nothing but a shadow of their former hilarious selves, making the end all the sadder in a way. Then there are instances such as the final season of Maude, which although it still featured enough fiery spunk here and there, was already mourning its past days of glory before saying goodbye.
In the sixth season of Maude, everyone’s favorite liberal TV housewife (Beatrice Arthur) returned for more escapades and opportunities to exercise her progressive views on society. With her loving husband Walter (Bill Macy) and the rest of her friends and family in tow, Maude’s final year saw it’s main character take on everything from sexual politics to UFOs in what was definitely the series’ most scattered season.
It’s pretty evident when the end is clearly in sight for some shows, which was just the point Maude was at shortly after the season began. While the series cleverly avoided any “jump the shark” episodes that so boldly spell the end for most comedy series, a number of episodes in the season were far beneath the level of humor and sophistication Maude had come to embody. The biggest example of this is “The Flying Saucer,” where Maude witnesses a UFO while out on her front porch and spends the rest of the episode trying to get someone to believe her. Other similar offerings such as “Maude’s Christmas Surprise,” where Maude finds an abandoned baby on her doorstep, and “Maude’s Foster Child,” in which the child Maude has fostered long-distance for 20 years comes to visit, only to reveal he is the child of a former dictator, feel at odds with the series’ reputation. These episodes, while still proving fun at times, were as slapsticky and farcical as it gets, a far cry from the provocative nature of the show’s earlier years.
Being a Norman Lear production, Maude was never any ordinary sitcom, and proved that even though its days were winding down, the show still had plenty to say about the nature of ’70s society in hilarious fashion. One of the biggest examples of this came in the form of “The Gay Bar” where Arthur (Conrad Bain), Walter’s best friend and neighbor, is infuriated that a gay bar has opened up in town and is on a mission to get it shut down. When the conservative Arthur asks Maude if she condones the “sexually deviant” behavior he believes is going on inside, she says, “It doesn’t matter if I approve or disapprove. That would be like asking me if I approve of dwarves.” A ruffled Arthur responds, “Oh come on, there’s no such things as gay dwarves!” “Haven’t you ever read Snow White?” Maude asks. “That’s different,” states Arthur. “That’s just a fairy tale.”
Meanwhile, in “Businessperson of the Year,” Maude is delighted that Walter is the first man to be named the city’s top businessman of the year three years in a row. It’s touching to see how, in spite of being a headstrong feminist, Maude is proud to stand next to Walter silently and let the focus be on him. However, when it’s discovered that she herself has been nominated for the same award in recognition of her accomplishments in the real estate field, the tables instantly turn with Maude relentlessly determined to collect the prize as a statement. It was a great episode which summed up the essence of the series and in many ways the decade itself.
Maude’s ratings in that last season weren’t the best. The switching of housekeepers, from the acid-tongued Mrs. Naugatuck (Hermoine Baddeley) to the less fun Victoria Butterfield (Marlene Warfield), didn’t sit well with audiences and couldn’t have made matters any better. But the makers of Maude still believed in the series enough to have planned a three-part season finale as a build up for the next year in which Maude was to move to Washington and enter into politics. However, when Arthur stated six seasons was enough for her, the series was abruptly canceled. Arthur’s departure was certainly indicative of things to come. The liberated ’70s were drawing to a close, and the conservatism of the ’80s was just on the horizon. It’s difficult to say exactly what kind of a show Maude would have become had its lead actress not elected to leave and the proposed storyline actually happened. It doesn’t matter in the end since Maude more than left its mark and signified the pulse of both a country and an era in a way few other sitcoms ever could.
Maude Season 6 is now available on DVD from Shout Factory.