'Hot in Cleveland' Moment - Elka Gets Mary Tyler Moore as a Cellmate
by Joel Keller, posted Jan 20th 2011 6:40AM
Season 2 of 'Hot in Cleveland' picks up from where we left things off in the first season: Melanie's cop boyfriend finds out about Elka's late husband's "connections" and arrests her for possessing stolen property. We open up with a scene of Elka in a holding cell, wearing an orange jumpsuit and playing a harmonica, because the show never passes up an opportunity to show sweet Betty White doing or saying something naughty.
Elka's cellmate can't stand her singing 'Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen' anymore and tells her. The cellmate just happens to look a lot like Mary Tyler Moore.
During the opening scene, we find out that MTM is an unnamed fellow mob wife, who remembers Elka from a going-away picnic for someone from the "family." "You bought the ambrosia!" says the cellmate. "And you brought the gabbagool!" said Elka.
Betty White and MTM spewing 'Sopranos' talk is cute, even if MTM overacted all her lines. It's some of the other parts of this scene that keep 'Cleveland' from reaching its potential as a "new classic" sitcom.
Two moments stand out where the writers might have figured that, on paper, they'd look like clever inside jokes. But on screen, the jokes look as clever as a cartoonishly-gigantic sledgehammer to the foot.
First is when Elka asks her cellmate "What's the big M for?" The cellmate has drawn a perfectly-formed "M" on the wall that looks just like the "M" Mary Richards had on the wall of her apartment. "It's for 'murder,'" she says. When Elka asks if that's what she's in for, she says, "Nooo, it's what I've been thinking about ever since you started playing that harmonica!"
Ha ha, get it? Mary and Betty were in Mary's show together! That's where the big "M" was from! Get it?
Like I said, subtle as a sledgehammer. If that were the only "inside" joke, though, it would have been OK, but then, when Elka tells her cellmate that selling the Fabergé egg in her husband's stash to start the "Fabergé Animal Shelter" (Get it? Betty White loves animals!), which wasn't good for "keeping the heat off," the cellmate tells her, "That took spunk. (pause) I hate spunk!"
Ha Ha! Get it? That was Ed Anser's famous line from the 'Mary Tyler Moore' pilot! Ha ha ha ha. Didn't think they'd be able to get that line in there, but they somehow managed to shoehorn it in!
Seriously, though, this kind of writing was one of the biggest frustrations I had with the show in its first season, and it seems to continue here. The show has an appealing cast with real chemistry, and its use of TV legends as guest stars -- for the most part -- has really helped viewers go on the nostalgia trip that the producers and TV Land wanted them to go on when they greenlighted this series.
The producers wanted to emulate '70s and '80s sitcoms; I just sometimes wish the writing didn't have the leaden jokes that many of those sitcoms had. The writers tend to forget that the project-a-joke machines like 'Full House, 'Growing Pains' and 'Diff'rent Strokes' did share room on the schedule with 'The Golden Girls,' 'The Cosby Show' and 'All in the Family.' Don't we want to be reminded of the "classics" that had witty, deft writing, writing that befits actors like Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore? Just askin'.
'Hot in Cleveland' airs Wednesdays, 10PM ET on TV Land.
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