Any discussion of Season Six of The Mary Tyler Moore Show should probably begin with the episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” especially since so many conversations about the show in general start off with that episode as a reference point. It’s been hailed time and again as one of the greatest TV episodes of all time of any series. Once a piece of pop culture attains that sort of status, the only place to go is downhill, and then it’s all a matter of how far it’s going to go.
The premise of “Chuckles” is largely a one-joke affair that builds and builds to a crescendo. Chuckles the Clown, who’s sort of WJM’s version of Bozo, dies at the trunk of an elephant. He was dressed as a giant peanut at the time, you see. These events are of course played off-screen, but they’re described in detail well enough that we get the picture. At first the staff is shocked, but after some time passes, Murray (Gavin MacLeod) cracks a morbid joke, which Lou (Ed Asner) finds to be a scream. Before long, Ted (Ted Knight) and Sue Ann (Betty White) are joining in on the fun, with each offering up one lame gag after another. And the jokes are pretty lame, but the jokes aren’t why the episode is funny. No, the humor here begins with the fact that Mary doesn’t care for their attitudes and takes each of them to task for their insensitivity, which is turn just eggs them on.
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