Rhoda was an incredibly successful series during its first two seasons. It was, in fact, a top ten show, going so far as to best its parent series, Mary Tyler Moore, in the ratings. And yet, as I understand it, the writers found it difficult to write for Rhoda (Valerie Harper) as a married woman. So at the start of Season Three they made an incredibly radical move for the time – they separated Rhoda from her husband, Joe (David Groh). Audiences were appalled, I guess because in 1976 those kinds of things just didn’t happen on TV. The ratings plummeted. Presumably, producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns didn’t care, because the couple, despite some attempts to make it work, never got back together. And you really have to admire that kind of brashness on the part of Brooks and Burns, don’t you? It was probably a first that something of this ilk was explored on primetime American TV – and if it wasn’t, it had to have been the first time something like this happened to a beloved lead character whom the audience had, between the two series, known for six years.
I’d been somewhat led to understand that the material suffered as a result; surprisingly, that’s not even remotely the case. With Season Three, “Rhoda” remains at least as strong as in its previous seasons, if not a little bit a cut above. In my previous reviews of this series, I’ve made mention of how poorly written Joe Gerard’s character is, and it’s worth repeating. It’s a shame, too, because David Groh is a fine actor, who got saddled with lame material to play, and the events of this season certainly don’t do Joe any favors. The first episode of the season is called “The Separation,” and the show doesn’t waste any time getting down to business. It begins with Joe playing passive-aggressive games involving the couple buying a house which Rhoda desperately wants.
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