“Mad About You”: A Classic Sitcom Turns 30
30 years ago today, Mad About You premiered on NBC. The show was a rarity in its initial focus on a young, childless newlywed couple and was a linchpin of NBC’s iconic Must-See TV lineup. It rocketed Helen Hunt to superstardom, won a near-record 10 acting Emmys, and produced some of the greatest comedy the small screen had to offer in the 1990s.
When Mad About You debuted, it was a rarity on television. There were numerous sitcoms that focused on groups of friends or coworkers (e.g., Cheers, Seinfeld, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, Designing Women) and even more that focused on nuclear families (e.g., The Cosby Show, The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Full House), but virtually none that focused on a young childless couple. It was a fresh and clever set up for a sitcom that really helped the series stand out when it premiered.
The show centered on Paul and Jamie Buchman (played by Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, respectively). They were New York City-based professionals in their early 30s who had been married for five months when the series premiered. Paul was a sweet and thoughtful documentary filmmaker whose neuroses and machismo sometime got the better of him. Jamie was an uptight regional vice president of a public relations firm whose hyper-competent exterior belied acute sensitivity and insecurity. They were passionately in love, but struggling to balance their demanding jobs and eccentric social circle of family and friends with adjusting to married life.
The show was co-created by star Reiser and Danny Jacobson. Reiser was fairly well known at the time, having starred in blockbuster films like Beverly Hills Cop and Aliens and recently having headlined the sitcom My Two Dads. Jacobson had numerous credits under his belt, including being a writer and producer on Roseanne (which was at the height of its popularity when Mad About You premiered). Hunt was less well-established at the time, but had several acting credits under belt dating back to her early childhood (e.g., Murray’s daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a main role on The Swiss Family Robinson, a recurring role on St. Elsewhere).
Mad About You premiered on September 23, 1992 in the Wednesday at 9:30 time slot, right after a fledgling NBC sitcom that was just starting to find its fanbase — a little show called Seinfeld. To put September 1992 in further context with respect to television comedy, The Golden Girls had ended its run a few months earlier, Cheers was entering its final season, and the top-rated comedies on television were Roseanne, Home Improvement, and Murphy Brown.
The Original Run (1992–1999)
Mad About You was a hit with critics right off the bat and gained even greater admiration over time. It was particularly noted for its sophisticated humor and the exquisite performances and chemistry of its two leads. As the show evolved, it became notable for excelling at two decidedly different types of episodes. The first were fast-paced farces that featured tight, witty scripts and were executed in a play-like fashion. The second were dramatically hefty episodes that delved into issues like marital discord and parenting anxiety. The show featured a large cast of supporting and recurring characters that was very inconsistent utilized, but generally strong. The show was particularly well-known for the recurring roles exquisitely performed by Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Cyndi Lauper, and Hank Azaria.
The Early Years (1992–1994). Although Reiser and Hunt were top-notch from the very first scene of the pilot, the show struggled a bit to find its footing in its 1st season. This was in large part because outside of the characters of Paul and Jamie and the dynamics of their marriage, the show had little sense of identity. The show began with only 2 other cast members listed in the opening credits — Tommy Hinkley’s Selby (Paul’s sleazy bachelor buddy) and Anne Ramsay’s Lisa (Jamie’s cynical and underachieving sister). Selby’s character simply didn’t work and disappeared after 9 episodes, while Lisa’s would recur throughout the show’s run. It quickly becomes apparent that the recurring characters of Paul and Jamie’s overbearing friends Fran (Leila Kenzle) and Mark (Richard Kind) had real potential and their presence increased. With so little in the way of an ensemble, however, most episodes feature a single plot line that it was up to Reiser and Hunt to carry alone.
The show improved significantly in its 2nd season. By this point, the always witty, often farcical, and occasionally cynical comic tone of the show was firmly established. Paul and Jamie were also more secure in their relationship and as a result there was less cloying, petty bickering and more grown-up conflict. The supporting cast also continued to develop in positive ways, most notably by the rise to prominence of Paul’s laid-back cousin Ira (John Pankow), who provided a nice contrast to Jamie and Paul’s high-strung antics. Two substantive supporting players also emerged in the form of Riff’s waitress Ursula (Lisa Kudrow, who would skyrocket to stardom as Phoebe on Friends the following year) and Paul’s overbearing mother Sylvia (the great Cynthia Harris).
The Heyday (1994–1997). Mad About You continued to improve in quality and popularity in its 3rd season, which features several brilliant farces. Particularly memorable episodes revolved around Carl Reiner and Cyndi Lauper’s hilarious and unforgettable Emmy-winning turns. As for the supporting cast, Lisa, Ursula, and Sylvia continued to steal the show whenever they graced the screen and Ira got much better material than in the first two seasons. Unfortunately, the writers continued to struggle to figure out what to do with Fran (a problem they would never quite solve). The 3rd season falls ever-so-slightly short of the best seasons of its NBC contemporaries because of 2 rough patches — the momentum-disrupting mid-season 2-parter where they flashback to the preparation for the wedding and the ambitious, but ultimately poorly executed, 2-part finale in which Paul and Jamie are transported into an alternate reality where they never met. Although it was terrific overall, the 3rd season showed that although Mad About You does many things well, maudlin sentimentality and magical realism aren’t among them.
The show’s 4th season was a bit more uneven in terms of quality but produced a number of classic episodes and found the show finally advancing some plot arcs (as opposed to relying on stand-alone episodes). The season primarily followed Paul and Jamie moving further into adulthood as they try to excel professionally and trying to have a baby. Both pursuits yielded considerable comedy and drama. The work and pregnancy stress led to a remarkably dramatic 3-part finale (well, really 4 parts as it begins in the episode preceding the 3-part finale). Paul almost has an affair and Jamie doesn’t pull away when her coworker passionately kisses her. When they come clean to one another, an explosive confrontation ensues resulting in their temporary separation. As opposed to the brief forays into drama in the prior seasons, this plays as anything but maudlin. There is raw emotion and painful truth on full display and it is realistically dragged out through multiple episodes. Although it seems tame all-around by today’s television standards, it is hard to overstate how atypical it was for major television comedy series in the 1990s to delve into this type of territory with their main characters. (And not only to delve into this territory but refuse to wrap it up neatly within 22 minutes.) Reiser and Hunt played it flawlessly, giving Emmy-worthy performances.
The uneven quality of the show continued into its 5th season, which included more classic episodes than any season of the show’s run, but also more duds. After focusing nearly exclusively on Jamie and Paul for much of the 4th season, the series expanded significantly to focus on other characters. Paul’s parents Burt and Sylvia got nicely expanded roles, allowing Louis Zorich and especially Cynthia Harris to get their best material of the series to date here. Meanwhile Jamie’s parents, who haven’t been seen since the 3rd season, were recast with television comedy legends Carol Burnett (The Carol Burnett Show) and Carroll O’Connor (All in the Family). O’Connor doesn’t get too much meaty material in his 2 appearances, but Burnett absolutely dominates all 6 of hers. She won a very well-deserved Emmy for her role. Speaking of Emmy-worthy roles, Season Five also marks the arrival of Paul and Ira’s loony Uncle Phil. Mel Brooks deservedly won 3 consecutive Emmys for his manic and absolutely hysterical performances. The season culminates in an epic finale that begins with a hilarious series of false labors that drives everyone (not least of all Jamie) insane, involves a subplot where Paul gets waylaid by an injured Bruce Willis (in a hilarious guest appearance), and culminates in a dramatic and atypically realistic birth sequence.
The Later Years (1997–1999). Many wondered how Mad About You would adjust to Paul and Jamie having a baby. Would parenthood provide rich new comic and dramatic material or would it fundamentally neuter the show and make it more of a family sitcom? Thankfully, the answer was clearly to be revealed the latter when the 6th season began with Paul and Jamie bringing the baby home to irritation and judgment from their friends and family. The first half of the 6th season is as good as anything the show has ever done and produces some of the series’ all-time best episodes. Unfortunately, the season becomes decidedly weaker as it proceeds, with over-reliance on broad slapstick, atypically unrealistic farce, and poorly utilized guest stars. A curious aspect of the 6th season is how the show continues to shake up its supporting cast after it seemed to have found its groove. After promoting them to regulars the prior season, Sylvia, Burt, and Paul’s sister Debbie (Robin Bartlett) get precious little to do. Fran is credited as a series regular but only appears 3 times. Lisa, who has been on the show since it premiered, not only doesn’t appear but isn’t even mentioned. It may in fact be Mad About You’s inability to create a consistent, top-tier supporting cast that prevented it from quite achieving the legendary status of its contemporaries like Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends.
Rather than course correct at the start of the 7th season, the series disappointingly continued its decline in quality in the final season of its original run. It’s not that the show doesn’t still have its strong episodes. In fact, it has a quartet of classics in the final season that rank among the show’s best. However, the filler is a bit painful with the majority of the series’ weakest episodes coming from this batch of 22 episodes. (Low points including Paul seducing his horny British neighbor while blindfolded, Paul and Jamie stealing a toy from a baby, Lisa getting stuck in a bouncy house, Jamie seducing Major League Baseball star Mark McGwire because a virtual reality machine told her to, and Paul having a dream that allows him to solve the Millennium Bug.) In addition to weak plotting, the episodes tend to have very little in the way of emotional depth and play up some of the most unlikable aspects of Paul and Jamie’s characters.
The initial run of the series wrapped with a remarkably ambitious two-part finale. It gets off to a bit of a jarringly dark and cynical start when it flashes forward to a grown-up Mabel Buchman (acerbic indie film star Janeane Garofalo) presents a short film about why her parents are responsible for her dysfunction. What follows is a nonlinear series of scenes that take place in 1999, 2005, 2011, and 2021. We see Mabel grow up, Murray the beloved dog have puppies, Burt die, Paul and Jamie get married for real after finding out that their original wedding was invalid, Paul get a vasectomy and then reverse it, Jamie have a miscarriage, Paul and Jamie get divorced, and Paul and Jamie eventually reunite. The finale gradually improves and ultimately packs a huge emotional wallop when Paul and Jamie reunite and Mabel professes her love for her parents.
The Revival (2019). Although Mad About You was one of the first 90s sitcoms to announce its intention to revive, the 90s sitcom revival trend had already peaked by the time the new season finally hit the airwaves in late 2019. Roseanne had been canceled due to its star’s obscenely bigoted remarks and gave way to The Conners, Murphy Brown had failed to obtain a second (or 12th season), and the end of Will & Grace’s three-season revival had already been announced. It certainly didn’t help matters that the revival was airing on Spectrum, the cable company that had virtually no foothold in the original programming market. (Thankfully, Amazon Prime later snapped up the season to air alongside the 7-season original run.) In comparison to those other 3 revivals, Mad About You’s 8th season was largely ignored by critics and the media. Nevertheless, the 12-episode 8th season was a notable step up from the disappointing 7th season and more than justified its existence.
Whereas the original series went for riotous farce and searing drama, the 8th season instead opted for mild humor and nuanced — but quickly resolved — conflicts. The plot impetus for the revival was Mabel, now 18, leaving for college. It turns out that in the intervening years, Paul and Jamie have remained in their same apartment (expanded after they bought the snooty British neighbors’ place), Jamie quit working to be a full-time mom, and Paul stopped making his own films and opened a post-production studio. Meanwhile, Ira divorced Marianne, married an Italian, and opened a restaurant; Lisa gained success as a celebrity house sitter; Mark and Fran divorced and he remarried (a plot device required by the fact that Leila Kenzle retired from acting); Burt died and Sylvia moved to a retirement village; Gus died and Theresa continued to thrive; and Dr. Sheila the marriage counselor (Mo Gaffney) and Mr. Wicker the super (Jerry Adler) continued in their same old jobs. Interestingly, very few of these plot developments were an explicit retcon of the original run’s ambitious finale (a move that the Roseanne and Will & Grace revivals pulled).
The plot lines mostly center around Paul and Jamie struggling with “empty nest syndrome,” Mabel’s disastrous adjustment to school, and Jamie’s attempts to go back to work. There is little in the way of plot that is particularly memorable, although the show does have flashes of its former glory with plot lines like Paul and Jamie’s explosive confrontation and subsequent trip to a marriage boot camp and the inspired guest appearances of comedy icons like Cloris Leachman, Carol Burnett, Jean Smart, and Jason Alexander. The 8th season of Mad About You is not an essential coda nor does it fully reach the original run’s glory, but it is satisfying, funny, and charming.
Reception and Legacy
Although it was marketed by NBC as a linchpin of the iconic Must-See TV lineup that included Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier, Mad About You wasn’t actually a ratings bonanza. It actually only spent 1 season in the top 20 (it was the 11th most watched show on television during its 3rd season). Nevertheless, it performed strongly and consistently for most of its run no matter how many times NBC shuffled it to different days and time slots. It certainly didn’t hurt that it was particularly popular among advertisers’ most coveted demographic — affluent 18–49-year-olds.
One area where the show surpassed many of its contemporaries was in terms of awards. Although the mid-1990s is often remembered as the era of Seinfeld and Friends, Mad About You was actually a bigger awards juggernaut than either of those shows. It won a whopping 10 acting Emmys, putting it behind only The Mary Tyler Moore Show (14), Frasier (13), Cheers (12), and All in the Family (11) among all television comedies. (It is in a 3-way tie for 5th place with Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond.) Of those trophies, 4 went to Helen Hunt. After being nominated and losing for each of the first 3 seasons, she swept for the final 4 seasons of the show’s original run — a streak that was not broken until Julia Louis-Dreyfus won 6 consecutive Emmys for Veep. The other 6 acting Emmys went to guest stars. Mel Brooks’s brilliant turn as Uncle Phil dominated the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category for 3 years in a row (an unmatched feat in any guest acting category) and Brooks’s 2,000 Year Old Man comedy partner Carl Reiner took home a trophy in the same category for reprising his role as Alan Brady from The Dick Van Dyke Show. In the Outstanding Guest Actress category, television legend Carol Burnett picked up a trophy for playing Jamie’s mother Theresa, as did pop music icon Cyndi Lauper for playing Ira’s ex-wife Marianne. The show also won a pair of Emmys for sound mixing, bringing its Emmy tally to 12. It was nominated for an additional 22 Emmys including 4 for Outstanding Comedy Series and 6 for Paul Reiser in Outstanding Lead Actor. The show also won 4 Golden Globes (1 for Best Comedy and 3 for Hunt) from 13 nominations, 1 Screen Actors Guild Award (for Hunt) from 10 nominations, 7 American Comedy Awards, 5 Viewers for Quality Television Awards, a Directors Guild of America Award, and a Peabody Award.
There are a number of other aspects outside of ratings and awards that underscore the show’s impact and legacy. First, as an essential part of NBC’s now-iconic Must See TV Lineup, it crossed over with legendary series like Friends and Seinfeld (more on that in a bit) and was an essential part of the “well-heeled New Yorkers” television trend that dominated the decade. Second, it skyrocketed Helen Hunt to superstardom. She headlined big-screen blockbusters like Twister and As Good As It Gets while the show was on the air. (Fun fact: Her Best Actress Oscar for the latter marked the first time since Cloris Leachman won an Oscar for The Last Picture Show while co-starring on The Mary Tyler Moore Show that an actor won an acting Oscar while appearing as a regular in a television show.) Third, it set a new bar for the payment of small-screen actors when Reiser and Hunt got paid a then-whopping $1 million an episode for the final season. Fourth, the show had significant international appeal, as evidenced by the fact that it was subsequently adapted into Chilean, Argentine, British, Italian, and Chinese television series. Fifth, the ability of the series to attract so many A-list guest stars (many of whom rarely made primetime television appearances) showed how well-regarded the series was. In addition to aforementioned guest stars, the show also had memorable turns by Ed Asner, Kevin Bacon, Garth Brooks, Sid Caesar, Dick Clark, Tim Conway, Ellen DeGeneres, Patrick Ewing, Estelle Getty, Rudy Guiliani, Billy Joel, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Jay Leno, Jerry Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Mark McGwire, Yoko Ono, Regis Philbin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jean Smart, Alex Trebek, Fred Willard, and Rita Wilson.
Another testament to the show’s impact and legacy— and one of my favorite fun facts about the show — is how it existed in the same fictional universe as 3 other classic television shows. In the show’s 1st season, we discover that Paul is subletting his former bachelor pad to Seinfeld character Kramer (Michael Richards). When Lisa Kudrow rocketed to superstardom as Phoebe on Friends, the character of Ursula she played on Mad About You was revealed to be Phoebe’s twin sister. When Paul gets the chance to work with Alan Brady, Dick Van Dyke’s boss from his classic 1960s eponymous sitcom, Mad About You connects not just with its Must-See TV brethren but also with a classic that aired several decades earlier on another network. The idea that Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all exist within a shared fictional universe is an utterly clever and delightful one. (Extra fun fact: The show also did a 4th cross-over with the short-lived 1998 CBS sitcom Style & Substance, when 5-time Emmy winner Jean Smart reprised her role from that show in the revival.)
After a long period of being difficult for fans to access, Mad About You is now widely available with a DVD box set of the show’s original run available for purchase and the entirety of the show (including the revival) being available to stream on Amazon Prime. If you are unable to make the time commitment I did by powering through all 176 episodes during the pandemic, I have culled a list of the show’s very best episodes below.
Mad About You: The 30 Best Episodes
30. “Real Estate for Beginners” (Season 8). At the advice of Dr. Sheila, Paul and Jamie go to a marriage boot camp but accidentally end up at a team building workshop for real estate agents. The episode is uproarious and insightful and features inspired guest appearances by comedy legends Jean Smart (Designing Women, Hacks) and Jason Alexander (Seinfeld).
29. “Tragedy Plus Time” (Season 7). When Jamie’s ex-boyfriend Alan (recurring guest star Eric Stoltz) dies and leaves her everything, Paul spirals into jealousy. Meanwhile, Debbie’s pre-wedding jitters lead her to infidelity.
28. “The Final Frontier (Part Two)” (Season 7). Although the 1st part of the episode is a bit uneven and overly ambitious, the conclusion is a thing of real beauty. Paul and Jamie have a heart-tugging and realistic reconciliation with one another and Mabel. It amusingly and satisfyingly wraps up numerous plot threads and the concluding home video montage set to a sentimental Faith Hill song is a shameless tearjerker.
27. “Uncle Phil and the Coupons” (Season 6). The 3rd appearance of Mel Brooks’s Uncle Phil involves him being brought to trial over his abuse of the coupon system at a wholesale store. His courtroom scenes are gut-busting perfection. (It gets bonus points for the cold open featuring a gender reversal of the iconic toilet paper roll replacement scene and the touching closing credits with Uncle Phil singing to baby Mabel.)
26. “Same Time Next Week” (Season 2). While Paul is in Chicago for a 2-month movie shoot, he comes home each weekend to an increasingly lonely Jamie. The episode is cleverly framed and superbly executed, particularly the climactic farce with Paul hiding from his mother.
25. “The City” (Season 3). Although the cameo by now-disgraced Mayor Rudy Guiliani is distracting, this ode to New York City is a gem. Paul and Jamie have a series of confrontations and disasters in which they see the ugliest sides of the city before an elderly, kind-hearted projectionist restores their faith in humanity.
24. “The Sample” (Season 4). Paul has to get his sperm sample to the hospital in 45 minutes for fertility testing, but numerous farcical barriers get in the way, including the filming of an Al Pacino movie and a stolen car. It’s a terrifically executed farce.
23. “Happy Anniversary” (Season 1). The 1st season finale focuses on Paul getting everyone together to recreate their wedding so that Jamie can get the wedding photo she deeply regrets not having. It is a funny and beautiful end to a strong 1st season.
22. “The Birth (Part Two)” (Season 5). After a somewhat underwhelming 1st part, the epic 5th season finale rallies to a hilarious and heartwarming conclusion as Jamie gives birth. It features a hilarious guest appearance by Bruce Willis and a deeply moving (and surprisingly realistic) birth scene.
21. “Paved With Good Intentions” (Season 7). After their UPS man dies young, Paul and Jamie realize that life is fragile and decide to tell everyone in their life they love them. The results alternate between awkward and disastrous, but are always hilarious.
20. “Met Someone” (Season 1). In the show’s 1st truly great episode, we learn how Paul and Jamie met through a series of flashbacks. It is charming and swooningly romantic from start to finish. (Fun fact: Lisa Kudrow appears here playing a different role than Ursula, which she would eventually portray across 26 episodes.)
19. “The Finale (Part One)” (Season 4). After she impulsively kisses her coworker, Jamie tries to come clean to Paul, who is simultaneously trying to come clean about the almost-affair he had in the prior episode. However, their heart-to-heart gets thwarted by a bombardment of family members. There are huge laughs and even bigger drama, leading up to a heartbreaking ending.
18. “Coming Home” (Season 6). Any concerns that Mad About You would become a saccharine family series when Paul and Jamie are quickly dispelled when they bring home their still-unnamed baby home to an annoyed extended family. The best element of this episode is undoubtedly the dynamic between Jamie and her mother Theresa (Carol Burnett), whose help she simultaneously needs desperately and resents enormously.
17. “Our Fifteen Minutes” (Season 3). Staged like a play in nearly real-time, this clever, hilarious episode finds Paul and Jamie trying to make a 15-minute documentary for PBS about their everyday life. Naturally, they try way too hard to come off perfectly and subsequently fail spectacularly.
16. “Her Houseboy Coco” (Season 5). Jamie is diagnosed with placenta previa and is prescribed 3 days of bed rest, but no one will leave her alone. This is one of the best uses of the ensemble that the show ever managed and it features a hilarious subplot in which Nat the dog walker (Hank Azaria) kidnaps Murray after Sylvia suggests they put him down in preparation for the baby.
15. “Dream Weaver” (Season 4). Dream sequences are usually cringe-inducing on sitcoms, so the idea of framing a whole episode around them is extremely risky. But this episode is a major exception to that rule. Here, Paul and Jamie have a series of bizarre dreams with sexual undertones that get them questioning each other’s motives and their own psyches. (Fun fact: The episode pays homage to the classic comedy variety series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, including cameos from 4 of the show’s cast members.)
14. “Bing, Bang, Boom” (Season 2). One of the show’s first smashingly successful forays into farce, this episode finds Paul and Jamie desperately trying to have a romantic night together, but obstacles keep getting in the way. (Fun fact: This episode began the memorable recurring gag where Murray runs into the wall chasing an imaginary mouse.)
13. “The Late Show” (Season 2): This wickedly clever, brilliantly executed farce finds Fran is worried she is pregnant following a secret liaison in a prior episode. Her desire to keep the information contained triggers a web of deception that ensnares Paul, Jamie, Ira, and Ursula.
12. “The Alan Brady Show” (Season 3). Paul tries to get a television legend to narrate his documentary about the history of television, but he will only do so if Paul changes it to showcase him more prominently. Carl Reiner brilliantly reprises his iconic role as Alan Brady from The Dick Van Dyke Show, and there are numerous successful homages to classic television (including Hunt’s terrific impersonation of Mary Tyler Moore’s famous cry).
11. “The Thanksgiving Show” (Season 7). The best episode of the show’s 7th season is this ensemble-highlighting farce that centers on Paul and Jamie trying to host a fun Thanksgiving by inviting everyone they know and initiating a game of Charades that unexpectedly becomes ferocious.
10. “The Ride Home” (Season 3). One of the cleverest and wittiest scripts in the show’s history was written for this outing in which Jamie and Paul spend the cab ride home trying to piece together how their attempts to separate and mingle at Fran’s birthday party went so horribly awry.
9. “The Penis” (Season 5). An ailing Uncle Phil makes Paul and Jamie promise to name their baby after him. They agree, only to find out that Uncle Phil’s real name is Deuteronomy. Brooks is brilliant in his best performance on the show. (Fun fact: This is the first episode where Anita Baker’s soulful reimagining of the show’s theme song “The Final Frontier” was debuted.)
8. “Jamie’s Parents” (Season 5). Jamie’s parents arrive for a surprise visit and shock her by announcing they are separating right before they were supposed to embark on a cross-country RV trip. The decision to bring Jamie’s parents back into the show and recast them with comedy legends Carol Burnett and Carroll O’Connor is one of the best decisions the show’s creative team ever made.
7. “The Grant” (Season 5). The very disconnected A- and B-story both work great here. Paul is trying to figure out what his next film should be about and finds unexpected inspiration from a trip to see his Uncle Phil. Meanwhile, Jamie is forced to give up caffeine but can’t explain why because she hasn’t disclosed her pregnancy yet. Neither plot line may sound extraordinary but terrific writing and brilliant comic performances from Mel Brooks (in his 1st appearance) and Hunt make it a classic.
6. “The Conversation” (Season 6). This much-hyped episode is utterly fascinating in its setup and execution. It unfolds in real time with a fixed camera shot as Paul and Jamie struggle to let Mabel learn to fall asleep on her own. The experiment is a mightily successful one thanks to Reiser and Hunt’s terrific work and a script that packs an emotional wallop.
5. “Outbreak” (Season 5). Jamie and Paul decide they are going to tell all of their friends and family about the pregnancy on Thanksgiving, but when the news leaks out, they embark on a mission to contain it. It is comedy gold from start to finish. (Fun fact: Extensively spoofs the recently-released pandemic film Outbreak and features a cameo by Kevin Bacon.)
4. “Ovulation Day” (Season 4). This classic outing follows two separate plot threads. In the first, Jamie and Paul try to avoid sex until Jamie is ovulating. Their mounting horniness is played perfectly by the actors and the episode is brimming with clever verbal and visual sexual innuendo. In the second, Debbie finally comes out as a lesbian to the family, prompting her mother to try and jump out the window.
3. “Citizen Buchman” (Season 5). When Paul’s uncle dies during an interview for his documentary, he investigates the meaning of his uncle’s mysterious final word “Hoomoos.” It is a rapidly-paced homage to Citizen Kane that uses a bevy of guest stars superbly (particularly the great Sid Caesar) and leads to a brilliantly funny final twist.
2. “Giblets for Murray” (Season 3). When Paul and Jamie host their families for Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, virtually everything that could go wrong does. It is a Thanksgiving farce for the sitcom pantheon and peaks with a gut-busting scene in which Jamie impulsively throws a huge cooked turkey out her window and into the streets of Manhattan.
1. “Moody Blues” (Season 6). Jamie’s battle with postpartum depression reaches its low point while Paul directs his parents in a charity production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Both plot lines are brilliant and when the two unexpectedly converge, the episode soars into the stratosphere. Not only is this the show’s best episode, but it also features Hunt’s best performance on the entire series (which is truly saying something).
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