Confession: "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" caught me almost completely by surprise. It doesn't broadly parody soap operas, and it isn't the sort of flamboyantly "controversial" sit-com that one has come to expect from Norman Lear; which is to say that "Mary Hartman" doesn't signal its comedy in any of the usual ways…. "Mary Hartman" has its awful jokey spasms, as when a character is called a "prevert" … but when the residents of Fernwood are so involved in themselves that the laughter comes leaking out of their self-absorption, it's the most subtly, disconcertingly funny show ever to appear on television….
The loopiness of the characters is treated with genial matter-of-factness … and...
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