when Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy
Mama's Family 101
» Spoiler Warning: details on this page could spoil any surprise(s) in the story if you have not seen this complete TV series.
Mama's Family began in the 1970s as a skit on The Carol Burnett Show. The skit originally cast Carol Burnett as Mama and Vicki as Eunice, but Carol flip-flopped the roles before production. In the end, Vicki Lawrence played Mama, Ken Berry was her son Vinton (aka "Vint"), Harvey Korman was Ed, and Carol was Eunice. Mama's Family was first taped in 1982, with the first episode airing January 22, 1983. NBC canceled the show after 35 episodes in Spring 1985. New episodes ran from January 1983 through the spring of 1984. Reruns aired in summers of 1984 and 1985, with the last NBC telecast on August 17, 1985.
Mama's Family: Recap and Review
What makes it so notable? It was consistently very funny.
What are its weak points? Loud, rude, and often unjustifiably mean, Mama could be hard to like, even for fans of the show. Plus, the family's frequent bickering may have hit too close to home for some viewers.
Verdict: Casual Fan or Big-Time Fangirl? Casual Fan
Comments: Mama's Family is probably not making many peoples' lists of favorite TV shows, but in recalling funny sitcom moments, my friend Michele and I listed scene after scene, an "honor" shared only by Golden Girls and Frasier.
- Quotes -
The good, the bad, the sad, the funny: the things we wish we'd thought to say first.
[Mama has just discovered Vint and Naomi are getting married.]
Fran: Well, look on the bright side, Thelma. You're not losing a son. I'm gaining a bathroom!
Mama: Not yet, you ain't. I'm thinking that's where I oughta hold THIS weddin'!
Mama: Why can't they get along?
Fran: Because they hate each other.
Mama: Well, that's no excuse! It never stopped any of the rest of us!
Mama: Let's just not talk about my husband, Lord rest his soul. The poor man's dead and gone, and that's exactly the way I want to remember him.
Vint: Mama, can I talk to you?
Mama: Well, yes, grab a towel and help with the dishes.
Vint: No, Mama, I can't think and dry dishes.
Mama: Well, how do you know? You've never really tried either.
Vint: Now, Mama, just explain to us what happened.
Mama: There is a strange woman lying in my grave right smack up against my husband!
Fran: Thelma, you're just being ridiculous. Carl Harper couldn't get a woman while he was alive! What makes you think he could get one now?
Naomi: Wait a minute now, I've told you repeatedly that this check stand is ten items or less.
Mama: Well, I know that, but look--I got bread, milk, fruit, meat and vegetables. That's five items.
Naomi: I know, but you got six kinds of vegetables here, and each one counts as an item.
Mama: Well I've also got a loaf of bread--you gonna count every slice?
Naomi: The point is, this is the express lane.
Mama: Well quit expressing yourself and start checking!
Vint: How dumb do you think we are?
Ellen: I may need a chalkboard to answer that question.
Naomi: Ellen, I'm going to break your teeth. Hand them over!
Eunice: Naomi, you twit, this is powdered sugar!
Naomi: Was I supposed to get the liquid?!
Naomi: Is he an obstetrician?
Mama: Shoot, no, he's better than that. He's a baby doctor.
Sonja: You sure you don't want to come?
Mama: I ain't in any mood to have fun. I'll just stay home with Frannie.
Vint: You never could throw anything out, no matter how useless it is.
Mama: It's a lucky thing for you!
Naomi: And just what is wrong with the way I dress?
Mama: Well, good Lord! If that blouse was any lower, it would be a skirt!
Mama: I only drove one time in my life. In 1946. I started out with a sedan and came home with a convertible!
Naomi: Oh, Miss Harper, you know what they say. "If you fall off a horse, you're supposed to climb right back up on it again."
Ellen: Spoken like a woman with saddle sores!
Mama: I got me a thousand bucks saved up in mad money.
Fran: Mad money?
Mama: Yeah, you know in case I ever went mad, you'd all have enough money to put me in a home.
Naomi: You made me look like an imbecile in front of everybody at Food Circus
Mama: Whatever you look like, you looked like before I came.
Naomi: Don't you think this family has a right to know how Frannie died?
Mama: Well, I most certainly do. It was natural causes.
Vint: What does that mean?
Mama: It means she wasn't murdered or beamed up by Martians. Subject closed.
Mama: You're gonna have to take Uncle Don's place as pallbearer.
Vint: Awww, Mama, do I have to? I've never been that close to a dead person before.
Mama: Oh, Vinton, for cryin' out loud! The casket's got handles. I ain't askin' you to give her a piggy-back ride.
Vint: You look pretty, Mama.
Mama: Well, thank you, baby. This is the same dress I buried your Daddy in.
Vint: Gee, I always thought he was wearin' a suit.
Iola: Hello, Bubba. What are you reading?
Bubba: It's about the Civil War.
Iola: Ah, the Civil War. 'A house divided shall not stand.'
Bubba: I always thought a house divided was a duplex.
Mama (about her cousin Lydia): She's one of them interior decorators, so with her every little thing is grand. "Oh, isn't that a grand spatula? Oh, my, what a grand can-opener!" The crumbier somethin' is, the grander she makes it. "Oh, Thelma, I just stepped in dog-mess and doesn't my shoe smell GRAND?"
Mama: Doctor Kelly says that Effie needs to start exercising. She hasn't kept herself in shape like I have.
Naomi: Well, you're no Jane Fonda, yourself.
Mama: Your idea of a workout includes a man, a bed, and a cigarette afterwards!
Naomi: That is a total lie! I've never even smoked a cigarette in my life!
Naomi: I don't know, Miss Harper. At work, I never use half the things I learned in school.
Mama: That's because half the stuff you learned in school, you learned in the back of a pickup.
Mama: I'd be uncomfortable, too, if I were dressed in that get-up.
Naomi: Just what is wrong with my attire? I've always found this outfit very suitable for religious occasions.
Mama: That's 'cause you got to pray to God it stays up!
Vint (to Mama): Now hold on! I resent that lack of intelligence crack. I think Naomi's as bright as a button.
Naomi: You do?
Vint: Sure! Compared to me.
Naomi: Oh, you just love to put people down, don't you, Miss Harper?
Mama: It is not only a pleasure; I see it as my duty!
Naomi: You don't think that I can do anything!
Mama: Nothing decent people would pay to see!
Vernette: I did have a blind date once. It lasted about a minute. We were backing out of the driveway and he remembered that his car had been recalled.
Iola (about Naomi): Vint, are you sure she's alright?
Vint: Yeah. They took X-rays of her brain. They didn't find anything.
Bubba: Grandma, you've got to help me study for my American History test.
Mama: I don't know anything about American history.
Vint: Sure you do. You've lived through most of it!
Mama (to Iola): Don't talk about my figure. I've changed tires that aren't as flat as you.
Bubba: I've got all these facts on James A. Ray, but not one word on how he died. I'm gonna check the morgue.
Vint: I don't think they keep the bodies for more than a day or two.
Bubba: No, no, the newspaper morgue.
Vinton: It didn't go so bad, Skeeter. All the guys were lining up to get to your food.
Bubba: They were lining up to get to the bathroom. The potato salad went bad.
Naomi: I can't understand what happened. It tasted perfectly fine when I put it in the car yesterday.
[Mama fell while leaving the bank after she had been turned down for a loan.]
Naomi: Talk about adding insult to injury.
Vint: Technically, it would be adding injury to insult, Skeeter. You see, the injury happened after she was insulted. Now, if she had fallen and then been turned down, that would be adding insult to injury.
Mama: Vinton, how would you like to be injured *and* insulted?
Mama: Hold it, Toots, don't book your flying carpet yet. You have not been invited.
Naomi: What are you talking about? My husband won the tickets. Who else is he going to invite?
Mama: Me! It's a Mother's Day dinner. When it's Bimbo's Day, you can go!
Bubba: I was learning how to use the school camera. I have to make a video for my Sociology class.
Mama: It better not be one of those trashy music videos with a bunch of misfits in spandex gyrating in the fog.
- Lessons Learned -
What can we learn from this TV series?
* Magic moments between a man and a woman are spiritual and ought not to be screwed with.
* There should be lessons in school on how to raise kids.
* Chili dogs are all the rage at Hollywood weddings.
* Some people write all of their promises in disappearing ink.
* Why don't they just bury people in alphabetical order?
* Us uncreative housewives who just lie around all day munching on bon-bons sure do envy those glamorous grocery market checkers.
* It is not easy running a hardware store in the middle of Home Improvement Week.
* Lesson one in using an iron: the flat side goes down.
* A driver's license will not guarantee independence.
* Without a car, a driver's license is just an unflattering picture with your real birthdate.
* The sooner you get the groceries packed up, the sooner you can get that bag home.
* Some people just can't stay away from the sweet smell of success.
* Nothing is happier than wedded bliss.
* Get your head out of the sand and look at the world around you.
* Do not surprise a person with a toothpick in her mouth.
* They don't have bars at juvenile hall.
* Domestic Engineer is just a fancy name for people who scrub toilets.
* Sometimes it takes going to another country and seeing the horrors there to realize what you have.
* Cosmetics can only do so much.
* Those insurance companies think that just 'cause we're older, we can't shake our booties! Shoot, now we got a lot more to shake.
* When you're over sixty, you can still get down. The hard part is getting back up.
- Favorite Scenes -
Also known as "moments"
Mama was rushed to the hospital because she was hit in the face with a pot while making gooseberry jam. Naomi, Ellen and Eunice all had different versions on what happened. In Eunice's version, Naomi is a total tramp. When the berries start boiling and making these popping sounds, Naomi says seductively, "It must be hot! I can hear those beads of sweat just popping out all over my body!" To which Mama replies, "It's the berries, you tramp!"²
If you've seen it the episode where Vint and Naomi get married (probably one of my all time favorite episodes), you know about the whole fiasco about Mama giving Carl's sapphire ring to Vint, and Eunice finding out about it and how she threw a fit during her singing solo at the ceremony and everything. Everyone stands up and starts fighting, and Aunt Effie - completely unaware of the turmoil - says what I think is one of the funniest lines in the history of the show: "Is this the line for the food?"²
Mama was trying to get the family to help her clean out the attic and everyone was giving their lame excuses as to why they couldn't. Vint and Naomi are sitting on the couch, being all lovey-dovey, and Vint says "I'd like to help you, Mama, but I threw my back out" Seeing the two of them kissing, Mama comments dryly, "I wonder how."²
Mama got a job working with Naomi at Food Circus. She was showing her how to use the register and Mama was being really slow. Naomi says, "Come on, Ms Harper, you are going to have a line all the way down to frozen foods. You have to get a little rhythm going here." To which Mama replies, "Yeah, I wish your mother practiced a little rhythm."²
Naomi wanted to become a stewardess and Mama was helping her prepare for her big test. They had the living room set up like the inside of an airplane. Naomi tied Mama to the chair she was sitting in, simulating a seat belt. Naomi began sauntering down the aisle and Mama commented, "Is that the way you plan to walk today during your test?" "There is nothing wrong with the way I walk!" Mama retorts, "Not if you want to look like a pigeon in heat!"²
Mama is dreaming that she's married to her widower gentleman friend. In the dream her family keeps comparing her to the man's late wife Rebecca. (It's supposed to be a scary dream, with everyone acting weird and thunder booming whenever anyone says, "Rebecca...") Mama tells the gentleman that she'll mosey into the kitchen to fix supper. The man booms, "Don't mosey! Rebecca never moseyed!" Mama steps up the pace and says, "Feet don't fail me now!"
Naomi had planned to have a fancy dinner party for her friends. Mama and the others were supposed to go to the movies, but Mama's back goes out. Unable to move, she has to lie down right where she is: in the middle of the living room floor. This really puts a crimp in Naomi's plans, but she is determined not to let it ruin her evening. Mama, of course, is determined not to be ignored. When Naomi later confronts Mama about making the others wait on her, one of the snootier guests grandly declares that it's an honor to help Mama in her hour of need. Looking up at the woman, who is standing near her, Mama replies, "You've got a lot of class for a dame with a rip in her drawers."
In that same episode, after the party was over, Vint is furious, accusing Mama of ruining the party on purpose. Naomi, on the other hand, is being very calm. She sends Vint on to their bedroom and sets about, apparently tidying up the living room. Mama is still lying on the floor. Naomi starts to set the TV tray tables over Mama one at a time, all the while talking about how Mama couldn't help that her back went out. "It struck you without warning," she sympathizes at one point. When all of the tray tables are lined up over Mama, Naomi puts a tablecloth on them and goes to turn out the light. Of course, Mama's all, "What the...!" Naomi has the last word as she's leaving the room, "I'm sure you're every bit as comfortable as you made my guests tonight."
Mama had one of her aunts staying with them after the aunt had a stroke. Iola, the neighbor, was trying to teach the largely unresponsive aunt to knit. Iola put the knitting needles in the aunt's hand, but the aunt simply grips and holds them. However, when Iola turns to get something, the aunt suddenly brings the knitting needles down into Iola's leg. After a struggle, Iola gets the needles off of her leg and away from the aunt. Mama comes back into the room. Remaining polite - but with gritted teeth to hide the pain - Iola stands to go, saying, "If you'll excuse me, I seem to have a run in my pantyhose." As soon as she gets out the door, she screams in pain. Inside, the oblivious Mama remarks, "That woman places way too much value on her appearance."
Mama was applying for a job at a local travel agency and the guy said something like, "and you can answer the phone?" Mama replied sarcastically, "No, when it rings at my house I usually run around in circles, yelling 'What'll I do? What'll I do?'"
Vint is trying to join a men's group called the Cobras, and as part of the initiation, he must answer questions to prove that he has studied the group's policies. Unfortunately, he resorts to creating cheat notes. Even more unfortunately, he gets the wrong note cards and winds up at the ceremony with Mama's recipes. The Grand Viper asks, "What do you do to a fellow Cobra who has broken the Cobra Oath?" Vint sneaks a look at the notes and replies very seriously, "Whip vigorously until frothy." That answer seems acceptable, and the Grand Viper moves on to the next question. "Now think carefully. How long must you be a Cobra until you can serve as Grand Viper?" Vint again sneaks a peek and declares, "It takes only thirty minutes for the scum to rise to the top."
Naomi tries to get a job in an office with a man named Mr. Woods. As it turns out, Mr. Woods is a sleaze, who makes a pass at Naomi. Upon learning what happened, Mama pays Mr. Woods a visit and gives him a taste of his own medicine. Trying to be suggestive, she says huskily, "Naomi filled me in on all the job requirements and she's not interested, but... I am."
Naomi and Thelma are in a Lamaze class, practicing the breathing. Naomi gives it a try and does correctly: a long breath in and then breathing out in a series of quick, even pants. Mama decides to enlighten the group with the benefit of her experience. "Now, girls, when I gave birth to my Vint this is what it was like." She breathes a long breath in -- and then lets out a long scream of pain.
- Afterthoughts -
Credit: the description and the quotes were found at Matt Freier's Mama's Family Site which has closed but can still be viewed here at the Internet Archive.
² Many thanks to Michele for sharing some of her favorite Mama moments!
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