“And Then There’s Maude”: Television, Abortion, and Social Relevance
by Susan Murray — New York University
April 18, 2007 – 03:19
Less than a month ago, the first season (1972-3) of Norman Lear’s Maude was released on DVD. It contains what was the series’ most controversial episode, "Maude’s Dilemma", wherein Maude falls pregnant at age 47, grapples with her options, and eventually has an abortion. In this clip, her daughter Carol explains to Maude why she believes ending the pregnancy would be the right choice in this instance, while also recognizing why it might be a troubling idea to someone of Maude’s generation. Carol voices what was likely familiar pro-choice discourse to viewers of that time as the Roe v. Wade ruling was only months away and abortion had already been legalized in some states. I have shown this clip to my undergraduates for the past couple of semesters and find their reaction to it rather interesting. Many of them are shocked by the candor in which the characters speak about abortion, since they have—for the most part—grown up in a time in which unwanted pregnancies on television have been primarily resolved by miscarriage and marriage. Yet, they also tend to find the dialogue preachy and maybe even campy at times, as though parts of it came from an old textbook on second wave feminism. Discussions in class about the clip leave me wondering if Lear’s socially relevant sitcoms have lost their punch thirty some-odd years later, and whether or not hot-button social issues have a future in television comedy.