There’s Something About Mary

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul reveals his obsession for Mary Tyler Moore.

Some readers have asked why I think of my life as a sitcom when the current American obsession is with reality shows.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to some of those programs.  But I am not sure where I’d fit in on some of my favorites.  Tap dancers don’t do well on So You Think You Can Dance.  My body image issues are not large enough to force a weigh-in on The Biggest Loser.  My fear of sewing needles precludes me from walking Project Runway.  And if you’ve read any of my Kitchen Nightmares posts, you know why Chef Juan Pablo is better  on Top (Chef).

Instead, a character in a scripted series is how I see myself.  Angela and I often got pegged as Will & Grace, which always offended me—they were kind of cruel to each other.  And just because I’m gay doesn’t automatically make me Kurt in Glee—my competitiveness in high school had shades of Rachel.

Growing up, I developed a crush on Mary Tyler Moore.  Thanks to her fabulous fashions and plucky spirit, Mary became my  role model—and that’s taken me pretty far in life.


JP's early Mary Tyler Moore fashion sense

Here’s more on those early years with an excerpt from Episode 2: Will He Make It After All?

No surprise really that I process my life through the lens of sitcoms and drama series considering that much of my worldview was formed by a steady diet of 70’s programs and variety shows.  Television was an event in my household—an opportunity for the clan to gather round the exotic Sony TV in our garishly ultra mod yellow and green den decorated with matching LeRoy Neiman tennis player lithographs.  Instead of imparting pearls of wisdom around the family dinner table, my father used television as a way to instill morals and values.  Every Sunday, when the new TV guide insert came out in the paper, my father went through it with a highlighter—our cue as to what TV show lessons were on tap for that week.  As such, he set the agenda—and the dial—with favorites like Barney Miller; Welcome Back, Kotter; Soap; and, my enduring role model, Mary Tyler Moore.

As a seven year-old, I spent an inordinate amount of timing thinking and worrying about Mary Richards.

“Will she ever have a steady boyfriend?” I asked my 16 year-old sister, Pam.

“Mary doesn’t need a man to be fulfilled, Paul, that’s the entire point of the show,” she replied exasperated.  Her feminist streak, now fully developed, had emerged when she was two.

“Will Mary ever move into her own house?” I asked my 14-year old sister Paige kicking the soccer ball around our half-acre backyard.

“Nah, her apartment’s pretty fab,” she said, proud of the orange shag carpet in the bedroom she shared with Pam.

“Will we ever meet Mary’s mom?” I asked my own mother who was frying up extra greasy chicken-fried steak for dinner.

“Mary’s pretty independent. She has a nice group of friends.  You should have some friends like her,” she counseled, always worried that I played mostly by myself.

“Where does Mary get her clothes?” I asked my constant feline companion Pfeffa.

“From someone named Evan Picone,” I verbalized for the cat, reading off the designer’s name from the closing credits.

“Will Mary ever get promoted?” I worriedly asked my father at dinner one night.

He was hidden behind the afternoon edition of the Dallas Times Herald, a dying breed of liberal journalism in Texas, and for the most part didn’t engage in conversation with the family at dinnertime.

“Dad, did you hear me? Will Mary ever get promoted?”

Dad knew a lot about work because he was always there.  He peered over the top of the paper.

“You’ll just have to keep watching.”

Week after week, year after year, Mary Richards, her friends and co-workers in the WJM newsroom formed the foundations of my perspective on life.  Mary taught me that things work out in the end—just remember to have on a cute outfit when they do.  She became my role model—perfect job, funny friends, and—after her move to the big city—no interaction with her family.

When Mary’s sassy sidekick Rhoda Morgenstern got her own show and moved to New York City, I dreamed right along, plotting my life in the Big Apple.  Maybe one day I could land my own series, leave behind my family and escape the long shadow of my father.

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