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Series / Mama's Family

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Bless My Happy Home

Mama's Family was a sitcom that aired on NBC from 1983–84 and then in first-run syndication from 1986–90. It was a spin-off of a recurring sketch on The Carol Burnett Show called "The Family", which had previously been adapted into the CBS TV movie Eunice in 1982.

The show was about Thelma "Mama" Harper, née Crowley (Vicki Lawrence) and her family: sharing the house with Thelma were her son, Vinton (Ken Berry); Naomi (Dorothy Lyman), Vinton's girlfriend and later wife; Vinton "Buzz" Jr. (Eric Brown) and Sonja (Karin Argoud), Vinton's two kids from a previous marriage; and Thelma's spinster sister, Frances "Aunt Fran" Crowley (Rue McClanahan). Meanwhile, Thelma's daughters Ellen (Betty White) and Eunice (Carol Burnett) visited frequently, along with Eunice's husband Ed Higgins (Harvey Korman).

By the time of the syndicated seasons, the cast was narrowed down considerably, keeping only Mama, Vinton, and Naomi (Betty White reprised her role, however, in an early episode). Also introduced were Thelma's fresh-out-of-juvie grandson Bubba (Allan Kayser) and nosy spinster neighbor Iola Boylan (Beverly Archer). This five-person cast would keep the show going for the rest of the show's run.

The show revolves around the family's lives and is an example of a Dom Com.

Mama's Family provides examples of:

  • 555: A local radio station's phone number is 555-KRAY.
  • Accidental Public Confession: In "Naomi's New Position", the new manager of Food Circus, Archie Woods, turns out to be a sexual predator. After learning about Naomi's predicament — either "give it up" to Mr. Woods or not only not get her promotion, but also lose her checker's job — Thelma confronts him in his office. Mr. Woods explains how he's used his position to get sex out of every woman in the company he's wanted to... after Thelma secretly turned on the store intercom mic.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: "Amateur Night" sees Vinton winning a talent contest at the Bigger Jigger with his Fred Astaire impression. Vinton's ego almost instantly swells to enormous proportions, to the point where he decides to ditch the impression and perform a whole new routine as the flashy "Vinnie Vegas". Mama talks him out of making an ass of himself at the last minute.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Mama is much nicer here than in the "Family" sketches, though still salty and cranky.
  • Aerith and Bob: By the time it reaches syndication, the main cast consists of Mama (Thelma), Vinton, Naomi, Bubba, and Iola.
  • Anachronic Order: "Alien Wedding" and "Mama's Silver" are set before Vinton is romantically involved with or married to Naomi, who is absent from "Mama's Silver", which was the first episode produced, with "Alien Wedding" produced second, with Naomi appearing as the Harper's next-door neighbor. "Alien Wedding" and "Mama's Silver" aired near the end of Season 1, on April 2 and May 7, 1983.
  • Anachronism Stew: The show was contemporary to its time (Naomi's supermarket job had a modern checkout scanner, Bubba used a handheld camera for a video project for school, and the teen characters enjoyed very 80s rock music.) However, the whole show had a strong aura of "small town Normal Rockwell Americana" in its styling and tone that would have been much more common in the post-WWII mid-century era. This is a holdover from the original Carol Burnett "Family" sketches, where it involved writers in the 70s reminiscing about their childhood years in the 50s and 60s and writing the characters accordingly. Most of it could be chalked up to Raytown being a small rural area that's a little behind the times culturally compounded with Thelma being a bit set in her ways and reluctant to change and progress. Vicki Lawrence has also stated a few times that guest stars struggled with how to play their characters, since they were never sure whether the show was supposed to be a period piece or not.
  • And Starring: Used with Aunt Fran (Rue McClanahan), Ellen (Betty White), Eunice (Carol Burnett), and Ed (Harvey Korman).
  • Angry Item Tapping:
    • In "Sins of the Mother", after Bubba is grounded by Thelma for coming home drunk, Vinton tries to allay his concern about her folding and giving in to allow him to participate in a swim meet. She of course overhears this and starts tapping a rolled-up newspaper in her hand to shut him up.
    • She does it again in "Mama Takes Three" to prevent Vinton from saying anything negative about his childhood to a case worker at an adoption agency when he and Naomi are trying to qualify for a child, only this time she uses a rolled-up magazine.
  • The Artifact: NBC episodes featured an opening segment with Harvey Korman introducing the story as Allister Quince. Since these were generally self-directed by Korman, but on occasion were instead directed by Dick Martin, the Director's Credit was (Main Director) and Harvey Korman or Dick Martin. The credit remains to this day in re-runs, even though the segments themselves were removed.
  • Artistic License – Law: In a Series Continuity Error, despite it being well established in his first appearance that Bubba cannot leave the state until his 21st birthday due to his probation, no mention of this is made in the next season’s Game Show Appearance on Jeopardy! (filmed in Los Angeles since 1984) or the following two-parter set in Hawaii.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: For all the bickering and arguing they do, the Harper family really does love each other and will stick up for each other in their times of need.
  • Babies Ever After: In the Series Finale, Naomi gives birth to a daughter, Tiffany Thelma Harper.
  • Back to School: Thelma returns to school to get her high school diploma in "Educating Mama".
  • Basement-Dweller: Vinton Harper, despite being over 40 years old, and a single father of two children, who do move out when they're old enough. It was explained in the first episode that Vint was living elsewhere originally, but a combination of bad financial management and his wife leaving him meant he could no longer afford his house and returned to Mama's house with his two teenage kids. Vint's second wife, Naomi, lived next door. After they got married during the first season, Naomi sold her house and they were planning to move elsewhere, but she wound up getting scammed out of her money and them having to stay with Mama.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Vint, his wife Naomi is Veronica and neighbor Iola is Betty. In "I Do, I Don't", Iola has a fantasy about being married to Vint, with her being the Veronica and Naomi being the Betty.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The show lives off this trope, although the Carol Burnett sketches, Eunice, and the NBC episodes play it up the most. The family is genuinely dysfunctional, if not outright abusive, and skits rarely ended in anything short of a screaming argument. By the time syndication came around, Mama's nastiness — and by extension the family's dysfunction — was toned down considerably.
  • Big Storm Episode: "An Ill Wind", where a tornado warning strikes Raytown on Thanksgiving day.
  • Berserk Button: "The Sins of the Mother" reveals that underage drinking was a huge berserk button for Mama due to an incident involving Eunice several years prior.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Sonja in season one. She was moody, whiny, and almost always bopping around the house to music on her headphones, oblivious to the rest of the family. She mellowed out almost completely in Season Two (which had the unintended side effect of making her as vanilla as her brother).
  • Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting:
    • Thelma may yell, criticize, mock, and embarrass her kids, but she does genuinely love them in her own Jerk with a Heart of Gold ways. The same could not be said of her parents — especially her mother, who had all of Thelma's negative aspect but none of her positives. In fact, an apparition of Thelma's mother actually causes her to be afraid of it as she starts criticizing everything Thelma does.
    • Vinton is a interesting case of being this and invoking it. In the early season when he had his two kids Buzz and Sonja, he never once belittled them like Thelma did to him. In fact, Buzz himself told him he was a good dad since a lesser person could have easily abandon him and Sonia. In a later season when he and Naomi were trying for a child and Sonia and Buzz were retconned out, he told Thelma he was going to be a great dad since he would encourage his child. Something Thelma never did for him.
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The Order of the Cobra, the organization Vinton joins in "Fangs a Lot, Mama".
  • Burger Fool: Both Bubba and Mama work in a fast food place in "Have it Mama's Way".
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In "My Mama, Myself", Thelma stands up to Grandma Crowley, giving her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech when Grandma Crowley is giving her a guilt trip with frequent flyer mileage for Vint and Naomi attempting to sell the brooch, which is revealed to be worth a few hundred dollars, and not precious gemstones, as mistakenly assumed.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Eunice, the Pilot Movie; it featured the death of the "Mama" character. Also, Ken Berry played Phillip Harper (originally played by Roddy McDowall in the Carol Burnett sketches), who was a very different character than what Vinton would turn into, and Eunice and Ed stayed split (Ed actually married someone else). Arguably, this special and Mama's Family are set in two different continuities.
  • Canon Foreigner: Iola Boylen, who debuted in the syndicated run starting with Season 3, portrayed as having lived across the street from the Harpers, even though she didn't appear in the first 2 NBC seasons.
  • Casual Kink: Naomi and Vinton try experimenting with this in one episode; unfortunately, this leads to her leaving her — rather frilly — bra in Bubba's bedroom and Mama suddenly getting the wrong idea about Bubba and his girlfriend. (When she finds out the bra is Naomi's, she acts like, "Damn, I should have known...")
  • The Casanova: Bubba.
  • Catchphrase: Several of them:
    Iola: "Knock, knock!"
    Vinton: "Thanks a lot, Mama!"
    Mama: "Good Lord!"
    Mama: "I'm just a poor old widow woman."
    Mama: "I bet the neighbors are just loving this!"
    Mama: "Well, what the...?"
  • Chaos Architecture:
    • Though Thelma's house seems to grow between the second and third seasons, the number of bedrooms available shrinks:
      • In the first two seasons, Thelma's house has three bedrooms, an attic that functioned as a fourth bedroom, and a basement that was a combination den/fifth bedroom. Thelma had the master bedroom, Fran had the second bedroom, Thelma gave the smallest bedroom to Sonja, and Buzz was given the attic. Vinton got the basement, and was later joined there by Naomi.
      • When the show went to domestic syndication, Thelma's gave grandson Bubba Fran's room (due to Fran not exactly needing it anymore). Vinton and Naomi complain about remaining in the basement and not getting an upstairs bedroom. Considering Sonja and Buzz left for college, their bedroom and attic room should have been open for Vinton and Naomi (or Bubba).
    • The basement room also changes between the second and third seasons. In the first two seasons it's an entirely finished room, with wood paneled walls. As of the third season, it's only partially finished with only framing separating the bedroom from the furnace and hot water heater.
  • Character Development:
    • Mama becomes a much nicer person as the series goes on. In the original Carol Burnett sketches and in the network season she was rude, nasty, and petty all the time. As series progressed, she evolved into a much sweeter character who reserved her ire only for people who deserved it, admittedly a rather long list.
    • Bubba was a boorish juvenile delinquent in the original sketches. Even though it was initially seen in the first episodes of the syndicated years, over time he became friendlier, more ambitious and obedient teenager (thanks to Mama's influence) and is even considerably more mature by the time he's in college (but not any less goofy).
  • Chatty Hairdresser: In "Psycho Pheno-Mama". Mama and her family meet a psychic who can supposedly channel a spirit that knows all of the family's secrets. The "psychic" is actually a hairdresser who got all the information from her customers at a local beauty salon. And she knew everything she did about about Thelma's husband because Vint told her all about him when he picked her up for the seances.
  • Chez Restaurant: Chez Ray
  • Christmas Episode: "Santa Mama" and "Mama Gets Goosed".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Thelma had many more kids in the original "Family" sketches. She mentions four kids briefly in an early episode of the show (possibly to account for Philip along with the others), but thereafter it's established that Ellen, Eunice, and Vint are her only children. Also, Eunice and Ed originally had two sons, but no reference is ever made to the other one even by his own brother Bubba (but aside from one breezy reference in Eunice of him being in prison).
    • Also, lots of characters within the series proper. Buzz and Sonja are the two biggest examples, what with their being a main character's own children.
    • Ellen herself ended up disappearing after her lone appearance of the syndicated run, in season three's "Best Medicine". This was, of course, due to Betty White's involvement with The Golden Girls.
  • Citizenship Marriage: Vinton almost marries a woman from Portugal as a favor to a friend in the episode "Alien Marriage", but backs down.
  • Class Reunion: Thelma attends her junior high school's 50th reunion in "A Blast From The Past".
  • Color-Coded Characters: Almost every character had one color that he or she, with very few exceptions, always wore:
    • Mama — purple/blue
    • Vinton — brown
    • Naomi — yellow
    • Iola — pink
    • Bubba — green/blue
    • Eunice — green
    • Ellen — white
    • This gets lampshaded when Mama orders mini hand-sized fans for the family, giving Vint one with a sandalwood (light brown) color, Bubba an avocado green color and Naomi a yellow fan, specifically pointing out because she wears so much yellow.
  • Comically Small Bribe: A non-monetary example occurs in "There's No Place Like...No Place", when Mama is mistaken for a homeless person and arrested:
    Mama: I have a lovely home. I could take you there right now and fix you a little snack. Do you like chipped beef?
    Cop: Lady, if you're gonna try to bribe someone, you've gotta do a hell of a lot better than chipped beef!
  • Continuity Nod: For all that's dropped in Mama's Family, many references to characters and establishments from The Carol Burnett Show's "Family" sketches manage to pop up, such as the Pepper Pot Playhouse. A later episode mentions the death of Topaz, Thelma's poodle, who only appeared (offscreen) in the very first sketch.
  • Cooking Duel: In "Soup to Nuts" (the first filmed syndicated episode, though not first aired), Thelma, Naomi, and Iola compete to see who cooks the best chili.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Naomi, whose famous "international stew" consists of canned stew, canned peas, canned Mexican corn, canned sauerkraut, and Spaghetti-O's.
  • Creator Cameo: Co-creator Dick Clair voiced Thelma's late husband Carl in flashback sequences in the Eunice special and a season two Mama's Family episode.
  • Credit Card Plot: Thelma incurs major charges on her card after she gets addicted to TV shopping in "Zirconias Are a Girl's Best Friend".
  • Dating Service Disaster: In the episode "My Phony Valentine", upon learning that Iola has a date for Valentine's Day, Thelma falsely claims to also have a date with a man named Mel. To support her lie, she orders an escort from "Rent-a-Gent", specifically asking for an older gentleman. Instead, her date turns out to be a young man (which she tries to pass off as Mel's limo driver). Even though her family is convinced, she tells the escort to go home, though he refuses as she's "entitled to a show", at which point he begins doing a striptease on her front porch.
  • Dead Pet Sketch:
    • Subverted in the episode "Mama in One". Iola leaves her pet goldfish in Thelma's care, but she overfeeds him. He doesn't die, he just becomes really fat.
    • This trope is subverted again when Iola leaves her taxidermied cat with Thelma. Vinton, Naomi and Bubba accidentally drop a trunk on the cat. Thinking they killed it, they throw it in the trunk.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mama, Ellen, and Aunt Effie.
  • Demoted to Extra: Eunice, who was the main character in the "Family" sketches and her self-titled special, largely takes a backseat to Mama and her siblings in the series. Her husband Ed gets this even more. Eventually, the two were Put on a Bus to Florida due to Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman declining to return.
  • Denser and Wackier: The syndicated run from start to finish, though the seed was planted during season two of the NBC run.
  • Depending on the Writer: How Thelma felt about Iola zig-zagged from episode to episode. In most episodes they were best friends, but every once in a while she wanted to avoid the woman at all costs with no explanation.
  • The Ditz: Vinton. The whole family (except Thelma) is pretty stupid, but Vint stands head and shoulders above the rest.
  • Don't Come A-Knockin': Played with. In "There Is Nothing Like the Dames", Thelma is trying to impress a small group of snooty upper-class women with a backyard dinner so they will let her join them. Unfortunately, Vinton and Naomi's trailer sits in the driveway, an obvious eyesore. On top of that, during one scene, the trailer starts rocking, horrifying the women... until Thelma finds out that Vinton was only trying to fix a broken table leg.
  • Drama Queen: Eunice. Dear God, EUNICE.
  • Driving Test: "Mama Learns to Drive".
  • Drop-In Character: Iola, who always dropped in with her Catchphrase "Knock, knock!"
  • Easy Amnesia: Naomi bumps her head on the kitchen door and get amnesia in the episode "Naomi's Identity Crisis". Thelma takes the opportunity to "train" Naomi to be a good housewife.
  • Elder Employee: In "Have it Mama's Way", Thelma and Bubba both get a job at a fast food place. Bubba winds up being an efficient and polite employee; Thelma, not so much.
  • Every Episode Ending: Every episode ends with a view of the outside of the Harper house, along with a final comedic line from Thelma. The series finale, where Naomi finally has her baby, ends with a parting shot of Vint's and Naomi's RV. Also, the first part of the Hawaii two-parter featured a shot of the resort's beach.
  • Fall of the House of Cards: Vinton tries to stack sugar cubes in one episode, but Thelma foils him quickly.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Buzz often does this with Vinton when the two of them have "man-to-man" talks.
  • First-Run Syndication: After being cancelled by NBC.
  • Flanderization:
    • Vinton started out as man of average intelligence who made bad decisions (usually with money), but by the syndicated series he was downright affected.
    • Naomi got this too, going from an intelligent, if trashy, rival to Thelma to a shrill bimbo between network and syndication.
    • Fridge Brilliance/Fridge Horror: They've spent several years sleeping in the basement of a pre-WWII home next to a furnace and undoubtedly surrounded by toxic mold and asbestos. There could be a connection...
  • Flintstone Theming: Many sites and businesses in Raytown have the name "Ray" in it, especially when the show went to first run syndication. There's even a "Rayhound Busline" ("Take the bus and leave the driving to Gus") and a Ray River where you can cruise on the paddle-wheel riverboat, the Ray Queen!
  • Food Slap: "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" has Mama throwing biscuits at Vint and Naomi due to them making her serve their food individually due to their temporary breakup.
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: The theme tune is instrumental, but series star Vicki Lawrence wrote lyrics for it. She sings them in her stage performances.
  • Freudian Excuse: Eunice blames pretty much every awful things she does to being The Unfavorite middle child in an abusive household.
  • Funny Answering Machine: In one episode, Mama gets an answering machine and each person's attempt to record an outgoing message reflects their personality: Iola does it in a drab monotone, Naomi does it in a sexy, seductive voice with a kiss at the end (Mama: "It's supposed to be a phone message, not foreplay!"), Bubba shows off by doing it Elvis-style, and Vint just describes the machine on his message. They finally settle on Mama's short but not-so-sweet "It's your dime, spill it!"
  • Game Show Appearance: Thelma, Vint, Naomi, Ellen, and Buzz appeared on the original Richard Dawson-era Family Feud in a season one episode. Thelma appeared on Jeopardy! in season four, in which Mama won a trip to Hawaii. A two-parter about said trip followed.
  • The Ghost: Several examples:
    • Vint's first wife, Mitzi
    • Naomi's first husband, Tommy
    • Ellen's husband, Bruce
    • Iola's parents
      • Though possibly not meant to be the same person, as this was before Iola was on the show, in "Mama Learns To Drive"' as Thelma is attempting to maneuver her car down the street, she nearly knocks over a woman while shouting "Look out, Mrs. Boylan!" Boylan is Iola's last name (to be fair, "Boylan" was a stock surname in this universe dating back to the Carol Burnett sketches).
    • Roselle Huplander, Thelma and Iola's acquaintance
  • Girliness Upgrade: The Bonecrushers in "Bubba's House Band" start out with a punk look, but they agree to don pink dresses and big hair to help Mama sell candied cakes at a carnival booth. Subverted in the end; they admit they had fun and were happy to help Mama out, but they prefer their original look.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Iola would always remove her glasses before flirtatiously saying "Hi" to Vint.
  • Graduate from the Story: Subverted when Bubba graduates high school and is supposed to move to Florida with his mom and dad, Eunice and Ed. However, Eunice "forgets" to tell Mama that Bubba cannot leave the state because he is on probation until his 21st birthday and Bubba ends up living with Mama for the remainder of the series.
  • Grandparent Favoritism: While it's no secret that Thelma likes her grandchildren more than her children and the people that they married, it was most obvious with the mutually loving and functional relationship she had with Bubba over Eunice. While Eunice was sniping and embittered towards her from the time she was a child, teenaged Bubba was able to transform from a sassy juvenile delinquent to a responsible college man under her guise.
  • Handbag of Hurt: Mama used her trademark white patent leather purse as this quite a few times, against both objects and people.
  • Happily Married: Vinton and Naomi, who the former affectionately refers to the latter as "Skeeter".
    • Thelma and her late husband, Carl, were considered this for the most part.
  • Henpecked Husband: Reverend Lloyd Meechum, the minister for the local church.
    • Ed Higgins, the milquetoast husband of Eunice Higgins (neé Harper).
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Raytown, O Raytown...
  • Honest John's Dealership: Willie Potts' used car lot, which sells Mama a lemon of a car in "Mama Buys a Car" that has all sorts of mechanical problems.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: In "The Key to the Crime", Thelma knocks out the Courteous Crook and then says "Okay, you deadbolt, spread 'em!" When Iola points out that he's already unconscious, Thelma admits that "I know, but I always wanted to say that."
  • I Lied: In "Mama Buys a Car", Thelma gets screwed over by a used car dealer. She returns, demanding a refund, just as a businessman is about to buy the whole fleet of the (crappy) cars the dealer has on his lot. The businessman says he'll only sign the document if Thelma is given a total refund. Thelma gets said refund and is about to leave as this exchange happens:
    Mr. Babcock (businessman): Hey madam! Ma'am! Let me walk you out.
    Mr. Potts (dealer): Hey, wait a minute Mr. Babcock, you said if I was to give her a refund that you'd sign the papers!
    Mr. Babcock: I lied.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In "Harper vs. Harper", when Thelma and Naomi go to small claims court over a dispute involving Naomi's vacuum cleaner damaging Thelma's rug, the judge is so fed up with Thelma's and Naomi's disruptive behavior that he finds both of them in contempt of court and fines them each $100 dollars with them paying their own damage costs out of pocket, after which he goes to the bar and invites Vinton to join him.
    Judge Packard: I'm going out for a beer. As for you, Vinton Harper, if you have half a brain in your head, you'll join me.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In "A Taxing Situation", when IRS agent Arthur Booth wants to discuss discrepancies in Thelma's income tax figures, she panics and blames Bubba for helping her fill out the income tax form and confesses that she didn't declare all of her income and padded her tax deductions. Agent Booth tells her that the error was originally a refund in her favor, and after the additional information she provided, that she'll end up paying taxes with interest:
    Arthur Booth: Mrs. Harper, I think there's been a misunderstanding; the error in your tax return was in your favor. I came here to give you a refund check for $250.
    Mama: Well, Arthur, aren't you a doll! I'm getting a refund, I can't believe it!
    Arthur Booth: And with good reason; After what you've just told me, I think you'd better file an amended return, with the correct deductions and income.
    Mama: Do I have to?
    Arthur Booth: I'm afraid so. And since your return is now late, you'll also have to pay additional penalties and interest.
    Mama: You mean I'm not gonna wind up getting a refund at all?
    Arthur Booth: You'll be lucky to break even.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    Mama: Your idea of exercise includes a man, a bed, and a cigarette afterward!
    Naomi: That is a total lie! I have never smoked a cigarette in my life!
  • Insistent Terminology: Bubba would like to inform you that he was in juvenile hall, not reform school. (Except when he's angry at his folks.)
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: "Bless My Happy Home", a Dixieland-style number with music by Peter Matz and lyrics by Vicki Lawrence.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: In a flashback Vinton and Iola are shown to be about the same age, making Iola and Thelma's friendship an intergenerational one.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mama. (Although, in the original Carol Burnett Show sketches, she's much more of a straight-up Jerkass.)
  • Kansas City Shuffle: In "The Mama of Invention", a slick con artist by the name of Wheeler sees Vinton's "Pet Lock" idea and offers to market it if Vinton can come up with $800. Soon afterwards, Detective Sneed decides to run a sting operation by supplying her with the $800, allowing Vinton to invest in Wheeler's invention promoting scheme. Mama decides to wear a hidden microphone near her bosom, allowing her to secretly record the conversation. As soon as Sneed comes in ready to make the bust, Wheeler tries to make a run for the kitchen door exit, only to find himself entangled in Iola's "invalid turner" as if it were a straight jacket.
  • Kitchen Sink Included: In "April Fools", Mama plays a prank on her family by filling her front lawn with junk.
    Vint: Mama, you've got everything out here but the kitchen sink!
    Iola: (brings out kitchen sink) All right, Thelma, where do you want it?
  • The Lad-ette: Thelma. Though she tried to act like a respectable lady in public, her tendency toward boorishness was often her undoing.
  • Large Ham: Eunice in the NBC episodes. All of the main cast had shades of this in the syndicated run.
  • Lamaze Class: Naomi takes a pregnancy class, which is quickly ruined by Thelma's antics.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: After having trouble having a child and being turned down for adoption, Naomi finds out she's pregnant after all.
  • Local Hangout: The Bigger Jigger, especially in the NBC episodes
  • Long Bus Trip: Buzz and Sonja, starting with the syndicated episodes.
  • Lovable Coward: Vinton for many. Despite his lack of a spine, he still tries to do the right thing regardless.
  • Mall Santa: In "Santa Mama", Vint takes a job playing Santa Claus at a mall, but loses his voice practicing his "Ho Ho Ho". Mama saves the day by filling in for him.
  • Mama Bear/Apron Matron: Do NOT badmouth a member of Thelma's family.
  • Mattress-Tag Gag: In "Harper Versus Harper", Fran tearfully confesses to a judge about how she committed the "capital offense" of removing a tag from a rug.
  • Missing Mom: The reason why Vint is single in the earliest episodes (before he married Naomi). Vint's first wife was Mitzi, with whom he had two children: Vinton Jr. ("Buzz") and Sonja; shortly before the start of the NBC series, Mitzi decides to follow a longtime dream of being a showgirl in Las Vegas and unexpectedly left the family behind. She fails miserably and soon becomes a cocktail waitress. These are the lone references made to Mitzi, and she apparently has no further contact with Vint or her children again, with Naomi becoming the mother figure in Buzz and Sonja's lives.
    • When Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman decided not to participate in the 1986 syndication revival, the former due to a very acrimonious divorce between herself and executive producer Joe Hamilton, both Eunice and Ed Higgins were written out of the show and, except for occasional references, not mentioned and never appear in any syndicated episode. Thelma becomes Bubba's sole mother figure as a result.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: The appropriately titled "An Affair to Forget" has Thelma suspect Vinton is having an affair with his new trainee Heather. Not only is the whole incident a false alarm, Heather happens to be a friend of Naomi's.
  • Mistaken Message: The episode "The Love Letter" revolved around this trope. Vint wants to do something to make Naomi happy, so he has Bubba help him write her a love letter. The letter gets misplaced a few times, and soon Naomi thinks Bubba has an incestuous crush on her, Iola thinks Vint wants to leave Naomi for her, and Mama thinks her refrigerator repairman is coming on to her. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Momma's Boy: Vinton. He still lives in his mother's basement (with his wife there too), and always succumbs to his mother's will.
  • Moral Guardians: In "Porn Again", Mama forms M.O.P., Mothers Opposed to Pornography, after she finds a dirty magazine under Bubba's bed. Her group then starts protesting outside the Food Circus for selling those magazines.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Bubba, who's a tall, redheaded teenager with a nice build and a slew of girlfriends and love interests during the show's run.
  • My Beloved Smother:
    • Grandma Crowley, Thelma's departed mother, who appears in ghost form to nag and criticize her from beyond the grave. There are also strong hints that Iola has a similar relationship with her invalid mother.
    • Thelma herself is this at times, possibly due to her mother's influence. This explains her damaged relationships with her daughter's, especially Eunice, and she even tried to (intentionally) hamper Vint and Naomi's efforts to adopt a child.
  • Never Learned to Read: In "Reading the Riot Act", Mama and Iola plan to impeach their bossy church lady president Lolly Purdue for doing a crappy job...until Mama finds out that it's because she can't read.
  • Never My Fault: A will executor offers Mama 35,000 dollars if she can keep her temper for two weeks. With three minutes to go, after pointing out that she has paint stripes on her back after a horrific day, the executor proceeds to constantly provoke an already frustrated Mama until she loses it and threatens him, then blames her for blowing her chance at thousands of dollars.
  • Noir Episode: "The Big Nap". Mama has a dream about herself as the star of an old detective movie, with everyone else in appropriate roles: Naomi plays her Dumb Blonde girl Friday, Vint plays a dim gangster, Bubba plays a good-for-nothing chauffer, and Iola plays the sexy client.
  • No Indoor Voice: Naomi more than half the time in the syndicated run.
  • Noodle Incident: Thelma often mentions never-seen relatives in bizarre anecdotes that are never fully explained.
  • Oh, Crap!: Or, as Mama puts it, "Uh-oh."
  • On One Condition: After Aunt Fran dies, she bequeaths Thelma, Naomi and Vint $35,000, but only if the (very cranky) Thelma does not lose her temper for two weeks. Hilarity Ensues.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In Bubba's first episode, he and Vinton discuss the importance of "protection". It's not until Vint hands him his helmet that Bubba realizes this trope.
  • The One That Got Away: For Eunice, it was Duke Reeves. Even the name sounds hunky.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Buzz's real name was Vinton Harper, Jr.; this was mentioned in only one episode.
    • Although "Bubba" seemed to be the character's real name, Allan Kayser stated during a reunion on Vicki!, Vicki Lawrence's talk show, that he and Lawrence had discussed that his "official" real first and middle names were some combination of "Carl" and "Edward" (the former being Thelma's late husband's name; the latter being Bubba's father's name).
  • Only Sane Woman: Mama 98% of the time, best summed up by this quote:
    Mama: I'm surrounded by morons.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Vinton.
  • Paranormal Episode: In "My Mama, Myself", Mama is haunted by the spirit of her late mother after she considers selling a family heirloom.
  • Parental Favoritism: Averted, but mainly because of annoyance. Mama does love her kids, but Vinton is an idiot still living at home, Ellen is a passive-aggressive Rich Bitch, and Eunice has a variety of neurotic issues. Needless to say, Mama won't pull any punches regardless of which one is annoying her. Eunice is convinced that she's The Unfavorite, but that's just because of the afore-mentioned neuroses.
  • Pilot Movie: 1982's Eunice served as this to some extent; Ken Berry played recurring Carol Burnett character Philip Harper instead of Vinton (who was cut from whole cloth for Mama's Family); by the fourth act, Thelma has died.
  • Plot Hole: The number of rooms available in Mama's house varied wildly between the network and syndicated years. Mama also lost a couple kids along the way.
  • Post-Robbery Trauma:
    • In "Black Belt Mama", Thelma gets mugged and gets her purse stolen. She then takes a self-defense class with Naomi and Sonja. Later on in the episode, Thelma is at a bus stop with another woman when the same mugger comes for her purse. Thelma reminds the thief to remember to take the other woman's purse too, at which point Thelma slams him in the back of the head with an iron in a shopping bag.
    • Applied hilariously in "The Key to the Crime": After the Courteous Crook hits the Harper home, Thelma notices he cleaned up the bathroom and remarks, "I ain't gonna be able to sit in there again!"
  • Preacher's Grandkid: In "Child's Play", Reverend Meecham's wife, Alberta, suckers Thelma into babysitting their demon-spawn grandson Eugene, who spends the day putting the Harpers through hell (pouring hot sauce in their stew, coloring on Mama's tablecloth, locking Vint and Bubba in the garage, among other pranks).
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "Mama Mania"
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: When Thelma and Naomi are driving the judge nuts in "Harper vs. Harper". See the entry on the trope page for examples.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Buzz and Sonja, who are never seen or mentioned after the first syndicated episode. It's never explained exactly where they went, either; some sources say they were sent to live with their mom in Vegas, while others say they went off to college.
    • Ed and Eunice Higgins end up moving to Florida for the syndicated run, due to Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett declining to take part in the syndicated series. Eunice ends up calling Mama one last time in the season four finale, voiced in Burnett's absence by Phyllis Franklin, with Ed only getting a brief mention.
  • The Quincy Punk: Everyone at the high school dance in "Flaming Forties" is dressed as this except Mama, Fran, Vint and Naomi.
  • The Rashomon: In "Rashomama", Thelma accidentally gets hit in the head with a pot. Naomi, Ellen, and Eunice each tell their own version of how it happened, casting themselves in the best possible light and blaming the other two for the accident. (On a side note, this "Rashomama" aired 23 years before the CSI episode of the same name.)
  • Really Gets Around: Strongly implied to be the case for Naomi, before she settled down with Vinton.
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: A variation of this occurs in the episode "The Really Loud Family". For a school project, Bubba makes a film about the Harper family. However, a short circuit in the camera causes it to turn itself off and on again while recording, resulting in an unintentionally provocative film shown on public access TV. The end result has Naomi looking like a tramp and Thelma looking like a drunk and a bad mother.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Bubba and Iola.
  • Rich Bitch: Ellen, and she loved to flaunt it as passive-aggressively as she could.
    • In the reunion mentioned above, Betty White called in to discuss her time on the show. Vicki Lawrence used the exact name of this trope to describe Ellen's character, and Betty White gleefully agreed.
  • Rolling Pin of Doom: In the episode "Mama Bell", Thelma thinks the family wants to put her in a home. The weapon she chooses to defend herself against the perceived threat is, of course, a rolling pin.
  • Screaming Birth: Naomi in the Grand Finale, when she gives birth to Tiffany Thelma Harper.
  • Second Prize: In "Mama on Jeopardy", Thelma scrapes by with a second-place finish. She's overjoyed when Johnny Gilbert announces that she had won a trip for four to Hawaii. The Harpers spend the next two episodes on Maui.
  • Silver Spoon Troublemaker: The grandson of the local minister Eugene counts as one. His grandmother refuses to discipline him at all, so he's a near-sociopathic brat who pesters everyone around him even in church.
  • Spelling Song: In the 1988 episode "Sins Of the Mother", Iola tells Bubba a story of the time his mother, Eunice, while a teenager, showed up drunk to a church bazaar Thelma was putting on. Already not getting along and their relationship strained (to say the least), Eunice insists on performing at the talent show, which is about to begin. The trope kicks into effect with her performance of "M-O-T-H-E-R", but instead of the sentimental song she was asked to sing, Eunice uses the opportunity to royally insult and humiliate her mother. Eventually, Eunice is taken out by security, and (as this story was set some time prior to the 1974 introduction of "The Family" skit on The Carol Burnett Show) their relationship worsens to the point where viewers first meet the Harpers.
  • Spin-Off: The show grew out of a recurring segment of The Carol Burnett Show.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: To the letter.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: In the episode "Mama Takes Stock", Vinton finds out he's about to get laid off by the corporation that owns Kwik-Keys. Iola promises to write a "scathing letter" to the company.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Iola for Aunt Fran, due to Rue McClanahan being unavailable on account of a new TV gig.
    • Bubba for Buzz and Sonja, due to producers writing the latter two out of the series.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In "Child's Play", the family is babysitting Eugene, the very spoiled grandson of Reverend Meechum. During the dinner scene, Eugene puts some hot sauce in the stew while the family is saying grace. After they all go running for water, Thelma accuses him of putting the sauce in the stew:
    Thelma: (slowly and accusingly) Eugene...?
    Eugene: I didn't put anything in that stew!
  • Take That!: While being interviewed in "The Really Loud Family", Thelma goes on a mild rant about the many shows about someone other than the parents raising the children, citing shows where there's three guys raising the kids, another about where the butler is raising the kids and yet another with someone else raising Rhoda's kids.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "An Ill Wind", where Thanksgiving is interrupted by a tornado hitting town and the family taking refuge in the basement.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Mama's children appeared in younger form in a few flashback episodes. Most notable was Heather Kerr as teenaged Eunice in season 4's "Sins of the Mother", doing a spot-on Carol Burnett impression. Vicki Lawrence's "younger Thelma" form in these episodes comes from simply not putting on the Mama wig and wearing era-appropriate housedresses.
  • Totally Radical: Comprises about half of Sonja's dialogue.
  • Treasure Hunt Episode: "Mama Gets the Bird", where Thelma inherits Captain Petey, a parrot, from her Uncle Oscar who dressed and talked like a pirate as part of his boat rental gimmick. As soon as she hears him mentioning gold bars, the family searches the house from top to bottom, with Vinton finding nothing in the yard, and Thelma tells Vinton to throw out the bird cage, Afterwards Petey flies out of his cage to the office of Uncle Oscar's attorney, and she gets a letter from Uncle Oscar's lawyer one week later, telling them that the bars of Petey's cage were solid gold covered with black paint worth more than $50,000... which Vinton threw in the garbage. Sadly, when Thelma tries to call Frank the garbage collector, he has found out what the bird cage is actually worth and moved to Tahiti at least $50,000 richer.
  • Tsundere: Mama went from a heavy Type A in season 1, to a much gentler Type B as the syndicated episodes went on.
  • Uncanceled: After NBC canceled the show in 1984, it was picked up for a second and longer syndicated run from 1986 to 1990.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Vicki Lawrence appeared in two episodes as Thelma's deceased mother (once in a flashback, once as a ghost) and in a another as her rich cousin Lydia.
  • Undignified Death: In all versions, Thelma's late husband Carl died in their bathroom while on the toilet (unsurprising, as several jokes indicate that he spent a lot of time in there). Later, Fran dies while choking on a toothpick in the ladies' room at the Bigger Jigger.
  • The Un-Favorite: Eunice, at least in her mind.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Iola has had an unrequited crush on Vint since they were little.
  • Visual Pun: In "Where There's a Will", after Vinton survives a traffic accident and Bubba comes into the house with a traffic sign:
    Vinton: Whew! I almost got run over at the corner. That guy didn't even... [Vinton looks at Bubba holding a "Stop" sign] ...stop.
  • We Sell Everything: In Raytown, there are only three stores: Neidermeyer's, Kwik-Keys and Food Circus.
    • This one might be kinda iffy. It's hinted and even explicitly mentioned there are other stores, like the donut shops in the episode where Thelma gets hired by KRAY, "Mama Fights Back".
    • While that is true, the characters do the majority of their shopping at those three places. It helps that Vint and Naomi work at Kwik-Keys and Food Circus, respectively. Also, Food Circus is the only place that sells Thelma's preferred brand of beer, so it makes sense she'd shop there exclusively.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Although the state where Raytown is located is never mentioned, take a look at the cars in the neighborhood in "Mama Learns to Drive": they have Missouri license plates.
    • Let's add to the confusion by mentioning that there is an actual Raytown, Missouri, which is a suburb of Kansas City, but that the fictional Raytown (a small town unconnected to a metropolis) and real Raytown (suburban bedroom community) are completely different.
    • Also worth noting is that Allan Kayser, the actor that played Bubba, currently resides (or did not too long ago) in Kansas City, MO.
      • Also, during the reunion, he mentioned that he had moved back to Missouri, and commented that there is indeed a real Raytown (intimating that he now lived in or near there).
  • While You Were in Diapers: After Iola questions whether Thelma is making a baby bootie correctly:
    Thelma: I was making booties before you had feet!