The series opened with a slimmed-down Rhoda Morgenstern traveling home to New York City from Minneapolis. While in New York, she met Joe Gerard (David Groh), a handsome divorce; with a young son who ran a wrecking company. Rhoda decided to stay in New York, initially moving in with her younger sister, Brenda (Julie Kavner). Brenda, an overweight bank-teller, had self-esteem problems, similar to Rhoda herself at the outset of The Mary Tyler Moore Show four years earlier.
Brenda's small apartment couldn't hold the both of them, so Rhoda tried moving in with her parents Ida (Nancy Walker) and Martin (Harold Gould) at their apartment in The Bronx. Ida and Martin were the archetypical Jewish parents. Ida was overbearing, overprotective, benevolently manipulative, and desperate to make sure Rhoda found a good husband. Martin was her dutiful, more mild-mannered dad. At first, Ida went to great lengths to baby her daughter. But when it became apparent that Rhoda was sliding into a rut by staying in the room where she grew up, Ida forced Rhoda to move out for her own good.
Meanwhile, Rhoda's relationship with Joe blossomed. Joe invited Rhoda to move in with him so they could live together. Rhoda accepted the offer, although once she moved in, she quickly realized she wanted to be married. After initial hesitation, Joe came around to the idea and a wedding date was set.