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Monday, January 27, 2014

DVD Review: Newhart: The Complete Second Season

Every once in a while, sitcoms will dare to portray adults, even intelligent adults. Newhart is such a show, and though it is quite silly at times, the humor is mostly intelligent. There are plenty of excellent jokes, but most of them are not spoon-fed. Newhart stars Bob Newhart and Mary Frann as Dick and Joanna Loudon, a couple who own and run an inn in Vermont. It also stars Julia Duffy as Stephanie, a young rich woman who has been cut off from her family and now works as a maid; Tom Poston as George, the inn’s handyman; and Steven Kampmann as Kirk, the man who runs the diner next door.

The Complete Second Season includes all twenty-two episodes. This season features some excellent guest stars including a couple of the actors from WKRP In Cincinnati, as well as Ruth Gordon (who stars in my all-time favorite film, Harold And Maude). This was also the season that introduced the character of Michael Harris (Peter Scolari). The reason I started watching Newhart when I was a kid was that I had enjoyed Mork & Mindy and Bosom Buddies. So I’d begun watching it for supporting cast members Tom Poston and Peter Scolari. But I got hooked on it even as a kid. And I’m actually enjoying the show much more this time around.

I love Bob Newhart’s casual, understated delivery. And I like that the actions of one episode do have some bearing on other episodes. It’s not like so many sitcoms (particularly of the time) where each episode is a completely isolated event with no causal connections. And this season has one of the best sitcom weddings I’ve seen (the final image is great, and it includes Stephanie’s line “I’ve always been a bride, never a bridesmaid”). The final episode of the season has a reference to the Red Sox (two, if you include the mug in the background in one shot), which I totally appreciate.

The second season opens with a two-part episode titled “It Happened One Afternoon,” in which Dick pursues a book assignment writing a biography of an actress (an actress who then flirts with him). Meanwhile, Stephanie (a character who appeared in only one episode the previous season) arrives, having ended her marriage with Carl. Joanna tells her, “Oh, Stephanie, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Stephanie responds, “Yeah, so was Carl.” There are lots of great lines, some of which, interestingly, do not get a laugh from the studio audience - such as Dick: “All I can be is myself.” His agent: “You could be better at it.”

"Animal Attractions"

One of the best episodes is “Animal Attractions.” George finds a dog, and two guests seem to be trying to sneak off without paying their bill. Some of the humor comes from Dick having never had a dog. And the rest comes from Julia Duffy’s excellent performance as Stephanie. Stephanie’s husband shows up, and he’s much older than everyone assumed. George keeps the dog, naming him Lucky, leading to one of the funniest lines. George says to Stephanie, “If you’re ever feeling lonely, you can always come up to my room and get Lucky.” What’s brilliant is that he says it as he leaves upstage, and Stephanie is left standing there, looking after him, her back to the camera, which actually works as a much better reaction shot than if they’d gone for the normal close-up.

Another excellent episode is “Cats,” in which rich newlyweds Ted and Tisha, two of Stephanie’s high school classmates, arrive at the Inn. Tisha looks at Stephanie and tells her, “You haven’t changed a bit,” then asks her, “Why?” She’s absolutely horrid to Stephanie. Stephanie explains to the Loudons that they were always rivals, and that Stephanie dated Ted in high school. As always, there is some wonderful dialogue, such as this exchange...
Stephanie: “Trish, you don’t have to feel sorry for me.” 
Trisha: “But I want to.”

Peter Scolari as Michael Harris

“Book Beat” is the episode that introduces Michael Harris (Peter Scolari). He is a producer of a local television program, Book Talk, which has Dick as a guest. Michael asks Dick to be the show’s new host. Dick’s first program is one of the funniest bits of the season. This episode is hilarious, due in large part to Dick’s reactions, and because it includes the great phrase, “At the risk of sounding realistic.”

Michael Harris returns in “Vermont Today,” offering a new show for Dick to host. Titled Vermont Today, it’s a show to celebrate the state of Vermont. Dick is promised cultural and important guests. His first guest is a small horse. Stephanie meets Michael in this episode.

Guest Stars Include Frank Bonner, Richard Sanders and Ruth Gordon

“Kirk Pops The Question” features Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek on WKRP) as a man suffering from a fear of hotels and who of course needs a room. He suffers from a few other phobias. Meanwhile Kirk asks Cindy (Rebecca York) to marry him. Richard Stahl is excellent as the waiter having to deal with Kirk.

And then “Leave It To The Beavers” features Richard Sanders (Les Nessman on WKRP) as Cecil, a guest at the inn who has a make-believe wife, Evelyn. This episode actually features another excellent guest star. Alan North (from Police Squad!) plays the president of the Beavers, a local club that George invites Dick to join. This episode also has this bit of dialogue…
Dick: “You know, I have half a mind to do that.” 
George: “And I’ve got the other half. Let’s go.”

But my favorite episode is “Go, Grandma, Go” because of its guest star. Ruth Gordon (Harold And Maude) stars as Blanche, Kirk’s grandmother. She missed Kirk’s wedding because she met a man on the way to Vermont. Blanche asks Joanna how Kirk’s wife is. Joanna tells her she’s wonderful, that she’ll like her. Blanche says: “I know I will. And if I don’t, it won’t matter ‘cause I live two thousand miles away.” Joanna offers her some lunch. “Would you like anything special?” Blanche responds, “Something special would be fine.” Ruth Gordon makes every line work so well. She is completely awesome, as always. Blanche lends Kirk her car so he and Cindy can go on their honeymoon. But, like Maude in my favorite film, Blanche has a penchant for stealing cars, which gets Kirk in trouble.

Newhart: The Complete Second Season is scheduled to be released on February 11, 2014 through Shout! Factory. There are no special features.

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