Friday, March 28, 2014

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good laughs with some fine characters
Cons: The best is still to come; picture quality of the set
The Bottom Line:
Building better laughs
Series still not hitting stride
Best is coming up

"That's One Thing About Progress.  You Can't Always Tell When It's Happening."

I've been waiting a long time to say this - welcome back to Vermont and the Stratford Inn.  It's been six years since season 1 of Newhart was released, and I'd given up hope we'd ever see season two.  But thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory, we finally got it.

This was Bob Newhart's sitcom from the 80's.  In it, he played Dick Loudon, a do it yourself book writer who, along with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) moved to Vermont to open a bed and breakfast.  However, life in a small town can get rather crazy.  Carrying over from season one are George (Tom Poston), the handy man at the inn, and Kirk (Steven Kampmann), owner of the Minute Man cafe next door.  He is a compulsive liar who considers Dick his best friend, a sentiment that isn't shared.

There was a cast change this year.  Gone is Leslie as the maid and in her place is her cousin Stephanie (Julia Duffy).  Stephanie arrives after having left her new husband behind and being cut off by her family.  She takes on the job of maid, something she is ill suited for.  She's used to having maids, not being one.  And yes, while by no means recurring, we do get to see more appearances by Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad).

So what happens this season?  Dick gets a chance to ghost write a tell all biography for a well known actress - there's just one catch, she only works with those she's slept with.  Stephanie has to face her ex-husband when he comes looking for an explanation.  Her old life comes walking back into the inn when her high school boyfriend and her high school rival show up - on their honeymoon.  Kirk is worried that a new restaurant will put him out of business and leans on Dick for support.  In another episode, Dick's hard work to meet a deadline is frustrated by a permanent border, a miniature golf course, and George demanding a pension plan.  The entire town gets invited to the inn for Thanksgiving.  And Joanna mistakes the interest of a college professor.

The show was not super big on story arcs (this was the 80's after all), however, there is one that starts party way through the season.  Kirk meets the woman he thinks might be the love of his life.  However, he balks when he learns that Cindy (Rebecca York) is a clown.  The entire arc with Cindy is not to be missed and are some of the best stories with Kirk from his two seasons on the show.

This season also introduces Michael Harris when Peter Scolari appears in two episodes as the producer for the local TV station with dreams of ratings gold and a ticket to a bigger market.  He would go on to become a regular on the show for the remaining six seasons.  Both of the episodes revolving around the TV station are brilliantly funny and not to be missed.

Overall, however, this season is still a step down from the greatness that would start with the next season.  Don't get me wrong, there are laughs, and adding Stephanie this season certainly helps.  However, she and Michael and Larry and the Darryls are the main characters people remember from the show.  When the rest of that list comes on board full time (or half time in the case of the brothers), the show just gets so much stronger.

Still, as I said, there are some good laughs, especially in the episodes I high lighted above.  The writers do a good job of coming up with some fun situations and witty dialogue.

The cast nails it and really delivers.  Bob Newhart's sarcasm and snark is perfect here, and the rest of the cast inhabits their characters perfectly.

Unfortunately, the set could be better.  We get all 22 episodes on three discs in full frame and stereo sound, which is in keeping with how they were originally broadcast.  There is nothing in the way of extras, but I'm just happy to have the set.  I'll take it without the extras.  My disappointment with the set is the picture quality.  There is quite a bit of grain and dust on it in just about every episode.  Surely, it seems like they could have found some way to clean it up more.  The episodes are still very watchable, however, so don't let that stop you.  Just be prepared for less than perfection.

Frankly, I'll take season two however I can get it.  Newhart is a great show, and it's nice to see some forward progress made on releasing this gem on DVD for the fans.

Season Two Episodes:
1. It Happened One Afternoon, Part 1
2. It Happened One Afternoon, Part 2
3. Animal Attraction
4. The Stratford Wives
5. The Girl from Manhattan
6. Don't Rain on My Parade
7. Lady and the Tramps
8. The Man Who Came Forever
9. The Looks of Love
10. Kirk Goes for the Juggler
11. A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Pow
12. Cats
13. Curious George at the Firehouse
14. Book Beat
15. Kirk Pops the Question
16. Best Friends
17. Kirk Ties One On
18. Go, Grandma, Go
19. Leave it to the Beavers
20. Vermont Today
21. Send Her, Ella
22. New Faces of 1951

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