Wednesday, May 7, 2014

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs coming from great characters
Cons: Picture quality could be better
The Bottom Line:
Characters are set
And laughs are ramped up a notch
Funny episodes

"Well It Would Be a Lot Easier for a Person to Do the Decent Thing if They Made It Fun, You Know."

Some sitcoms find the perfect mix right away, giving us laughs and characters we love right from the start.  A few, however, take a couple seasons to fully grow.  That was the case with Newhart, the 1980's sitcom starring comedian Bob Newhart.  While there are certainly laughs in the first two seasons, it wasn't until season three that the show really found its funny bone, and it kept this cast and the great laughs for the rest of the show's run.

The basic set up of the show hasn't changed.  Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) and his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) own and run the Stratford Inn in a small town in Vermont.  What has changed are the characters around them.  Handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) has stayed around, but last season brought them a new maid in the form of Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy), an heiress who has been cut off from her family.  Of course, she is used to others doing all the work, and this adjustment just isn't working out for her.  While introduced in a couple of episodes last season, Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) is on board full time this season as well.  Michael is the producer at the local television station where he and Dick clash over the guests on Dick's new TV talk show, "Vermont Today," something he's added to his other job of writing how-to books.  Michael also happens to be dating Stephanie.

But I've left out the most popular and famous characters on the show.  While never full time cast members, this season brings Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad) into many more episodes when they buy the cafe next to the inn.  Sometimes, they just show up for a scene; other times, they are featured in the main story.  Either way, these backwards woodsmen are a riot.

So, what do these characters find themselves facing this season?  Dick starts off the season by facing off with Michael over a commercial to promote "Vermont Today."  He also goes too far and hurts George's feeling at a roast at their Beaver Lodge.  Stephanie quits her job at the inn when the station hires her as the new receptionist, with predictably disastrous results.  One of Dick's how-to books becomes the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit while adding Joanna as a co-author on another leads to a fight between husband and wife.  A feud over a goat with Larry and the Darryls leads to problems at the inn.  In another episode, Joanna tries to help the brothers attract customers to their restaurant.  Meanwhile, Stephanie and Michael go to visit her parents and see some unsettling changes in her and crazy demands during a contract negation lead to Michael being fired.

The characters have become wilder in this season, which allows for funnier story lines and more straight laced reactions from Bob Newhart.  Yet the show treats all the characters seriously enough that we care for all of them.  They are a strange bunch, and yet somehow we buy them.

And it is well worth it because the laughs are plentiful.  There are so many perfect lines and moments that crack me up no matter how many times I've seen the show.  I've always remembered season three as when the show really got good, and I was not remotely disappointed.

The cast is excellent.  They are walking a very fine line as they create these wild and crazy characters for the comedy but keep them real enough that we still buy things.  It absolutely works.  I do have to give a special shout out to Tony and John, aka the Darryls, who never speak.  Between the writers and their performances, if an episode calls for them to do more than stand behind Larry, we buy everything happening with them.  The praise for the cast includes some of the recurring characters, like the towns people we have been getting to know as well as new characters who work at the station.

Considering fans have been waiting years to get anything past the first season, I'm sure no one will be surprised to learn that we get nothing in the way of special features in this set.  It consists of all 22 episodes from the season in their original full frame and stereo sound.  The sound is good, but the picture features noticeable dust and artifacts.  It's better than season two was, and it's certainly not enough to ruin your enjoyment of the show.  Honestly, within a couple of minutes I'm laughing at the story and forgetting about any imperfections with the picture.

I really can't tell you how happy I am to be laughing at the classic third season of Newhart.  Even better is knowing that season four is coming in August.  Get this set today, and you'll be laughing before you know it.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. Tell a Lie, Get a Check
2. Twenty Year Itch
3. A Hunting We Will Go
4. Miss Stephanie
5. But Seriously, Beavers
6. Tickets, Please
7. Poor Reception
8. The Fan
9. Happy Trails to You
10. Georgie's Girl
11. Pillow Fight
12. Local Hero
13. Dick Gets Larry's Goat
14. Once I Had a Secret Love
15. Lady in Wading
16. Look Homeward, Stephanie
17. My Fair Larry
18. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Hires You
19. Out with the New, Inn with the Old
20. R.I.P. Off
21. The Prodigal Darryl
22. What Makes Dick Run

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