Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Laughs with lovable characters
Cons: Picture quality could be better
The Bottom Line:
Show hitting its stride
Means plenty of laughs for us
Thirty years later
"You Called the Police Because You Thought We Had Ghosts?" "Well, Who Are You Going to Call?"
It took them three seasons, but they finally found the perfect mix of fun for Bob Newhart’s second sitcom. How can you tell? Because season four of Newhart is the first season of the show that didn’t include a cast change for one of the main characters or even the supporting cast. And the writers were able to build on the fun of the previous season and create even more laughs. As fun as season three is, this season is even better.
For those who have missed this wonderful comedy, Bob Newhart stars as Dick Loudon, a how-to writer who, along with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann), runs a bed and breakfast in Vermont. They run it on a small staff made up of handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) and maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy). Rounding out the main cast is Michael Harris (Peter Scolari), the shallow yuppie producer of Dick’s local TV show. Michael is also dating Stephanie, who just happens to be an heiress who was cut off by her family and forced to work as a maid, not that she’s very good at it. (She’s sense reconciled with her family, but she’s kept her job.)
Of course, those are the main characters. The show is filled with a great collection of recurring characters – villagers and co-workers at the TV station. However, the most famous would be Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad). This trio of backwoodsmen run the café next door to the Loudon’s inn and pop in quite regularly. They even get some of their own storylines. These were fan favorite characters, and they are always so funny.
So just what do these characters deal with over the course of the season? When Dick tells Michael to stand up to Stephanie, the results spill over onto his TV show. Joanna and Stephanie open an aerobic studio and the resulting power struggle spills over back to the inn. George quits his lodge, The Beavers, and tries to set up his own. Larry goes back to get his GED, leaving Dick to explain his nightly absences to Darryl. The inn suddenly appears to be haunted when strange things start happening. An unseasonably warm February leaves the town relying on Larry, Darryl, and Darryl to save their ice carnival. And when Dick decides to submit his latest book under an old pen name, he is surprised when it is rejected.
I was actually surprised just how many of these episodes I remembered when I sat down to watch them. Mind you, it’s been years since I watch any reruns on TV, but sometimes by the second scene, I could remember exactly how an episode evolved. That shows you just how great this season truly is. I’d argue these are some of my favorite episodes ever. The characters are perfectly developed to be funny, especially Stephanie and Michael. They have softened some from previous seasons but aren’t quite the caricatures they’d be late in the show’s run.
And even though I remembered some of these stories, I still laughed hard at them. The jokes are still funny no matter how many times you’ve seen an episode. Heck, there were times even knowing the ultimate punchline of an episode didn’t keep me from laughing.
The show is 30 years old, and that shows in the fashions, especially in the aerobics episode. That one screams mid-80’s, but even in the rest of the season, the hairstyles and sweaters are pretty obvious.
But that doesn’t keep the show from being extremely funny. Outside one or two jokes (like the one I used as the title of my episode), the humor is timeless since it comes from the characters and situations themselves. Even better, it is clean. This is the kind of show you can watch with your entire family. Everyone will laugh and no one will be embarrassed. What more could you want?
With no cast changes, the cast has a change to grow stronger. There were never any bad performances in the past, and that continues here. Everyone hits the notes perfectly for maximum comedy. From Julia Duffy’s variety of ‘Oohs” to Michael’s cheesy nicknames, the cast makes you believe the characters would say it. And I will once again praise the two Darryls. They are completely silent, and most of the time that isn’t an issue since they are behind Larry, who does the talking for the group. However, this season requires them to fly solo a couple of times, and between the writing and their acting, they are still hilarious.
Like the last two seasons, the DVD set is fairly simple. We get all 24 episodes on three discs, and that’s it. There’s nothing in the way of extras. The episodes themselves are in full frame and stereo, which is in keeping with their mid-80’s production. There’s nothing that will challenge your system here, but this is a show from the 80’s, so it is appropriate. The picture does have some grain and dust in it, but it is still very watchable. I can only speak for me, but given a choice between having this season on DVD or not, I will take this set just as it is.
And frankly, I hope we get the rest of the seasons to follow soon. Newhart was truly hitting its stride with season four. The laughs and characters are at their peak. Any fan of the show will be thrilled to have this set in their collection.
Season 4 Episodes:
1. Pirate Pete
2. The Way We Ought to Be
3. Summa Cum Larry
4. Oh, That Morocco
5. Candidate Larry
6. Locks, Stocks, and Noodlehead
7. The Geezers in the Band
8. The Shape of Things
9. Write to Privacy
10. Still the Beavers
11. Much Ado About Mitch
12. Look Ma, No Talent
13. Larry’s Dead, Long Live Larry
14. Stephanie Nightingale
15. The Stratford Horror Picture Show
16. I Do, Okay
17. The Snowmen Cometh
18. Will the Real Dick Loudon Please Shut Up?
19. He Ain’t Human, He’s My Cousin
20. Dwight Schmidlapp is Not a Quitter
21. Torn Between Three Brothers
22. Baby, I’m Your Handyman
23. Replaceable You