Friday, February 24, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 7

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good episodes and laughs
Cons: Definitely going over the top
The Bottom Line:
The laughs are still there
As characters go broader
Fun if not the best

“Because of You, I May Have to Eat Beetle Tonight.”

I’ve longed believed season 3 through 6 were the sweet spot of Newhart.  Those seasons have some of my favorite episodes of the show period (yes, even better than the famous season finale in my opinion).  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some of the episodes from season 7, something that was confirmed for me as I watched the recent DVD release of the show.

The setup of the show is the same as it has been for years.  Dick and Joanna Loudon (Bob Newhart and Mary Frann) own and run the Stratford Inn, a bed and breakfast in Vermont.  Naturally, they have two employees, George Utley (Tom Poston), who has been the handyman at the inn all his life, upholding a long family tradition, and Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) a spoiled rich girl who has been forced to become a maid.  In addition to running the inn, Dick also writes how to books and hosts a weekly TV talk show at the local television station.  His producer on the show, yuppie Michael Harris (Peter Scolari), is also Stephanie’s boyfriend.  While these are the five main characters, we also regularly see Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad).  These backwoodsmen also run the Minute Man CafĂ© next door.

Over the course of these 22 episodes, Stephanie winds up with appendicitis and gets blood from the last person she wants.  Joanna starts a new career as a realtor.  The love of George’s life, a former maid at the inn, shows up again.  Larry and the Darryls throw a surprising dinner party.  And in one of my favorite episodes, Dick tries his hand at fiction writing with a murder mystery with thinly disguised characters based on all the people in his life.

This season actually introduces a story arc for the first time in the show.  Early in the season, Michael loses his job at the TV station and spends time trying out various careers before winding up in the mental institution.  Meanwhile, he breaks up with Stephanie to protect her from having to deal with what he is facing.  Naturally, we gets episodes that focus on this and some that spring off this while others completely ignore it with Michael just having a couple of scenes.

And, honestly, this is one of the things that hurts the show this season.  The story arc itself is very uneven.  Some of the episodes are actually pretty funny; others border on the painful.  It does provide a bit of interesting growth for the characters, although I’m not sure it was worth it.  Then again, this arc does give us “A Message from Michael,” which is one of my favorite episodes of the season.

Not that all the bad episodes of the season are related to this arc.  For example “The Nice Man Cometh” is absolutely painful as Dick becomes a nightly target for an insult comic, with the rest of the town getting into the act.  Seriously, this episode is painful to watch and there is nothing funny about it.

The uneven nature of the humor is coupled with the characters going over the top, something they’ve been flirting with for a couple of seasons now.  This is most notable with Michael, whose use of alliteration and cutesy nicknames finally crosses a line at times.  Again, at times it is fun and other times it is overbearing.

Because this season isn’t as strong as the last four, the flaws are more pronounced.  However, there are still plenty of laughs in this season.  And we do love these characters, so it’s hard not to enjoy spending time with them.

The acting is still fine.  Yes, there is some overacting in a few episodes, but it feels like the acting is following the writing and not the other way around.  Kathy Kinney shows up as Miss Goddard for the first time in this season, which surprised me.  I was thinking she was a season 8 invention.  Her character isn’t too bad yet.  I definitely didn’t care for some of her episodes next season.

This DVD set features all 22 episodes in full frame and stereo sound.  The picture isn’t the best quality all the time, but they are watchable.  We don’t get any extras, but we haven’t since season 1, so that’s no surprise.

While the glory days of Newhart was clearly behind it, there are still plenty of laughs in season 7.  Pop this in with the proper expectations and you’ll find yourself entertained.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. Town Without Pity
2. Apples, Apples, Apples,
3. This Blood’s For You
4. I Married Dick
5. Goonstruck
6. I Came, I Saw, I Sat
7. Twelve Annoyed Men…And Women
8. Home for the Holidays
9. Shoe Business Is My Life
10. George and the Old Maid
11. Hi, Society
12. Cupcake on My Back
13. Another Saturday Night
14. The Nice Man Cometh
15. One and a Half Million Dollar Man
16. The Little Match Girl
17. Buy, Buy Blues
18. Message from Michael
19. Homes and Jo-Jo
20. Georgie and Bess
21. Murder at the Stratley
22. Malling in Love Again

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