Monday, October 9, 2017

TV on DVD Review: Newhart - Season 8



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some of the episodes are funny; “The Last Newhart”
Cons: Some episodes are painfully unfunny; “The Last Newhart”
The Bottom Line:
We say goodbye to
Characters we love in this
Uneven season




“If It Weren’t for People Throwing Stuff at My Head, I Wouldn’t Even Know I Exist.”

They say all good things come to an end.  In the case of many TV shows, that often happens before a show ends.  As much as I love the 1980’s sitcom Newhart, its best days were definitely behind us by the time the show entered its eighth and final season.

We pick up six months after the last season ends with a big change coming.  Yes, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) and his wife Joanna (Mary Frann) are still running The Stratford, their bed and breakfast in Vermont.  George Utley (Tom Poston) is still there as their handyman.  The big change is that their maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) and longtime boyfriend turned husband Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) are returning from their six month honeymoon cruise around the world.  Oh, and Stephanie is six months pregnant.

Naturally, this drives many storylines over the course of the season as the duo try to come up with names and figure out how they will afford stylish baby items on their salaries.  Things change when Stephanie’s extremely rich father buys the baby a present – WPIV, the local TV station where Michael used to work.  Suddenly, Dick’s show might be cut since it doesn’t make baby Stephanie happy.

Other stories this season?  An anniversary cigar sets a fire.  George’s past in a gang gets exposed on Dick’s TV show and George creates a board game that takes the town by storm until people discover the fatal flaw (I came up with at least two more).  A needy guest decides that Dick is his new best friend.  Joanne thinks she will win the poetry contest in town when Dick becomes the judge.  And don’t worry – while they don’t have any stories themselves this season, Larry (William Sanderson, his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad) are around to comment on the action and create a few plot points.  And the Darryls actually do get a line of dialogue this season.

In my mind, season three through six of this show are the gold standard.  By season eight, Stephanie and Michael had become more caricatures than characters.  Of the five main characters, they remain my favorites, so you can imagine how difficult this makes things for me.  Michael especially is hard to understand this season with his over alliterations.

The stories themselves are hit and miss this season.  While some work well like, surprisingly enough, the reunion of George’s gang, the Hooligans, others are a disaster.  I’m looking at you, “Seein’ Double,” the episode that revolves around Michael’s idea of a sitcom pilot starring Stephanie as identical twin teenagers.  Oh, I get what the joke is supposed to be.  I just find it painful instead of funny.  It’s my least favorite episode of the show ever.  Others don’t work like they think they will either, like Michael’s dreams of his daughter grown up, or Tim Conway’s appearance as part of a poker game.  Or any episode that Kathy Kinney appears in as oversexed librarian Miss Goddard.  I don’t find her funny, only painful.

Now all of this is squarely on the shoulders of the writers.  The actors are doing the best they can with the scripts they get.  They just aren’t as funny as previous material.

Then there’s the series finale.  (SPOILER WARNING IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.  SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH!!!)  I’m of two minds about it.  It is a very funny episode all the way around, from the Fiddler on the Roof jokes to the premise and the surprise ending that reveals the entire series was a dream of Bob Newhart’s character on his earlier The Bob Newhart Show.  Heck, it helps explain this wacky and uneven season.  There’s even a line a couple of episodes before that takes on new meaning given the ending of the series.  I also get that they were spoofing other TV shows at the time.  However, I love these characters and this show, and the idea that it was all a dream of a show I haven’t really watched doesn’t sit well with me.  I want them to be real.

Okay, SPOILERS OVER.

The set itself is of the same quality we’ve come to expect.  There are no extras, just the 24 episodes of the season on three discs in full frame and stereo sound, their native formats.  The audio is fine on these episodes, but the picture could be better.  Close ups are fine, but in wide shots tend to be fuzzy.  It’s not a huge issue, but definitely worth noting.  Disclaimers on every disc remind us that this is the best available source material, and I’d rather have this set in this condition rather than not at all.

Fans of Newhart will be happy to have all eight seasons in their collection.  I know I am.  But there are more skippable episodes in this season than any other season of the show.  I’ll be doing more picking and choosing as I rewatch season eight.

Season 8 Episodes:
1. Don’t Worry Be Pregnant
2. Get Dick
3. Poetry and Pastries
4. Utley Exposed
5. Ramblin’ Michael Harris
6. Meet Michael Vanderkellen
7. Good Lord Loudon
8. Cupcake in a Cage
9. Attack of the Killer Aunt
10. I Like You, Butt
11. Jumpin’ George
12. Lights! Camera! Contractions!
13. Beauty and the Pest
14. Good Neighbor Sam
15. Child in Charge
16. Seein’ Double
17. Born to be Mild
18. Daddy’s Little Girl
19. Georgie and Grace
20. Handymania
21. Dick and Tim
22. Father Goose
23. My Husband, My Peasant
24. The Last Newhart

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