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NEWHART
The Complete First Season

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bob Newhart, Mary Frann, Tom Poston, Jennifer Holmes, Steven Kampmann
Creator:  Barry Kemp
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  546 Minutes
Release Date:  February 26, 2008

“I just need your John Hancock.”

“Where?”

“Right there, under…John Hancock…”

Shows ****

TV on DVD is a wonderful thing, and the arrival of the first season of Newhart means that the last classic show I wanted to collect on disc is finally here.

I’ve been a fan of Bob Newhart for most of my life.  The Bob Newhart Show showcased the legendary dry Midwestern comic’s wit and ability to stand out like a sore thumb by being the only sane, rational individual against a cascade of craziness.  But for me, this idea was expounded upon and perfected when he returned to primetime television in 1982 as a writer who buys an inn in Vermont with his wife and finds that life is anything but normal.

Bob plays Dick Loudon, and as the show opens, he and his wife Joanna (Frann) have come to Vermont from New York to purchase the Stratford Inn and settle in for a quiet life in the beautiful country of New England.  Already there is the stalwart caretaker George Utley (Poston), and arriving soon are Leslie Vanderkellen (Holmes), a young woman with a trust fund and ambition but willing to work as a maid, and their neighbor Kirk Devane (Kampmann), who runs the nearby Minuteman Café and has a propensity for lying habitually.

From the moment the show hit the airwaves, it was an instant favorite of mine.  In fact, one of my fondest school memories was showing up for class on Tuesday mornings where me and my buddy Norm Kelsey would quote, quote and quote from the episode the night before.  Well, that and screaming whenever any teacher said Pee-Wee’s secret word.  It’s a wonder we ever graduated.

All 22 first season episodes are here, starting with the hilarious pilot in which Dick has to tell some Revolutionary daughters that their forefathers enjoyed…ah, a little more than hospitality in the early days of the inn.  And it climaxes with one of my all time favorite shows, where Dick finds being “one of the guys” isn’t easy, especially when the guys are as incompetent as his friends turn out to be!

There are other examples of first year hijinks, including George’s belief that he saw a UFO, the strange twist on a tradition Christmas episode, and the ever-dishonest Kirk being forced into taking a lie detector test.  Hysterical stuff!  But most of all, who could ever forget the appearance of three loveable supporting characters in the second episode who would do anything for a buck?  They were supposed to be a one time shot, but the instant they strolled on screen and announced “Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and that’s my other brother Darryl”, something iconic was born, and audiences would want more and more.

The show would progress and change up a little bit over the years…Leslie would give away to her more vain and shallow cousin Stephanie (Julia Duffy, who makes one guest appearance here), and Kirk would sell his café to…well, I guess that’s a story for a later time.  But though the ingredients would change, the result was always comedy bliss, anchored by the ever-unflappable Bob Newhart, who can still do a one sided phone call better than anyone in the business.

Sadly, Tom Poston passed away recently, and Mary Frann left us far too young ten years ago (on my birthday, no less).  But what they brought to the show was both classic and classy, holding their comedy own with Bob and making for one of the greatest ensemble casts in the history of the sitcom.

So I dedicate this humble review to them…Tom and Mary will always be missed, but their creative spirit and their humor will live on forever in one of television’s funniest and most beloved shows.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for guest appearances by Ruth Gordon, Jerry Van Dyke (who was once considered for the role of George) and Daniel J. Travanti in the first season.

Video **

“Is your name Dick Loudon?”

“Yes…NO!”

Though it would switch to film in later years, the first season of Newhart was done on tape, and looks fine considering the limitations of the medium and the age of the show.  Nothing spectacular, but perfectly workable.

Audio **

“For your information, there is NOTHING under my hat.”

Likewise, the mono audio handles the minimal demands well, though I must say, Henry Mancini’s classic theme is always welcome in my home.

Features **

“It’s hell to be a guy, isn’t it, Dick?”

“It’s no picnic.”

The extras are all on the third disc, and they include three short featurettes on the Inn itself, the cast and the style of the show (dig those shoulder pads and sweaters), plus a longer one on the show which features new interviews with Bob Newhart, Julia Duffy, William Sanderson and others, including their touching tributes to the late Mary Frann and Tom Poston.

Summary:

The show ran for eight seasons before Bob himself decided it was time to wrap it up (with one of the funniest finales ever, but again, a tale for another day), but thanks to DVD, fans can continue to enjoy the mirth and mayhem that was Newhart.

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