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Thursday, March 22, 2012

'Bob': Vintage Newhart

The 33-episode 1992-93 sitcom "Bob" has terrific elements that warrant diverting from reviewing Show Factory releases to discuss CBS Video's April 3, 1990, DVD release of the complete series. Just having Bob Newhart in the show is a bonus.

I can offer the endorsement of saying that I pre-ordered the set and was eagerly awaiting it before being offered a review copy.

My strongest memory of "Bob," is Newhart joking in an interview that his first series was "The Bob Newhart Show," his second series was "Newhart," and that his series after "Bob" would be titled "The."

The original premise of "Bob" is that Newhart's character, Bob McKay, is hired to revive the Mad Dog superhero comic book character that he created in the 1950s. The earlier incarnation only ran for 12 issues.

The second season retooling has the comic book folding for the second time and Newhart returning to work for a greeting card company after quitting that job in the pilot. Current queen of the AARP generation Betty White stars as his boss.

I did not watch any second-season episodes for this review. That season lasting eight episodes indicates that audiences did not embrace the new premise. 

The show makes excellent use of Newhart's talents. My fellow fans will enjoy the many instances of his trademark schtick of talking on the telephone. Newhart also follows his tradition of playing a dry witted stoic among eccentric misfits. 

Unlike Newhart's earlier shows, all the misfits are his co-workers. Twenty-something stoner grunge dude artist Chad with a great dark sensibility from the Mad Dog episodes is the most amusing of the lot.

Chad is also one of the many early 90s elements that make this show particularly entertaining 20 years later. Newhart's telephone schtick during the pilot includes his effort to learn to use call waiting.

Other bits of nostalgia include bulky cell phones and early generation p.c.s.

Other great humor comes from pairing Newhart with a very talented feline actor with whom I would have loved to share a saucer of milk. At least one scene each show has McKay interacting with Otto the cat. 

Two particularly hilarious bits have Otto locking McKay out by pushing the door closed behind him and McKay letting a herd of cats in by leaving the door open for Otto.

The show does not rise to the same level of excellence as Newhart's earlier series but still meets my "one more test." I think that four episodes in one sitting ad six in one day was my record.

I do ask that those who are new to the series not judge it by its pilot. McKay seems atypically hostile for a Newhart character, and he lacks rapport with his band of misfit co-workers in the pilot. This changes during the second episode, and the series becomes more of an ensemble show within a few episodes.