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Saturday, January 18, 2014

'Newhart' S2 DVD: 2013 Emmy Winner Bob Newhart in Emmy-Worthy Eponymous Sitcom

Shout! Factory's February 11, 2014 DVD release of the second season of the '80s sitcom "Newhart" is EXACTLY why Unreal TV began life as "Shout Factory for Joy" before expanding the range of covered titles prompted the name change. 

The "Newhart" release is another example of the awesome folks at Shout! "rescuing" a terrific series after another distributor only releases one or two seasons on DVD. Shout!, which is releasing the third season of "Newhart" in April 2014, seeing this show through to the eighth season is a near certainty; this raises hope that this company will also adopt the Bea Arthur sitcom "Maude."

The simple but uber-awesomely executed premise of "Newhart" is that Newhart, who won his first-ever Emmy in September 2013, plays "how-to" book author and New Yorker Dick Loudon who relocates to rural Vermont to own and operate the Stratford Inn. Dick's loving wife Joanna joins him in the adventure.

The uber-WASPy Stephanie, who guest stars in a first-season episode, replaces her more likable cousin Leslie as the inn's maid in the second season premiere. This role leads to Stephanie portrayor Julia Duffy playing Suzanne Sugarbaker's cousin/replacement Alison Sugarbaker in "Newhart's" CBS Monday Night Line-up and Shout! neighbor "Designing Women."

"The Bob Newhart Show" frequent guest-star Tom Poston rounds out the Stratford crew as sweet and naive handyman George Uttley.

Newhart puts his dead-pan straight man persona to excellent use in episodes that largely have him get exasperated regarding the hilarious mayhem that Stephanie and George, the eccentric townsfolk, and wacky guests create.

A bonus regarding these episodes from 1983 and 1984 is that 95-percent of the situations, dialog, and even clothing is still timely today.

A bit of real world background is appropriate before further discussing "Newhart's" second season.

On a general level, any husband and wife who fulfills the same fantasy as the Loudons of jointly operating a New England inn knows that portraying that "Notchland" experience as being largely free of tears, recriminations, and at least serious discussion of divorce is almost as major (of course pun intended) a fantasy as finding a genie bottle on the beach.

Further, "Newhart" is clearly set in Strafford, Vermont. Like Stratford, this small town is roughly 20 minutes from Dartmouth College. However, the inn that is used for exterior shots of the Stratford Inn is more than 100 miles from Strafford and has a lobby that does not even closely resemble the Stratford lobby.

The description of the fictional Stratford and the exteriors shots of the main street in that town suggest that it is more akin to Woodstock, Vermont than Strafford. The fact that Stratford eatery "Barney's" is virtually identical to Woodstock institution "Bentley's" further supports that theory.

Returning to the primary topic at hand, the "very special" two-part second season premiere of "Newhart" features veteran actress Stella Stevens in an Emmy-worthy performance as veteran actress Erica Chase. Chase aggressively tries to "seal the deal" with Dick in more ways than one when they meet to discuss his writing her biography. This leads to a fall-on-the-floor funny resolution that demonstrates the awesomeness of this show.

Another early episode brings back first-season guest characters woodsman Larry and his two mostly mute brothers, both of whom are named Darryl. Fans know that this trio become regulars in the soon-to-be-released third season. The second-season episode has these boys sheltering Stephanie in their very crude cabin when she becomes lost in a storm.

The second season additionally introduces WASPy Micheal Harris, who Peter Scolari of "Bosom Buddies" plays. This character's first episode is a stand-out offering that mines humor that is exceptionally good even for "Newhart" from having Dick guest on a low-budget local television show that Michael produces.

The same fans who know that Larry, Darryl, and Darryl become the Urkel of "Newhart" also know that Michael's role greatly expands during that series' run.

Another group of episodes revolve around the romance between cafe owner/inn neighbor/jerk/chronic liar Kirk Devane and sweet clown Cindy. Kirk's rudeness and other hilarity during a dinner party that Kirk and Cindy host at the cafe is a second-season highlight.

Memorable second-season inn guests include a couple who repeatedly try sneaking out without paying and Stephanie's frenemy from the period in which that maid enjoyed "the lifestyles of the rich and famous." These characters, and the others folks who vacationed in Vermont, were funny because they were true.

The five pip "TripAdvisor" review of the 22 visits to the Stratford Inn between October 1983 and April 1984 is that each excursion is highly entertaining thanks to the antics of the maid and the handyman and how their boss reacts to those situations. Further, the simple life and basic (largely illogical) logic that the townsfolk embrace harken back to a kinder and gentler period in television history. All this is a nice reminder that good humor does not relay on strongly sexual plots or the "blue" language that often accompanies such stories.

This leads to recommending "Newhart" to anyone who wants good and relaxing escapism but cannot make it to the real-life Woodstock Inn.

Anyone with questions about "Newhart" or Vermont is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.