Sony // 1995 // 659 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // February 8th, 2006
"I'm Bill McNeal. On crack. I like boys."
What happens when a writer and cast member from Saturday Night Live (Phil Hartman), a writer and cast member of The Kids in the Hall (Dave Foley), and a cast member of The Ben Stiller Show (Andy Dick) are put together to be part of a situation comedy? Find out what happens when they stop their old jobs and start new ones.
I don't know what it is about radio stations, and why they make such good backdrops for comedies, because in between NewsRadio and WKRP in Cincinnati, there are two shows filled with capable casts, resulting in amazing ensemble comedy. Consider the staff of WNYX-AM:
* Dave Nelson (Foley), news director and timid Wisconsin native.
* Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney, ER), the aspiring news coordinator who tries to take Dave's job and sex life, sometimes simultaneously.
* Bill McNeal (Hartman), the station's news anchor with a severely misguided notion about his influence and fame.
* Jimmy James (Stephen Root, Office Space), the somewhat clueless owner of the station and many other things he owns but doesn't know anything about.
* Matthew Brock (Dick), the station's chief mental case, who is a little more sensitive than most and borders on living as a shut-in.
* Catherine Miller (Khandi Alexander, CSI: Miami), Bill's more attractive and perhaps more talented female counterpart.
* Joe Garrelli (Joe Rogan, Fear Factor), the station's engineer who can build anything with some spare parts and duct tape, but is full of conspiracy theories.
* Beth (Vicki Lewis, Pushing Tin), the receptionist and semi-practicing nymphomaniac.
The 29 episodes that comprise Seasons One and Two are split out over three discs, with Season One's seven episode run (and the first three from Season Two) on the first disc, with the balance spread over discs two and three. The episodes are:
* "The Crisis"
* "Big Day"
* "Luncheon at the Waldorf"
* "Sweeps Week"
* "No, this is not Based Entirely on Julie's Life"
* "Goofy Ball"
* "Rat Funeral"
* "The Breakup"
* "The Shrink"
* "Bill's Autobiography"
* "The Cane"
* "Xmas Story"
* "Station Sale"
* "Bitch Session"
* "In Through the Out Door"
* "The Song Remains the Same"
* "Houses of the Holy"
* "Physical Graffiti"
* "Led Zeppelin"
* "Led Zeppelin II"
* "The Injury"
Short of taking up the next half-decade of your life with episode summaries for each of the 29 episodes that comprise Seasons One and Two, allow me to focus on several things from the show which are gems in an already brilliant pile:
"In Through the Out Door." Bill "counsels" Dave on an introductory speech he's to make on Bill's behalf at an awards dinner. Bill's advice has all the subtlety of a Marine drill instructor, and those scenes are amongst the best in the show. Matthew's urge to become "one of the boys" by learning how to gamble is another great story too, even if it means potentially losing on bets for two year old horse races or 20 year old heavyweight title fights.
"Smoking," where Bill tries to quit smoking and Dave, to help Bill get through it, tries to quit drinking coffee. "Where were you at 3 a.m. when I was watching Steel Magnolias and crying my eyes out?" If it doesn't show you how hard giving up nicotine and caffeine are, I don't know what will.
"Goofy Ball," where an episode of hot potato winds up being one of the funniest earliest impressions that the show came up with. You get Joe's craftiness (by making a homemade stun gun for Bill), Bill's egotism (thinking someone is stalking him), and Matthew's tendency to be a little effeminate.
"The Cane." Bill buys a cane, for use around the office, for no reason whatsoever. Seriously, go watch it for the concept alone. Moreover, any episode where Hartman was the show's prominent face (like "Bill's Autobiography," "Houses of the Holy," and, to a lesser extent, "Physical Graffiti") was usually an automatic home-run.
The romance, breakup and subsequent post-relationship feelings that Dave and Lisa had for one another seemed to be the only plotline that stayed alive during the show's five season run. It starts out very quirky, is full of passion for a brief period of time, until it dissolves as quickly as it started. They both managed to still work very well without a lot of awkwardness and a supportive staff who managed to sometimes distract them with various office personnel "issues." Dave and Lisa address an issue of trust over the course of a high-stakes game of poker in "Presence" where Jimmy gambles away Bill, and Bill's strange acceptance of that is hilarious.
There were some other running gags that were great as well. Watching Matthew pratfall in numerous different ways was always funny, and his mispronunciation of Joey Buttafuoco's name early on in the series helped set the tone of his character for the show. Joe's tendency to use very covert tactics -- like putting a camera inside a Star Wars action figure, or tracking whoever stole food he put in the office fridge -- in the most basic of areas was worth a chuckle or two. Jimmy's recurring urges to sell the station as part of meeting women for a prospective "wife search" were great. And of course, any show where the creators can use the names of the Led Zeppelin albums as episode titles can't be all bad either.
Perhaps NewsRadio played up to the Internet crowd back then, but it's hard to tell. When a show can reference Fame and The Silence of the Lambs over the course of one episode, the writing quality of the series was too hard to turn down. Rogan has mentioned in the past that after the show wrapped for the day, many would stay and get loaded, and the familial attitudes the cast had are easily transparent when you watch the show. The show is written for themselves, and that's the easiest way of obtaining critical success, in my humble mind.
Another thing that impressed me about the show was how the actors brought so much to the table. The interplay between Foley and Hartman was so dynamic, you were guaranteed a laugh in any scene they were in. This was regardless of the quality of the writing, which seemed to evolve nicely once creator Paul Simms (The Larry Sanders Show) and his writing staff found their groove. Dick's emergence as a capable supporting player became well known over the course of the show, and Tierney became a capable comedic actress in the same vein of a latter day Diane Keaton. The cast took to the stories very well and made them their own, resulting in some breakout stars as a result.
The initial release of NewsRadio was delayed for over a year to ensure that the proper attention was given to it. And aside from some filmographies and an on-set featurette (where it's discovered that Hartman auditioned for the Rod Roddy role on The Price is Right), the highlight of the supplemental material are commentaries with a mix of cast (the surviving ones) and crew that cover about two-thirds of the episodes of this set. The episode commentaries are very fun and yes, Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) was cast as the original Joe in the pilot, before he was let go. A lot of trivia is pointed out, and the cast and crew all recall fond memories of Hartman.
None. Zero. The only rebuttal witness is tragedy, as we were robbed of Hartman's genius way too soon, and hopefully he has taken a justifiable spot as perhaps the most versatile cast member in SNL history. Sorry Will.
Run, do not walk, to grab a copy of this hilarious sitcom featuring one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. If you refuse, you are insulting not only me, but yourself as well -- and of course, my cane.
Not guilty on all charges. The court is looking forward to Seasons Three and Four, and is happy to see these finally appear on store shelves.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 659 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Selected Episode Commentaries with Cast and Crew
* Gag Reel
* Epguides.com NewsRadio listing