Judge P.S. Colbert prefers audio comic books.
"You know, I'll always carry your love and support in my heart wherever I go…Boy, I got out of the greeting card business just in time, didn't I?"—Bob McKay
The third time proved charmless for Bob Newhart.
After scoring back-to-back sitcom smashes during the '70s (The Bob Newhart Show, 1972-78) and '80s (Newhart, 1982-90), the button-down comedian teamed up with CBS yet again, unveiling the highly-anticipated Bob in the fall of 1992. Newhart's latest alter ego is mild-mannered greeting card designer Bob McKay, who (much like psychologist Bob Hartley and inn-keeper Dick Loudon), struggles to keep his head when everyone about him seem to be losing theirs. Offering their support, whenever Bob grouses about the inane demands of his job, are his pretty young wife Kaye (Carlene Watkins, Best Of The West) and their adorably kooky adult daughter, Trisha (Cynthia Stevenson, Happiness).
Opportunity rings one afternoon when the owner of ACE Comic Books calls with an offer to buy the rights to Mad-Dog, the short-lived action hero birthed by Bob in younger, happier days. The company wants to start the series up again, with its creator back at the helm. The money being offered is apparently staggering, but most importantly, Bob is being afforded a second chance to live his dream. There is, of course, a catch: This time, Bob will be paired with Harlan Stone (John Cygan), a brash, hot-headed, and egomaniacal co-writer with plans to transform Mad-Dog into Bob's worst nightmare. The two go through a painful collaborative process in an airy studio space, loaded with wacky co-workers.
A big part of the problem with Bob is this over-population of supporting characters, all of whom are sorely underdeveloped. Illustrator Chad Pfefferle (Timothy Fall) has a modified "flock of seagulls" haircut, speaks in an exaggerated surfer-dude dialect, and seems perpetually stoned. He's weird! Office gofer Albie Lutz (Andrew Bilgore) wears glasses and sweaters. He's a nerd! Iris Frankel (Ruth Kobart) has been around forever, and never makes a comment that isn't nasty or insulting. She's extremely unpleasant and should have retired years ago! Not surprisingly, the office seems to have been sprayed with an invisible, odorless mist that renders everybody in it stupid.
There are some hilarious developments, like Bob's testimony before a senate committee in • "The Man Who Killed Mad Dog." There's also a gem of an episode ( "A Streetcar Named Congress Douglas") centered around a poker game featuring Newhart's real-life buddies Tom Poston (Mork and Mindy), Steve Lawrence (The Blues Brothers), Dick Martin (Laugh-In), and Bill Daily (I Dream of Jeannie). Tellingly, these examples come from episodes that venture beyond the strictures of the show's shallow, shop-worn format.
Season Two brings sweeping changes. Due to poor sales, Mad-Dog has gone, taking all Bob's wacky co-workers with him. Enter Betty White as Sylvia Schmidt, a watered-down version of her Sue Ann Nivens character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Bob gets a new house, a new workplace, and a new set of numbskulls to trade unfunny lines with. The revamped format lasted for eight episodes, which is eight episodes too many.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, the transfer showcases a number of jarring visual ticks. Combined with a serviceable Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix suggests someone at Paramount fished Bob from a trash bin. Extras include a DVD-ROM version of Mad-Dog Comics #1 (published by Marvel) and a couple of vintage Entertainment Tonight segments, presumably as a consolation prize for enduring all 33 episodes.
Bob Newhart is hands-down the industry's best reactionary comedian, possessing an impeccable sense of comic timing unlike anyone I've seen. His unassuming demeanor often masks a unique cunning that makes him one of a kind. Placing him in such a contrived and unimaginative setting as Bob is unforgivable. He deserves better, and so do you.
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