Judge Patrick Naugle, I'm afraid your time is up for this week.
Our reviews of The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete First Season (published May 11th, 2005), The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Second Season (published March 15th, 2006), The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Third Season (published May 15th, 2006), and The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 4th, 2006) are also available.
There has never been a comedian quite like the buttoned down, unflappable Bob Newhart. The quick witted yet stammering Newhart has carved a place for himself in television history with not one but two classic sitcoms, a feat that most actors never achieve. Before becoming a household name (and catchphrase with the eponymous "Hi Bob!" ), Newhart made numerous live recordings of his comedic material, then made the rounds on dozens of different programs including The Dean Martin Show, The Judy Garland Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. While it may sound like Newhart's pedigree is from a different era, he also was hip enough to have hosted The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 87 times (!), as well as guest host Saturday Night Live twice. For someone who didn't try to push the envelope, Newhart went far.
In 1972, Newhart gained his biggest exposure starring in the half hour sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. The show revolved around Dr. Bob Hartley (played by Newhart) and split time between his Chicago practice as a psychologist and his home life with his doting wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, Fate is the Hunter). Bob and Emily are surrounded by a cast of wacky characters, including Howard Borden (Bill Daily, I Dream of Jeannie), a bumbling airline pilot who loves to pop by for unexpected visits. At Dr. Hartley's office he has to contend with his goofy receptionist, Carol (Marcia Wallace, The Simpsons) and Jerry the orthodontist (Peter Bonerz, Catch-22) who shares a suite with Bob. Bob seems to spend most of his time with three specific patients: Elliot (Jack Riley, Spaceballs), a sour neurotic; Emil Peterson (John Fiedler, The Odd Couple), a timid Marine; and Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), who spends most of her time knitting on the couch.
The Bob Newhart Show was not revelatory. It didn't break any new ground or open the door for any amazing new shows. Even so, the show has become a benchmark in the history of sitcoms because it was just so well written and executed. Seething with Newhart's own simmering yet laid back attitude, it never felt like anything in particular except for these characters and their daily lives. That's what made The Bob Newhart Show so much fun. It also didn't hurt that there was room to have a lot of kooky people walk into Dr. Hartley's life and office (a degree is psychology is like an open invitation for a lot of odd people to suddenly appear in your life). The way Newhart handled the characters around his is what made the series so worthwhile.
The Bob Newhart Show featured a cast that seemed to find just the right balance between showing off their talents and letting their fellow castmates shine. That was truly one of the show's greatest feats. All five of the main characters had very distinct and funny personalities that tended to clash with Bob's, making for some great moments. Pleshette was just as talented with a zinger as Newhart was, often giving her soft spoken husband a heavy dose of loving sarcasm. Newhart's persona has always been very droll and deadpan, which means Bob plays the straight man to everyone else. Yet as straight men go, Newhart was one of the best. Some of his most amusing moments come in the form of nods to his original comedic material, where Newhart would have a conversation on the phone wherein the audience can only hear Bob's side. These moments provided the show with some very silly and amusing bits. Bill Daily and Peter Bonerz were both equally good as Bob's reluctant friends, each of them spending time with Bob basically because they were in his same vicinity. As the female leads, Pleshette and Wallace are written just as well as the men, slinging fast one liners at the rest of the actors…and mostly at Bob.
Watching Newhart interact is what makes The Bob Newhart Show really work. Witness Newhart attempt to impress a classroom full of kids at career day, following an impressive speech by a fire fighter with a fire ax ("ooooooh!"). As Newhart attempts to gain their attention, he bombs big time. Later Bob comes back to the school to impress the kids once again, and once again he's thwarted, this time by a fire alarm. On paper that doesn't sound very funny, but within the confines of the show it's hysterical. Like many comedies (Seinfeld springs immediately to mind), what made this one special wasn't anything tangible that you could read on paper but a magical quality that could only be seen once the camera was on.
Interestingly enough, these characters wouldn't completely disappear after the show ended in 1978. Over the years, various characters would pop up on other shows, most notably on Murphy Brown (both Wallace and Newhart reprise their roles), St. Elsewhere (Riley's neurotic patient), and even Newhart's own second sitcom Newhart (both Pleshette and Riley make cameos). In fact, the ending of Newhart is still considered the gold standard of series finales, with Dr. Hartley waking up beside his wife Emily from The Bob Newhart Show (played by Pleshette) and realizing the entire show was "only a dream."
Each of these 142 episodes spread across 18 DVDs are presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Shout! Factory has invested time and care into making sure the film elements look as good as they can, considering the show's age. Although the colors aren't overly impressive, the image retains a nice warm filmic look that give s a lot of pop to Hartley's home and office (which are draped in drab colors, appropriate for the time period). Overall, these episodes look very good and will thrill fans of the show. The Dolby 1.0 Mono mixes are appropriately supportive of the show, without much in the way of surround sounds or dynamic range. There are no alternate soundtracks available on this set.
Bonus features include various audience commentaries with Peter Bonerz, Fred Willard, Tom Poston, Jack Riley, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jim Burrows; a gag reel; an unaired pilot episode; a newly recorded sit down with Bob Newhart, Peter Bonerz, Jack Riley, Bill Daily, and Michael Zinberg; a 40-page booklet. Most significant is a full length 19th Anniversary reunion special from 1991 that features all of the main cast members (and even some supporting cast) returning for what is essentially a clip show featuring some of the best moments from The Bob Newhart Show. It's an odd piece since it technically has a story—all of the characters gather to celebrate Bob's 20th year in psychology—but it doesn't really give the cast a ton to do. Still, it's nice to see everyone together again one final time, and includes an ending that rivals that of Newhart's second sitcom.
The good news is that Shout Factory's release The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series is not a dream, which should make fans of the show dizzyingly elated.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
Review content copyright © 2014 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.