Newhart: The Complete First Season – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Ever have the urge to flee the hustle and bustle of the big city and open up a bed and breakfast in a rustic location? You’ve seen the retirement commercials hyping that career transition. After six seasons of being a psychologist in Chicago, Bob Newhart shed his former persona to grab that dream. He became Dick Loudon, a writer of advice and travel books. He moved to a quaint part of Vermont and bought the historic Stratford Inn. He sold Joanna, his wife (Mary Frann), on the dream that they could take care of guests while he continued his writing career. Newhart was like Green Acres with fresh linens and maple syrup instead of a talking pig and dying corn.

On the surface Newhart doesn’t appear as cerebral as The Bob Newhart Show, but Bob still deals with clinical cases. The Inn’s handyman, George Utley (Tom Poston) is flighty in his approach to life. The owner of the Minuteman Cafe, Kirk Devane (Steven Kampmann) is a habitually liar and mooch. Larry, Darryl and Darryl are in their own world. There’s little stable ground beneath Bob’s Inn. Unlike his Second City patients, the Vermont citizens don’t come to Bob in hopes of gaining sanity. They also don’t pay him by the hour. His only sane contact is the Inn’s maid, Leslie Vanderkellen (Jennifer Holmes). Although she might be a little nutty since she’s a rich socialite slumming it behind an apron.

The first season of Newhart is prime entertainment as Bob adjusts to the strange ways of the New England community. “In the Beginning” kicks off the series with Bob showing his wife their future inside the dusty Colonial Inn. There’s a touch of Green Acres as the city slickers arrive in the rural world. Bob does not come close to the blind enthusiasm found in Oliver Wendell Douglas’ devotion to becoming a farmer. There’s no fife playing when Bob speaks about taking care of guests in the historic building. Joanna isn’t thrilled at the new life, but she’s game for being an innkeeper’s wife. The locals do think Bob is insane for trying to revive the place.

“Mrs. Newton’s Body Lies A’Mould’ring in the Grave” introduces the comic gold of Larry (William Sanderson), Darryl (Tony Papenfuss) and the Other Brother Darryl (John Voldstad). Bob discovers that in there’s a grave in the Stratford’s basement. The only people he can hire to remove the woman is a trio of backwoods brothers. No job is beneath them. Joanna discovers why the woman is buried in the basement and resists evicting their longtime guest. Bob didn’t have to deal with too many corpses in Chi-town. Joanna’s discomfort with life in Vermont explodes in “Shall We Gather at the River.” She doesn’t want to take part in a town tradition of a skating party on the day the river freezes over. Her worst fears come true during a skating disaster. When Bob attempts to make her feel more of a part of the community, it really goes wrong.

Kirk’s cafe shut down by the health inspector in “This Probably Is Condemned.” The first visit to the greasy spoon is truly stomach turning. The gang from the Stratford all pitch in to clean and repair the place. Kirk however keeps up his lazy, lying ways. He vanishes during the heavy work. Bob decides to lay down the law with Kirk. But can you really slap sense into a chronic cheat? “Some Are Born Writers, Others Have Writers Thrust Upon Them” is the gem of the season. Joanna invites a local couple to have dinner. The wife likes to write and dreams of going professional. Bob is forced to become her mentor. However the woman’s overeager husband thinks that she’ll be churning up the big bucks with Bob’s help. The family’s sense of optimism overwhelms the reality. The runner up for best of boxset is “Ricky Nelson, Up Your Nose.” Don’t read this title wrong. This does not have anything to do with the dead teen idol’s alleged drug issues. Turns out Kirk has to have surgery on his nose and needs someone to take care of the cafe. Bob refuses at first since he’s due at a writer’s conference. However he has to take over the grill when Kirk hires Larry, Darryl and Darryl to handle his special lunch rush. That’s all that needs to be said. You will be laughing as the hot meals are served.

Newhart could have easily been a rip-off of Green Acres or John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers. Bob could have merely transfered The Bob Newhart Show to the country. But Mary Frann was not a carbon copy of Suzanne Pleshette. Her Joanna was soothing to Bob as his frustrations rose. Emily was always ready to give Bob the business in Chicago. Bob brought a Vermont freshness to his new series to his supporting characters. He had the perfect comic foil in Tom Poston. The first season emphasized the button-down humor of Bob clashing with the laid back sensibilities of the locals. He didn’t want to change them. He merely wanted to understand their logic so he could be a good neighbor. This culture clash proved to be very successful since Newhart lasted eight seasons. The series reminded us that there’s nothing calm about early retirement to pursue that bed and breakfast dream. If the experience drives you to an early grave, they can bury you in the basement.

The Episodes

“In the Beginning…,” “Mrs. Newton’s Body Lies A’Mould’ring in the Grave,” “Hail to the Councilman,” “Shall We Gather at the River?,” “This Probably is Condemned,” “No Tigers at the Circus,” “The Perfect Match,” “Some are Born Writers…Others Have Writers Thrust Upon Them,” “No Room at the Inn,” “The Senator’s Wife Was Indiscreet,” “Sprained Dreams,” “The Way We Thought We Were,” “The Visitors,” “What is This Thing Called Lust?,” “Breakfast Theater,” “Ricky Nelson, Up Your Nose,” “A View from the Bench,” “The Boy Who Cried Goat,” “Heaven Knows Mr. Utley,” “You’re Homebody ’til Somebody Loves You,” “Grandma, What a Big Mouth You Have” and “I Enjoy Being a Guy.”

The image is 1.33:1 full screen. This was the only season of Newhart shot on videotape. The video transfer isn’t bad; but the lighting for the video cameras takes away the rustic charm of the set.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital Mono. Because it was shot on a soundstage with a studio audience, there’s a little echo in the mix. The levels are fine. The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.

Guess Who’s Coming to (Bed and) Breakfast? Strafford’s Inn-spiration (4:05) shows the real hotel that was used for the show’s establishing shots. Bob Newhart confesses that he’s yet to visit the actual Inn. Art director Tho. E. Azzari discusses the layout of the set. Learn the freakiness of photographing the green walls.

You Really Should Wear More Sweaters: Revisiting the Style of Newhart (3:48) deals with ‘80s fashions from Julia Duffy and Lisa Pharren, makeup artist. This show competed with Cosby for pushing the boundaries of massive sweaters.

Getting to the Heart of Newhart (18:14) is the formal history of the show. Bob talks about the transition from The Bob Newhart Show to Newhart. He discusses how the patients transformed into his guests. Prepared to be shocked as Larry and his Other Brother Darryl appear cleaned up and out of character. They pay tribute to Mary Fran and Tom Poston.

Newhart is like visiting a Bed and Breakfast. The relaxed charm and shaggy service from the non-professional staff plays perfectly on the screen. The comedy isn’t rushed. The first season is my favorite since later years focused way too much on Bob’s public access show. The only real complaint about Newhart is that we’re still missing seasons five and six of The Bob Newhart Show on DVD.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………


Fox Home Entertainment presents Newhart: The Complete First Season. Starring Bob Newhart, Mary Frann, Tom Poston & Steven Kampmann. Twenty two episodes on three single sided, dual layer DVDs. Running time: 546 minutes. Episodes originally broadcasted: Oct. 25, 1982 to April 10, 1983. Released on DVD: February 26, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.