DVD Review: Newhart (The Complete Fifth Season)

We all know the truth that sitcoms are taped inside soundstages in Hollywood in front of a live studio audience. Yet the best shows have the ability to make you feel like they’re in a real place enhanced with a laugh track. No matter my mood, when the opening credits of Newhart strike up, I can smell the crisp leaves of a picturesque fall in Vermont. The Stratford Inn becomes a mini-vacation escape from a long day and sanity. Newhart: The Complete Season Five is 24 trips to the perfect escape with Bob Newhart as your gracious host.

The season starts with Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) getting the heartbreaking news that his “Vermont Today” talkshow has been canceled. Strangely enough his crew already knows the news. They also know that Dick’s show is being spiced up with a co-hostess to attract an audience that was lured away by The Brady Brides. Dick gets to audition a trio of women that includes a ball busting Frances Conroy (American Horror Story). His producer Michael (Bosom Buddies’ Peter Scolari) picks the bubbly Julie Brown (Earth Girls Are Easy). Dick can’t stand them and their first remote has more friction than an episode of Live With Kelly and Michael. Making things worse for Michael is his girlfriend Stephanie has discovered Larry, Darryl and Darryl have named their latest pet after her. It’s an honor she’d rather not receive. “Camp Stephanie” has her attempt to pass on her guide to living to a bunch of girl scouts. But can she really take them camping in the dirty woods? “Dick the Kid” is a absurd masterpiece. While avoiding writing a book, Dick decides to run off to a ranch to be a cowboy. He read a book about being a cowboy several times. But he discovers the life of a modern cowboy has evolved. Can Dick tame the wild frontier? Among his bunkmates is Kurtwood Smith (Red on That ‘70s Show). “High Fidelity” has town tongues wagging when Joanna (Mary Frann) is spending a lot of time with another man while taking a wine tasting class. People are amazed that Dick isn’t jealous. But how far can he trust her in matters of the heart and vino?

“Thanksgiving for the Memories” starts with Dick eager to test out his new knives on Thanksgiving dinner. First he has to duck Larry, Darryl and Darryl’s invitation. Then he gets dragged along with Michael and Stephanie to Vanderkellen mansion to be a stick in the mud. But old man Vanderkellen won’t have a pouty guest. However the fun doesn’t last long and it’s up to Larry, Darryl and Darryl to save the holiday. “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid” makes Stephanie fear she’s about to get replaced. Which must also be a fear for her that she cares about the job. “Saturday In New York with George” has Dick take George (Tom Poston) to a bookish party in Manhattan. George is nervous at first, but Dick gets frustrated when his crowd can’t get enough of George. “It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To” has a 100th birthday party turn in a wake. “Fun with Dick and Joanna” has them doing their best to live for the moment. However this leads them into a place less hospitable than the Stratford. “Night Moves” feels like it should be the consequences of the previous episode. Dick has to go find a sofa to sleep on after Joanna tosses him out of the Inn. Who amongst the locals will take him in? “Much To Do Without Muffin” has Michael going with George to a Beaver Lodge party after Stephanie goes out of town. Can the TV producer relate to the locals? More importantl about this episode is an appearance from Russell Johnson, the Professor on Gilligan’s Island.

The more I revisit Newhart the deeper I connect with this little piece of faux-Vermont. The series had so many charms that were completely clicking at this point in the eight season run. Dick balances his life of book writer, hotel owner and talkshow host owner without looking too busy. George has his moments of clarity as well as bizarre moments. Michael and Stephanie are the most self-centered people on TV until the arrival of Donald Trump. Larry, Darryl and Darryl are able to just able to spice up episodes without becoming massively annoying. Newhart is one of the elite comedies in the ‘80s along with that other fictional place that feels so real Cheers. Newhart: The Complete Fifth Season captures the show as it embraced the joy and quirks of living in Vermont even if it was really a soundstage in Los Angeles.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was shot on film, but post produced on video. It brings out the rustic charms of the hotel. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The mix brings out the sly comedy of Newhart and the goofiness of Poston. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

No bonus features.

Shout! Factory presents Newhart: The Complete Fifth Season. Starring: Bob Newhart, Mary Frann, Tom Poston, Peter Scolari & Julia Duffy. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: May 10, 2016.

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