Friday, February 01, 2008

Oldhart

I got a review copy of the new Newhart season 1 DVD; I've only skimmed through the featurettes, which inevitably seem to gloss over the problem that the first season cast is so different from the cast most of us remember, but I've mostly checked for cuts. The good news is that none of the episodes are short syndication cuts. The bad news is that at least one episode appears to be cut: the episode where a washed-up comedian visits the hotel runs a minute shorter than the others, and has an abrupt cut just before his performance. I don't remember what happened in the episode, but I'm assuming that somebody played a song before he started his act and it's not there any more.

Still, most of the episodes appear to be uncut so it's worth picking up if you like the first season. I used to like it better than I do, but watching it again I found it rather dull. The scripts try to be low-key, realistic and with a certain amount of heart -- none of which really works with Bob Newhart's kind of humor. He works best in a more surreal atmosphere, which is why the two episodes with Larry, Darryl and Darryl are better than most of the others. It's odd, because Newhart's first show had started out more realistic and and gradually got better as it got weirder. Yet the writers of the new show seemed to make exactly the same mistake starting out, surrounding Newhart with mostly bland characters and bland situations and giving him very little to react to. (The exception was Steven Kampmann as Kirk, but while Kampmann was very funny he was, again, kind of a realistic and pathetic character, not the kind of weirdo who could make Newhart angry or bemused.) As the show went on they made the situations more bizarre and got Newhart angrier and angrier until by the end his seething repressed rage became the focal point of every episode.

Also, Bob Newhart was absolutely right to insist on the show switching from tape to film for its second (and much improved) season. He really doesn't come off well on tape. I don't know why, but it might be that tape seems to demand faster and louder comedy and film is better suited to Newhart's style.

I would like to recommend this as a down payment on the good re-tooled seasons, starting with season 2. But to be honest, I don't believe that we'll ever get the later seasons, given Fox's track record.

1 comment:

Mike Tennant said...

The progression from somewhat sane to weird, with a focus on the central character's rage at his weird surroundings, also took place on Green Acres. That show started out as a more run-of-the-mill rural sitcom with some oddball characters and got more bizarre as time went on, with Oliver Douglas becoming increasingly temperamental and all the other characters referring to him as a hothead. The stranger it got, and the angrier Oliver got, the better the show was.