The Bob Newhart Show is the Newhart sitcom that most people seem to remember most fondly, but for me, it’s his second long-running series, Newhart, that really hits the spot. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the 1982-’90 CBS hit has been comparatively neglected over the years, never quite latching on in syndication the way its predecessor has and only seeing its first season released to DVD.
Given that Season One of Newhart arrived on DVD way back in 2008, it’s seemed reasonable to assume that subsequent sets were doomed to remain in limbo. But thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory, Newhart: The Complete Second Season is now here and ready to take its spot of honor in your home video library.
Watching these 22 episodes, it’s hard not to think about how differently TV shows tend to be handled now. While Newhart was certainly a known commodity in the early ’80s and Newhart was already an Emmy-nominated hit as it entered its second season, it’s easy to see the showrunners tinkering with the formula here — particularly over the first half of Season Two. The show’s basic structure never really changed — Newhart and Mary Frann played Dick and Joanna Loudon, owners of the Stratford Inn, a quaint bed-and-breakfast in rural Vermont — but in the beginning, it relied more on the inn’s guests for laughs, and it’s here that the relationships and writing patterns that would come to dominate Newhart‘s run start to take shape. These days, even star-led sitcoms tend not to have the luxury of that kind of time.
To begin with, Season Two’s two-part kickoff sees the full-time introduction of Julia Duffy as Stephanie Vanderkellen, the proudly shallow heiress who shows up at the Stratford after her sister Leslie (the Loudons’ maid in Season One) departs. Cut off by her family, she takes over for her sister — and nothing against Jennifer Holmes as Leslie, but Duffy was brilliant in the role, and Stephanie’s materialism allowed Newhart‘s writers to take some sharp jabs at ’80s yuppiedom that might otherwise have been out of bounds for a show taking place in a quiet Vermont inn.
Season Two also adds William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad as brothers Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, a trio of grubby (and two-thirds mute) backwoodsmen who first surfaced as Stephanie’s rescuers in the season’s seventh episode and quickly became obvious favorites of the writers (not to mention the fans), as well as Peter Scolari as Michael Harris, the local TV station manager who becomes Stephanie’s equally wealth-obsessed boyfriend (and a bane of Dick’s existence).
While new characters came in, others were on their way out — Kirk Devane, the doltish diner owner played by Steven Kampmann, spends Season Two searching for love, which he eventually finds with professional clown Cindy Parker (Rebecca York); their wedding, toward the end of the season, spelled the end of both actors’ tenure on the show. (Kirk’s diner was taken over by Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, which led to a lot of brilliant hygiene-related humor later in the series.)
As the cast shifted, so did the narrative; with the Stratford’s guests fading to the background (with the exception of a two-episode arc featuring Ernie Sabella as a guest with his marriage on the rocks), Newhart started relying more on Dick’s increasingly incredulous interactions with the local townfolk — a situation that wrung an occasionally uncomfortable amount of comedy out of small-town stereotypes, but also one that took full advantage of Newhart’s gifts as a straight man. While I’d argue that Newhart didn’t really hit its stride until its third, fourth, and fifth seasons, you can definitely see things starting to jell here; although Season Two’s first few episodes occasionally feel a little bumpy, overall, there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments.
Video quality is about what you’d expect from a set of shows that ran between 1983-’84, and there aren’t any special features — the triple-disc set is packed in a Viva case with relatively bare-bones artwork (although it does list the episodes’ original airdates, which is a definite plus for collectors). Given that the whole thing will cost you less than twenty bucks through Amazon, Newhart: The Complete Second Season offers just about everything a fan could ask for — and with Shout! already gearing up to release The Complete Third Season in April, the best is yet to come.
1. “It Happened One Afternoon (Part 1)” (23:31)
2. “It Happened One Afternoon (Part 2)” (24:34)
3. “Animal Attractions” (24:07)
4. “The Stratford Wives” (24:30)
5. “The Girl From Manhattan” (24:31)
6. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (24:18)
7. “Lady and the Tramps” (24:22)
8. “The Man Who Came Forever” (24:01)
9. “The Looks of Love” (24:29)
10. “Kirk Goes for the Juggler” (24:38)
11. “A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and POW” (24:29)
12. “Cats” (24:39)
13. “Curious George at the Firehouse” (23:50)
14. “Book Beat” (24:08)
15. “Kirk Pops the Question” (24:38)
16. “Best Friends” (24:11)
17. “Kirk Ties One On” (22:26)
18. “Go, Grandma, Go” (24:11)
19. “Leave it to the Beavers” (22:18)
20. “Vermont Today” (24:09)
21. “Send Her, Ella” (24:18)
22. “New Faces of 1951” (24:01)