Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios
781 min. (plus extras)/33 episodes/4 discs
Rated: Not Rated
Available April 3
Grade: 3 stars (out of 4)
Trivia time: What major television series included a mention of Comics Buyer’s Guide by the main character? (Answer: obvious.) In the episode “You Can’t Win,” protagonist Bob McKay (Bob Newhart) mentions the magazine at the annual Buster Awards ceremonies. Not only are the “Busters” clearly the Eisner Awards, but also the episode features such comics luminaries as Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Sergio Aragones, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Lee.
This, Bob Newhart’s third TV series — after The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, was a victory for comic-book fans as the plot revolved around a comic-book artist working at a comics publisher. It’s perhaps also fitting, and unfortunate, that this CBS series (1992-1993) underwent an alternate-reality-esque change after the first season. (See why I inserted the prior parenthetical?) But I digress. First, lets look at …
The first season comprises 25 of the episodes in this set. While not all of them shine, they are all fine and some of them are incredibly well done, memorable, and offer many moments of brilliance. The action revolves around two locations, both in Chicago: The McKay household, including Bob’s wife Kaye (Carlene Watkins), daughter Trisha (Cynthia Stevenson), and their cat Otto. Then there’s Ace Comics, the publishers of McKay’s comic book, Mad-Dog. At the beginning of the season, Bob leaves the greeting card company he’s worked at for 20 years to pursue his dream of once again publishing his comic book, which was cancelled decades before. Ace officemates Harlan (John Cygan), Chad (Timothy Fall), Albie (Andrew Bilgore), and Iris (Ruth Kobart) fill out the roster. All perform admirably, though Fall, in particular, stands out as the hormonally driven, borderline anarchist, and often clueless, fellow comics enthusiast. Comics-oriented nods abound, including the episode ”The Man Who Killed Mad-Dog,” about a zealous senator who, decades earlier, set out to prove that comics are destroying America’s youth; in turn, he’s the reason Mad-Dog died during publication the first time around. It’s all a clear reference to Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. In other episodes, for longtime Newhart fans, special appearances by Tom Poston and others are a treat. Altogether, the first season was great, and after watching it, I was bordering on giving this set a 3.5-star rating. Then …
The second season ran eight episodes before the show was cancelled. A key part of the problem appears to be the first three episodes of this season, which are dreadful. Nary a laugh or worthwhile plot point to be found. So, though the final quintet of shows are much better and very entertaining, the death knell had been rung. Prior to that, however, was a more notable issue that at the very least alienated the show’s fan base, if not altogether doing the show in. After a cliffhanger from season one in which Bob is fighting to keep Mad-Dog afloat in the wake of a corporate takeover, the second season opens with McKay acknowledging that the comic book was cancelled a month prior, the McKays live in a new home that they are accustomed to as if they’d lived there for years, their daughter no longer lives with them (and they act as though that’s been the norm for a long while) and is no longer dating anyone, and Bob is starting a new job at the greeting-card company he previously worked for. Outside of the three McKays and their cat, only one character from the first season appears at all, Buzz Loudermilk (Dick Martin). Even the style of the opening credits has been completely redone, and new theme music inserted. The first episode of this season briefly mentions Bob having left Mad-Dog behind, but that’s it. He takes over as president of the greeting card company and never looks back. The effect is very Twilight Zone-y and unwelcome. The addition of Betty White and Jere Burns is great, but the whole milieu just feels wrong. I think it would’ve been fine if the powers that be had simply incorporated White and Burns into the corporate takeover storyline and left the series focused on the comic book elements. (And, obviously, I’m biased on this point.) But that’s not how it worked out. Perhaps the ratings were too poor even before the end of the first season; given the drastic changes by season two, that would make sense.
The extras are interesting, especially for nostalgic reasons: Seeing the various interviews via John Tesh on Entertainment Tonight is smile-worthy. The only downside to the setup of this set is that there’s no “Play all” option; you have to individually play each episode.
So, all in all, only three of the 33 episodes are stinkers and most of the others are worthy entertainment, which is impressive. As a result, this is a solid set for Newhart fans and comics fans alike. Huzzah!
Ray Sidman is a former associate editor and longtime reviewer for Comics Buyer’s Guide. Read his reviews in CBG each month. You can read more Ray’s Reviews here.
(Image (c)2012 Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios)