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Another Superb Installment of NewsRadio
on April 30, 2006
The 1990s were a notoriously bad decade for sitcoms. Hundreds of Seinfeld- and Wayans-wannabes flooded the airwaves and, in general, aside from Seinfeld and Sports Night, few had any originality or staying power. NewsRadio is a glorious exception, a bright and occasionally very biting comedy about the workplace which is kindred to Mary Tyler Moore and Newhart more so than to Just Shoot Me. NewsRadio's laughs came from brilliant observations, recurring gags, well-defined characters and logical but wacky plotlines. It was close in vein to Seinfeld's unsentimentality, but far more vicious: one example is in season 3's Daydream episode, for those who saw it, has all the characters experiencing revealing daydreams. It features a vendor whose dream is to be one of the "gang" at WNYX, but as it turns out is hardly known and barely tolerated. NewsRadio invests more in its characters than do most dramas, and never settles for the half-assed laugh-track banality of its contemporaries. This is why it developed such a following, even if it was a very small percentage of the population.
The fourth season of NewsRadio is once again a triumph. With every season, the show kept building upon itself and getting better. There were notable guest appearances: Jon Lovitz has another guest appearance, this time as a suicide jumper exactly one year before joining the cast. Additionally, a pre-Gilmore Girls Lauren Graham begins a stint in this season as an efficiency expert. There were some departures as well: first, Khandi Alexander left the show, despite the fact that her initially poorly-written character had improved a great deal; and, of course, Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife after this season. The knowledge of this invariably tints the experience of watching this season. Nevertheless, these episodes show Hartman at his imperious best: taking over the office (in Who's the Boss?), getting a butler (in The Secret of Management), and becoming a Bob Roberts-type performer (in The Public Domain). Other highlights: Matthew (Andy Dick) gets fired, Dave (Dave Foley) and Lisa (Maura Tierney) split again and then switch jobs, and then switch again. This doesn't stop Lisa from trying to pick the brain of the station's owner, Mr. James (Stephen Root), with hilarious results. I could go on, but ultimately, this is a sitcom that is better enjoyed the less you know going in. Even so, it rewards multiple viewings, which is surprising since many sitcoms don't even reward single viewings. With the release of this show on DVD, it will likely become more popular than ever, and hopefully take its rightful place in the pantheon of great comedy.