Bob Newhart is back as successful Chicago psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley in the third season of this hilarious '70s sitcom. As the good doctor continues working with his patients on their issues, he continues to be a "master of denial" concerning his own personal issues at home. But Bob is finally forced to accept the fact that he may have a problem or two when his obsessive-compulsive behavior and inferiority complex cause his self-doubt to soarand his patient list to shrink. Maybe it's finally time he took his wife's advice and scheduled a psychologist appointment of his own!
It's more of the same in this box set from the third season of The Bob Newhart Show. That's altogether a good thing, as the mid-'70s series (these 24 episodes, compiled on three discs, come from 1974-75) remains a model of restraint in a sea of sit-com overkill, then and now. What a pleasure, not to mention a relief, it is to watch a comedy that manages to be more than a frantic cavalcade of shrill one-liners, would-be witty repartee, and endless sexual innuendo. Not that the show (the first of his two long-running series; Newhart followed in 1982), isn't funny. As Bob Hartley, Newhart brings his usual repertoire of deadpan takes, mild physical shtick, and exquisite timing to the part of a sometimes reticent, often confused Chicago psychologist who's not a whole lot more comfortable in his own skin than some of his group therapy patients; it's his equanimity as a performer that keeps the character amusing without going over the top. And while the other roles (including the reliable Suzanne Pleshette as wife Emily, Peter Bonerz as bachelor orthodontist Jerry Robinson, and Bill Daily as neighbor Howard Borden) are also well-defined, this is genuinely an ensemble program, dependent more on the characters' interactions than on the storylines and gags. Without a doubt, some of it will seem dated; when Emily (Pat Finley) moves in with Howard across the hall, the buttoned-up Bob treats his thirtysomething sister as if she were his teenage daughter, a dynamic that will hardly ring true these days. But The Bob Newhart Show makes no effort whatsoever to be hip. Indeed, its very squareness (cf. Bob's ironic description of one of Emily's outfits as "boss threads") is a big part of its charm, as is the fact that this is first and foremost a show for grownups. Bonus features include commentary (by Newhart and others) on five episodes, as well as a "making of" featurette. Nothing special, but with well over ten hours of material, the set is still a bargain. --Sam Graham