THE DOCTOR IS BACK IN!
Bob Newhart and his eccentric cast of crazy friends are back in Season Four of The Bob Newhart Show, one of the best-loved TV comedies of all time. Newhart returns as psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley, who works with neurotic, obsessive, compulsive and just plain nutty folks every day, and those are just his friends and neighbors...wait 'til you meet his patients! Whether Bob is switching roles with his wife Emily to avoid a middle-age crisis, or hosting a booze-soaked Thanksgiving party, The Bob Newhart Show has your prescription for classic comedy. Time for a laugh-therapy sessionDoctor's orders!
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" was clearly comedian Bob Newhart and company's motto during the fourth season (1975-76) of The Bob Newhart Show, all 24 episodes of which are preserved in this three-disc set. Even with the show's ratings dipping somewhat, there's no shark-jumping going on here; Newhart and producers Jay Tarses and Tom Patchett clearly understood what made this show tick, and notwithstanding a little tinkering, they stuck with it. "It," of course, largely depended on Newhart himself. A brilliant reactor, he continues to bring his array of deadpan takes and brilliant, understated timing to the part of Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley, who's surrounded by the usual group of family (primarily Suzanne Pleshette as wife Emily), friends (Peter Bonerz as best bud Jerry Robinson), neighbors (Bill Daily as the tactless Howard Borden), staff (Marcia Wallace is always a riot as receptionist Carol Kester), patients (Jack Riley is the standout as the neurotic Mr. Carlin, but they're all good), and various guest stars (including Rene Auberjonois, Tom Poston, and Lawrence Pressman). Carol gets married a few episodes in, and Emily is promoted to vice-principal at her school, but these are largely cosmetic changes that do little to alter the series' overall tone.
Aside from Newhart himself, props are due to the writers. As always, The Bob Newhart Show's humor is mostly low-key, with none of the raunch, tasteless sexual innuendo, and flamboyant idiocy of today's sit-coms. What's more, subjects as serious as death ("The Longest Good-bye" and "Death of a Fruitman"), obesity ("Heavyweights," in which Bob presides over a workshop for "people of the hefty persuasion"), professional ethics ("Who is Mr. X?"), and jealousy on the job ("A Matter of Vice-Principal") are broached without ever becoming sententious or heavy-handed. Of course, three decades after the fact, some things will seem a little dated: the clothes are cringe-worthy, and it's hard to imagine anyone these days getting away with describing Beirut as a place where "everybody looks like Danny Thomas." Still, Newhart's show remains one of the best of the several great sit-coms that emerged in the '70s. Bonus features include commentary (by Newhart and others) on five episodes, a gag reel, and a featurette. --Sam Graham