Newhart: The Complete First Season

Though it all but abandoned its first season format and characters in subsequent years, Newhart strikes a charming note here with endearing characters buzzing around the legendary comedian. Returning to television in 1982 after leaving The Bob Newhart Show on a high note some four years earlier, Newhart opted to play the laid-back New York instructional book writer Dick Loudon who, with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann), purchase and operate the Stratford Inn in a rural area of Vermont. The couple are surrounded by oddball characters, including well-adjusted heiress/aspiring Olympic skier/student Leslie Vanderkellen (Jennifer Holmes), who becomes the Inn’s maid, dim handyman George Utley (the endlessly funny Tom Poston), lascivious liar Kirk Devane (Steven Kampmann), who runs the failing, neighbouring Minuteman Café and, of course, Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad). There are famous parallels between his two sitcoms but Newhart initially plays Loudon as more of a helpless character mostly resigned to the weirdness around him, doing his best to run an Inn that seldom has guests. In the "Getting to the Heart of Newhart” featurette, Newhart himself suggests a more hands-off approach to this series, getting to work to read the writer’s scripts and simply opining, "This is funny!” Despite the chemistry of the cast, featurettes like "What a Cast!” oddly dwell on the future of the show, mostly ignoring season one to interview actors and actresses like Julia Duffy (Leslie’s spoiled sister Stephanie Vanderkellen), who essentially took over after Holmes (and Kampmann) were subsequently written out of the series. Other than touching tributes to the departed Frann and Poston, these features brush the show’s first year aside to show stills and clips of an altered Newhart that has nothing to do with its inaugural run. Again, it’s a shame, because there’s some excellent stuff in this very funny introduction to Newhart. Plus: Featurettes. (Fox)