Season three (1974-75) of The Bob Newhart Show is little more than a further refinement of the strides made in season two with a few additions. The show's regular characters duly established, this season sees some interesting additions but mostly further explores its cast of eccentrics, characters not limited to psychologist Bob Hartley's group therapy sessions.
As in the previous year, The Bob Newhart Show divides its time between the floor of Dr. Hartley's Chicago-based medical building, whose tenants include self-absorbed dentist Jerry (Peter Bonerz), and acerbic man-hungry secretary Carol (Marcia Wallace). Bob's high-maintenance patients meanwhile include milquetoast Mr. Peterson (John Fiedler), grandmotherly Mrs. Bakerman (Floria Friebus), and sardonically petulant Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley). Sadly missing is combative Mr. Gianelli (Noam Pitlik), though the character turns up in the first third season show in the form of Daniel J. Travanti. Howard Hessman and Lucien Scott also show up as new patients in several shows. Other guest stars this season include John Anderson, Edward Winter, Barnard Hughes, Martha Scott, Ann Rutherford, John Randolph (returning as Emily's father), Bill Quinn (Newhart's real-life father-in-law), Fred Willard, and Mike Henry.
The big changes this year, such as they are, happen at Bob's apartment, which he shares with school teacher wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). Perhaps acknowledging her equal status in the household, new opening titles have, in a neat twist, Bob welcoming Emily home from work - he gets home before she does. The other change concerns babe-in-the-woods airline pilot Howard (Bill Daily), the Hartley's neighbor and closest friend, a divorcee who begins a serious relationship with Bob's sister, Ellen (Pat Finley), a fact that Bob is not exactly comfortable with.
Some of the best shows of the season revolve around this crisis, peaking with "Sorry, Wrong Mother," in which Howard's son, Howie (Moosie Drier), has trouble adjusting to his father's new girlfriend. One terrific scene is set in an ice cream parlor obviously modeled after Farrell's, a '70s dessert icon whose raucous atmosphere of player pianos, wailing sirens, and obnoxious straw-hatted waiters writer Charlotte Brown mercilessly, hilariously satirizes. (John Ritter guest stars as one particularly grating employee.)
Most of the 24 shows this season were written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, Jerry Mayer, and Charlotte Brown, and directed by MTM veterans Alan Rafkin, Jay Sandrich, George Tyne, and actor-turning-director Peter Bonerz (making him the second TV dentist to become a prolific sitcom director). Kudos to whoever came up with the titles of the last three shows: "Emily Hits the Ceiling," "Bob Hits the Ceiling," and "The Ceiling Hits Bob."
Video & Audio
The Bob Newhart Show is presented in its original full-frame format, but the image, once again is a big disappoint. Though the shows were shot on film and are presented here unedited and not time-compressed, they appear to be drawn from very old masters that look grainy and washed-out. Episodes are spread across three double-sided discs, with four episodes per side. An alternate Spanish audio track is available, along with Spanish and English subtitles.
Included are five audio commentary tracks, featuring Newhart ("The Ceiling Hits Bob"), Newhart and Peter Bonerz ("Battle of the Groups," "Sorry, Wrong Mother"), Newhart and Fred Willard ("Tobin's Back in Town"), and Newhart and director James Burrows ("The Way We Weren't").
What's labeled only as "Featurette" runs nine minutes and includes an amusing interview with Newhart talking about the season, acknowledging the writing staff ("The writers were king, as they should have been") and up-and-coming actors. He also does an uncanny imitation of Buddy Hackett, who acted as matchmaker to his wife of more than 40 years.
For fans of The Bob Newhart Show, this is a no-brainer, while those less familiar with the program will want to sample a few shows, then perhaps work their way through starting with Season 1. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.