While not exactly thought-provoking in a deeper sense, the mere mention of shows like "Mr. Belvedere" will likely result in anyone who grew up during the time period fondly remembering the kind of quality television that used to dominate prime-time. Although some shows from the time period certainly still get their share of pop culture references, it's too bad that some of the best of '80's ("Perfect Strangers", "Mr. Belvedere", "Coach", "Night Court"...or shows in a league of their own, like "Small Wonder" - which is apparently coming to DVD in 2010) TV feels as if it's starting to be forgotten. It's always fun to revisit these shows on DVD, but it's also a reminder of a mini golden age of network TV that occurred in the late '80's and early '90's that now seems long gone.
The series is based on the character created by Gwen Davenport, who was the focus of the 1947 novel "Belvedere" (and who was portrayed by Clifton Webb in the film "Sitting Pretty".) The series starred perfectly cast British actor Christopher Hewitt in the title role as the English butler who moves in with a middle class family in a Pittsburgh suburb.
The series certainly played off the culture clash/fish out of water situation between the prim and proper butler and his new family, but the series never relied upon that gag. Instead, the show was a heartfelt and sweet exploration of how the two sides came to understand and appreciate one another for who they are. The show was a wonderful balance of warmth and sharply funny humor, delivering one zinger of a one-liner after another. While the stories may be a little formulaic, they were well-written enough and the characters engaging enough to often be memorable years later. The show starred former baseball player and sportscaster Bob Uecker and Illene Graff as George and Marsha, the heads of a household that also includes children Heather (Tracy Wells), Kevin (Rob Stone) and Wesley (Brice Beckham).
There's a two-part episode in the third season where Mr. Belvedere breaks Wesley's trust and Wesley calls the INS to get Mr. Belvedere deported (Wesley on the phone: "Department of Immigration? I gotta big one for ya.") When he's able to return towards the end, he's asked about how he was able to get through immigration that quickly. Hewitt's simple, deadpan response is delivered wonderfully: "I took frontsies." A couple of decades later, I can look at the box before even putting the DVD in and see that episode title ("Deported") and remember first watching it like it was yesterday.
The series does veer into sappiness at times during some of the Very Special Episodes (such as "Pills", where Heather is busted using amphetamines), but there are certainly some classics to be found throughout this season, such as the previously mentioned "Deported", as well as "Reunion" (Mr. Belvedere accompanies George to his high school reunion), "Spelling Bee" (Wesley is slated to win the spelling bee until a girl from a rival class grabs his attention), "The Competition" (George's gloating over beating Kevin at arm wrestling is the start of a series of competitions) and "The Cadet" (Wesley is sent off to military school.) The series was actually canceled after this season, but managed to earn a renewal after the show's fans pressured the studio.
The performances are first-rate, with Hewitt delivering a delightfully smart and witty effort. He's a perfect match for Uecker, and while the two are obviously mismatched for the sake of comedy, there's something of a friendship that grows underneath the bickering. Beckham is also surprisingly good as Wesley, showing excellent comedic timing. Stone, Wells and Graff are also deliver consistently reliable performances.
"Mr. Belvedere" may not be Shakespeare, but the series - and many of its counterparts from the time period - tried to create stories that would stand the test of time, and in many instances, they succeeded. I haven't seen this show in ages, and fell in love all over again after sitting down to watch this DVD set. Sitcoms are comfort food, and '80's classics like "Mr. Belvedere" are still supremely satisfying when reheated on DVD.
3rd Season 1986
3- 1 26 Sep 86 Thief
3- 2 3 Oct 86 Grandma
3- 3 17 Oct 86 Debut
3- 4 24 Oct 86 Kevin's Date
3- 5 31 Oct 86 Halloween
3- 6 7 Nov 86 Deportation (1)
3- 7 14 Nov 86 Deportation (2)
3- 8 21 Nov 86 Reunion
3- 9 5 Dec 86 The Spelling Bee
3-10 12 Dec 86 Pills
3-11 9 Jan 87 College Bound
3-12 16 Jan 87 Inky
3-13 23 Jan 87 Jobless
3-14 30 Jan 87 The Ticket
3-15 6 Feb 87 The Crush
3-16 13 Feb 87 The Competition
3-17 20 Feb 87 The Cadet
3-18 27 Feb 87 Kevin's Older Woman
3-19 1 May 87 Separation
3-20 8 May 87 The Mogul
3-21 15 May 87 The Auction
VIDEO: Shout Factory presents "Mr. Belvedere" in 1.33:1 full-frame and the results are surprisingly good for a show of this age. While a lot of '80's shows look their age, "Belvedere" looks crisp and clean. While a little bit of shimmering and noise appears on a couple of occasions throughout, the elements are otherwise in tip-top shape. Colors look bright and natural, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: A commentary with Brice Beckham, Tracy Wells, Ilene Graff and Rob Stone is offered on: -Debut aka Close Call
-Kevin's Older Woman
The group certainly does have some pauses of silence throughout the tracks, but they mostly have a grand time chatting again about the series. Quite a few behind-the-scenes stories are shared and it's interesting to hear more about the now nearly 25-year-old production.
Final Thoughts: Sitcoms are comfort food, and '80's classics like "Mr. Belvedere" are still supremely satisfying when reheated on DVD. In fact, it's impressive how well this series stands up after all these years. The DVD set provides fine audio/video quality, as well as a good deal of supplements. Highly recommended.