Although "Family Guy"'s reliance on pop culture references can sometimes become a little tiring, rarely has it been as welcome as in one recent episode. In season 4's "Deep Throats", on a couple of occasions throughout the episode, Stewie screams the lyrics to the opening theme song of "Mr. Belvedere" in order to get everyone else in the room to be quiet so he could enjoy the show ("You know what else is fun? Watching 'Mr. Belvedere' without people talking so loud!")
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") 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 I appreciate so much more in hindsight, especially in comparison to most sitcom fare today.
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. The episodes all end with Mr. Belvedere writing in his journal about his experiences with the family - actual pen-to-paper writing. I can only imagine if the show took place today, with Mr. Belvedere trying to type his thoughts into a Blackberry.
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).
After the third season, the series had barely scraped by, earning another round of episodes after nearly being canceled by ABC. After appearing as if it wasn't going to come back for a fourth season, the network encountered fan protests and brought back the series. The fourth round of episodes is as enjoyable as ever - while the plots continue to be formula, the writing continues to be stellar and the performances highly entertaining.
In "Moonlighting", the family finds out that Mr. Belvedere has been working with another family in worse shape than the Owens family, who he believes he can get back on their feet. Wesley notes, "That's what you said about us three years ago!" Mr. Belvedere quips, "Yes...well, hopefully they'll take direction better than you." (In another episode, Wesley asks Mr. Belvedere if he was a snake, where would he hide. Mr. Belvedere cracks, "That's funny, I've often thought the same thing when looking for you.") When the family actually shapes up, they fall to pieces and demand Mr. Belvedere's return, leading to both of his worlds colliding. However, the end of the episode returns to the (genuinely) sweet, when Mr. Belvedere offers his reasoning for continuing to stay with the Owens family.
Once again, nearly all of the main characters have a few highlight episodes, such as "The Book", where Mr. Belvedere uses his journal writings that are seen in the final scene of each episode to craft a book, but the family is not pleased with the result (possibly a nod to "Sitting Pretty", the 1948 film that featured the Belvedere character.) Heather and Angela even get a two-parter, "The Trip", where they take an old man at the nursing home they work at on a trip to Atlantic City to cheer him up.
"Initiation" is one of the more amusing episodes of the season, as Kevin finds himself put through a series of humiliating tasks to join a sorority, although he eventually learns a lesson of his own - the episode also features Wesley trying an act with a talking dummy that looks an awful lot like Mr. Belvedere. George's highlight is "TV George", where George finds himself in a new gig as a sportscaster on the local TV station, but gets some surprising advice from the higher-ups. Finally, "Fall Guy" takes a look at a ruined pillow via multiple viewpoints, and is another solid episode from this excellent season.
The performances are once again first-rate, with Hewitt delivering a delightfully smart and witty effort, with phenomenal comedic timing. 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 once again this season.
"Mr. Belvedere" may not be high art, 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.
4- 1 30 Oct 87 Initiation
4- 2 6 Nov 87 TV George
4- 3 13 Nov 87 Triangle
4- 4 20 Nov 87 Marsha's Job
4- 5 27 Nov 87 Moonlighting
4- 6 4 Dec 87 The Wedding
4- 7 11 Dec 87 Fall Guy
4- 8 18 Dec 87 Christmas Story
4- 9 8 Jan 88 G.I. George
4-10 15 Jan 88 Kevin's Model
4-11 22 Jan 88 Commentary
4-12 29 Jan 88 The Diary
4-13 5 Feb 88 The Trip (1)
4-14 12 Feb 88 The Trip (2)
4-15 4 Mar 88 FoxTrot
4-16 11 Mar 88 Heather's Monk
4-17 18 Mar 88 Kevin Nightengale
4-18 25 Mar 88 The Apartment
4-19 29 Apr 88 Graduation
4-20 6 May 88 The Counselor
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: Surprisingly, only promos. Prior season sets have included commentaries and other extras.
Final Thoughts: Sitcoms are comfort food, and '80's classics like "Mr. Belvedere" are still supremely satisfying when reheated on DVD. The fourth season still sees the series consistently knocking out solid episodes, including several highlights. The DVD set provides fine audio/video quality, but minimal supplements. Highly recommended.