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Hearts Afire - The Complete First Season

Image // Unrated // August 2, 2005
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted August 15, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Series

Ah, good ol' John Ritter, one of the most beloved icons of my desperately geeky generation. Launched to stardom before our pre-pubescent eyes in the classic goofball sitcom Three's Company, Mr. Ritter would go on to a colorful TV & movie career that delighted his faithful fans ... before he suddenly, tragically died at the way-too-young age of 54. And for folks like me, it was one of the most shocking losses since the death of Phil Hartman.

I suspect it's the popularity of Mr. Ritter that inspired Image Entertainment to get their hands on Hearts Afire, a sitcom that ran from 1992 to 1995. This one came several years removed from the failed-yet-interesting Hooperman and quite a few years before 8 Simple Rules. Basically a very conventional sitcom about the colorful staff members of a goofball U.S. Senator, Hearts Afire proved popular enough to play for a full three seasons before heading off to cancelvania.

Front and center in Hearts Afire are Mr. Ritter as Senatorial aide John Hartman and Night Court's Markie Post as the high-maintenance press secretary Georgie Anne Lahti. Their gradually progressing romance gets most of the attention in Hearts Afire's initial season -- but producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (creator of Designing Women) was smart enough to fill the potentially tiresome premise with a heaping handful of colorful supporting characters.

While it's true that Ritter and Post strike a strong chemistry together, most of the show's yuks come from the background players; George Gaynes (best known as the clueless Commandant Lassard in the Police Academy flicks) steals just about every scene he's in, while the always lovable Ed Asner gets several great one-liners of his own.

Sitcom veteran Wendie Joe Sperber is frequently hilarious as Mavis, and her husband Billy Bob is played by, you guessed it, Billy Bob Thornton himself -- a few years before he became a movie star and proving that he's got a dry, droll delivery and some true comedy chops. At first Thornton's presence is a colorful novelty, but the guy's just pretty damn funny, period. Even the most predictable character in the ensemble, office bimbo Dee Dee Starr, is elevated by the sly comic timing of actress Beth Broderick.

And it's a damn good thing that Hearts Afire has such a superlative cast, because if you're judging this season of sitcomedy based solely on the plots, the dialogue, and the teleplay material -- well, let's just say this cast elevates the material with each new episode.

In only the first five episodes, we're treated to sequences in which: several grown men must share a bed, people invite relative strangers to "come live in the attic and work for me!," double-entendres best described as banal traipse around the room, and non-stop teasings of "when will they finally kiss?" Very much the textbook sitcom structure all the way, Hearts Afire is not particularly challenging or especially fresh where the writing is concerned -- with one notable exception.

Throughout the first season of Hearts Afire, you'll be treated to several scenes between John Ritter and Markie Post in which the actors throw rapid-fire banter at each other with appreciable skill. It's as if the writers decided they wanted to throw at least 15% of the "Moonlighting banter vibe" into their otherwise very vanilla sitcom. So while you're sitting through a fairly charming but ultimately drop-dead familiar sitcom concept, you'll be intermittently treated to a series of back & forth dialogue volleys that absolutely manage to transcend the generally inane plots and pre-fabricated scripts.

With a less likable cast, Hearts Afire would most likely prove to be a terminal chore. But then ... if it had a different cast, it probably wouldn't be hitting DVD any time soon. Fans of the late, great John Ritter should consider this a 4-disc set a solid treat. It's certainly nowhere near a classic sitcom (or even a particularly outstanding one), but it's got an admirable cast of clowns, and it's an ensemble that clearly works pretty well together. Much of what goes on in Hearts Afire is stock sitcom fodder of the most familiar sort, but what could have been a forgettable farce is given frequent sparks of life, thanks to the likes of Post, Gaynes, Asner, and (of course) good ol' John Ritter.

Handy-dandy disc inventories follow below, with plot synopses courtesy of the nifty little booklet that comes packaged with the DVDs.

Disc 1

#1 & #2 Bees Can Sting You, Watch Out (Parts 1 & 2) -- The new press secretary, sassy Georgie Anne Lahti, flirts with her conservative colleague, the newly divorced John Hartman. Strapped for cash, she ends up renting a room from him. (Original airdate: 9/14/92)

#3 The Big Date -- John and Georgie go out with other people - John with his boss' mistress, Dee Dee Star, and Georgie with movie star George Hamilton. (9/21/92)

#4 Three Men and a Bed -- All having trouble with their women, the Senator, Billy Bob and John wind up sharing a bed. (9/28/92)

#5 John's Stallion -- A visit from Georgie's father triggers chaos and drives John crazy. (10/5/92)

#6 First Time -- John and Georgie's romantic evening is interrupted by Elliot's escaped pet snake. (10/12/92)

Disc 2

#7 Significant Others -- Under the influence of a spicy Cajun dinner, John and Georgie escape to an office to "finish a speech" and are caught by a television crew. (10/26/92)

#8 Everybody Loves My Baby -- The guys decide to dress up as the Marvelettes for a staff talent show. (11/9/92)

#9 Conversations with My Shrink -- Georgie has dinner with an ex-boyfriend and comes to some realizations about her relationship with John. (11/16/92)

#10 The Fundamental Things Apply -- Mrs. Smithers threatens to tell The Washington Post about her husband's philandering ways ... and makes a move on John. Georgie has a little talk with Dee Dee. (11/23/92)

#11 Smithersgate -- Billy Bob and John suspect that Georgie might by the office mole. To find out, the men set a trap, claiming that the Senator was involved in a murder scheme. (11/30/92)

#12 Everyday's a Holiday -- The gang piles into Adam's Winnebago to go to New York, but when the Winnie stalls, everyone is forced to spend Christmas in the camper. (12/14/92)

Disc 3

#13 While the Thomasons Slept -- During a tour of the White House, Elliot swipes a private phone book from the Oval Office and calls the President of Egypt. (12/21/92)

#14 Trivial Pursuit -- To settle an argument, the gang piles into the car to determine what types of columns Monticello has and ends up staying at a house straight out of Psycho. (1/4/93)

#15 Never Play Touch Football with the Kennedys -- The Senator asks Georgie and John to write a speech for him, setting off a battle of the egos. (1/11/93)

#16 Miss Starr Date's Georgie Anne's Pop -- The Senator's inauguration is coming up, and George offers to escort Dee Dee to the ball. Meanwhile, Billy Bob must learn to waltz. (1/18/93)

#17 While the Thomasons Slept in the Lincoln Bedroom -- An attractive female Senator moves next door to Senator's office. Miffed, Georgie encourages John to date her, but jealousy flares when she sees him with another woman. (2/1/93)

#18 Her Year with Fidel -- Dee Dee runs across an old article asking how Georgie got to the top in her journalism career. When John questions Georgie as well, a rift drives the couple apart. (2/8/93)

Disc 4

#19 & #20 Cold Feet (Parts 1 & 2) -- When Billy Bob and Mavis decide to renew their wedding vows, Georgie and John also plan to tie the knot. The gang ends up at the Brighton Inn ... where things don't go exactly as planned. (2/22/93)

#21 Take My Senate, Please -- Dee Dee plans a big surprise birthday for the Senator and includes a little personal surprise of her own, with disastrous repercussions. (3/1/93)

#22 Flamingo Summer -- Writing a romance novel to pay off a large debt, Georgie is stricken with the mumps and can't meet the publishing deadline. So John, Billy Bob and Dee Dee volunteer to finish the book. (3/15/93)

#23 Class Reunion -- Billy Bob is set up with an older woman, and John tries to impress the school stud by showing off Georgie, who teaches him a lesson. (3/22/93)

The DVD

Video: The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen format, and the picture quality is ... meh, not bad. Images look soft, flat, and vaguely fuzzy on occasion, but we're talking about a 12-year-old b-level sitcom here. Either way, the episodes look a lot better here than they would as reruns on the Lifetime Channel, so the fans should find be happy with the end result.

Audio: A perfectly adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track.

Extras: On disc 4 you'll find a 27-minute featurette entitled Bloopers, Outtakes and Montages, which is precisely what it sounds like. And there's also a cool little fold-out booklet included, which gives you some cursory info on each of the first season's episodes.

Final Thoughts

It sure isn't high art, and I doubt it's even a series that many people remember all that fondly ... but even a so-so sitcom with this sort of cast is probably worth a look or two. (Like I said, who doesn't love John Ritter, the adorable Markie Post, and Billy Bob Thornton as a wisecracking sidekick?) Plus it's a series that I never watched when it was on TV, so this 4-disc set acted as a welcome visit from a favorite old goofball who left us way too early.

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