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Hearts Afire - The Complete Third Season
(For those who'd rather not be bothered clicking over to my S1 or S2 review of Hearts Afire, I'll offer a reprint right now.)
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 Ritter's 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. (Well, they worked for a senator in the first season, anyway...)
Front and center in Hearts Afire are Mr. Ritter as John Hartman and Night Court's Markie Post as Georgie Anne Lahti. Season 3 opens with our lovers happily married, saddled with a new baby, and puttering away at their little newspaper.
And here's one of the second (and third) season's big missteps: Gone were S1 stalwarts like George Gaynes, Ed Asner, Beth Broderick, and Wendie Jo Sperber -- and in their place was Leslie Jordan and Conchata Ferrell. So right there you're losing a lot of comic steam. Fortunately, Ritter, Post, and Billy Bob Thornton were still around to dish the punchlines.
Also somewhat annoying is the show's change of scenery. When Hearts Afire began, John and Georgie were bickering politicos who eventually fell in love. For seasons 2 & 3, the whole series got up and moved back to the sticks so "the gang" (Ritter, Post, Thornton, and the kids) could run their very own newspaper. But I suppose the producers knew that the actors were the draw and not the setting. (On the other hand, the show's third season was also its last.) Still, season one's the best, period.
And it's a damn good thing that Hearts Afire has such a decent 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. (Only in seasons 2 & 3, the cast just isn't as strong!)
Much like the first two go-rounds, Hearts Afire's third season treats you 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.
If you harbor a strong affection for John Ritter and/or Markie post, or you just want to see what Billy Bob Thornton looks like on a weekly sitcom, you could do worse than to check out Hearts Afire's third season ... but if you're new to the show, start with Season 1 -- and then stop.
Handy-dandy disc inventories follow below, with plot synopses courtesy of the nifty little booklet that comes packaged with the DVDs.
Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby -- After Georgie gives birth to Amelia Rose, the baby's big ears convince John that his daughter was switched with a circus family newborn. (Original airdate: 09/24/94)
The Virgin Lonnie -- Brenda Swain has the hots for Lonnie, who reveals to his friends that he's a virgin and is uncertain how to proceed, reaping lots of conflicting advice. (10/01/94)
It's My Party -- When Georgie throws a big surprise party for John against his wishes, it turns out to be a huge disaster and sparks a major fight. (10/08/94)
The Sock-Her Boys -- When the boys start talking trash about the girls, Georgie's all-girl soccer team challenges the boys' team to battle it out on the field. (10/15/94)
Birth of a Donation -- When Madeline decides to have a baby, she puts an ad for a sperm donor in the newspaper and enlists the aid of John, Georgie and Billy Bob to interview the candidates. (10/22/94)
Fat Like Me -- Georgie dons a fat suit to go undercover in researching an article about discrimination against fat people. (10/29/94)
Born to Dance -- When Elliot is ridiculed for taking ballet lessons, John dons a leotard himself and plays a tree in Elliot's recital. (11/26/94)
Pros and Condoms -- When John and Georgie square off about condom distribution in high school, John goes from principal's pet to student body hero after a bizarre traffic accident. (12/03/94)
The Perfect Christmas -- Georgie's quest for the perfect Christmas tree lands John in the hospital on Christmas Eve. (12/10/94)
Help Wanted -- Billy Bob's discomfort around overfriendly new receptionist Lu proves to be well-founded when he spots her on the TV show America's Most Wanted. (01/11/95)
Mrs. Hartman, Mrs. Hartman -- When John's ex-wife visits, Georgie encourages John to bury the hatchet. But two wives prove to be more than enough for John... (01/18/95)
Group Therapy -- When close working and living conditions begin to take their toll, the group agrees to weekly therapy sessions. (01/25/95)
John and Georgie's Not-So-Excellent Adventure -- On a getaway to New York City, John gets ignored and insulted when Georgie's friends take over the weekend. (02/01/95)
The Outsider -- When the local library is closed due to budget cuts, Georgie stages a sit-in to keep it open. (unaired)
Video: As with the previous seasons, 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.
Season 2 was a big step down from season 1 ... and season 3 feels exactly like season 2. Fans of the lovable John Ritter should enjoy this third and final Hearts Afire season -- others need not apply.