Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hi, Bob

We've been watching the first couple seasons of The Bob Newhart Show on DVD. I was alive for the show and remember bits and pieces of it from my childhood, but I never understood what made it funny. And it really was a funny show, now making me laugh out loud regularly while watching it. (Hogan's Heroes, another old sitcom that I enjoy, rarely makes me laugh out loud.)

What TBNS had was something missing from a lot of TV today: timing. Often, if the lines that make me laugh are lifted out of context, they're not funny at all. It's the way in which they're delivered, who delivers them, and when that makes me laugh. It's a subtle show, unlike MASH which had all the subtlety of a Sherman (Potter) tank. And Bob Newhart himself is the king of subtle; even on TV, you still have to use your imagination to enjoy the character of Dr. Robert Hartley, Ph.D.

The casting was so well done, with kind-hearted Bill Daily (Howard, the navigator) and Pete Bonerz (Jerry, the orthodontist) having the incredible knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. As Carol the secretary administrative assistant, Marcia Wallace pushed back the stereotypes of her position, with hilarious results. Then there's the independent-minded but incredibly devoted Emily, Bob's wife as played by Suzanne Pleshette. (Or, should I say, there was. We started watching TBNS maybe a week before Pleshette's death at age 70 from lung cancer.) Not to mention Bob's nutty therapy group, his own Dream Team long before there was such a movie.

Like with his later series Newhart, TBNS shows me that sometimes, the rest of the world can be crazy-go-nuts, and only Bob--and me as the viewer--are sane. Things that should never be said, are. People show up exactly when they shouldn't (how many meals does Howard owe the Hartleys, anyway?). And the unexpected is to be expected . . . but never overdone.

Finally, I enjoy how TBNS showed the changing roles of men and women in the early and mid-70s. How often would a male next-door neighbor chat alone with, say, Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show? Well, Howard never thought anything of confiding in Emily. Bob is also depicted as having to deal with numerous women clients, a couple of whom fall for him.

And in spite of all that, the only ones jumping into bed with each other are Bob and Emily . . . as they should. But they did so with subtlety, not the in-your-face blatantness that rules TV today.

I recommend buying, renting, or borrowing the TBNS DVDs. Unless you think CBS' current Monday night lineup is as good as TV comedy gets, you'll love seeing Bob and company for the second, or first, time.


Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

Your post brings back good memories of watching tv with my parents. We used to love the Bob Newhart show. He is a comedic genius. And your commentary is right on the money--funny, pushing boundaries, but still managing to stay "clean". Who would have ever thought that the 70's could be the "good old days"? *sigh* I really should get those DVDs.

Mom2BJM(Amy) said...

*raises hand* I too loved the Bob Newhart show.. He's a good guy. Have you read his book? Not sure if total autobiography? But I did check it out from the library.

Puffy said...

I used to love Bob Newhart's shows. I'd be interested in reading his bio. He and his wife used to appear on game shows, along with their good friends, Don Rickles and his wife.

Cygnus said...

Mom2: No, I haven't read his autobiography, but I bet it's a great read.

Puffy: Not surprisingly, Rickles was in the featurette on Bob's "Button-Down Concert" DVD, which we also borrowed. That was recorded in a historic theater in Pasadena.

Liz said...

I loved The Bob Newhart Show as a young girl, and loved the character of Emily, so much so that when my first daughter was born in 1989, I named her Emily after that character. At the time I had never met anyone named Emily before. Ironically, it became one of the most popular names for baby girls about 5 years later. Go figure.