by Kristin Battestella
Some of my favorite episodes of The Bob Newhart Show can be found in this 1973-74 sophomore year – which avoids any second season jinx with a continually sound, upscale, and impressive wit.
Bob Newhart's Doctor Robert Hartley is immediately thrust into the limelight for the Season Two premiere “The Last TV Show” when Bob and his therapy group neuroses and all are invited to appear on a talk show called 'Psychology in Action.' While the group is willing to take their insecurities to the airwaves, reluctant Bob doesn't want the publicity or stage fright to jeopardize the group's privacy and trust. Naturally, no one is watching because Gunsmoke is on, all their names are mistaken, their jokes fall flat, and the group decides they don't want to talk much after all. We know the situation will be awkward, but The Bob Newhart Show makes everything deliciously so and delivers some hilarious discomfort when Bob's wife Emily buys a four hundred year old antique bible – plus the solid oak stand – for $350 at a church auction in “Somebody Down Here Likes Me.” You can't take that kind of sale back, and Bob tiptoes all around the sophisticated banter when his advice causes a reverend to leave their church. Although this quitting minister plot also appears two years later on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and with the recently late John McMartin again on The Golden Girls, the guilt versus financial generosity leads to shrewd winks on religion and humorous self versus soul puns and sight gags. Divorce, women going back to school or joining the workforce, and modern liberation are tackled in “Have You Met Miss Dietz?” alongside competing singles, rival affections, and casual dating. The Bob Newhart Show ensemble tugs and pulls with lighthearted jealousy over the swinging lifestyle – not to mention the tension comes to a head at a painting party with Chinese food and Bob left covered in wet paint. In perhaps my favorite episode of The Bob Newhart Show, Bob's IQ results aren't what he hopes when Emily's number is higher than his in “Mister Emily Hartley.” Astute observations, deadpan zingers, marital resentment, and humbling role reversals accent excellent debates on whether such tests means anything, who's inferior, or who is talking down to whom. After all, a perfect marriage is supposed to be when the man has the higher IQ or when the couple's numbers are equal – but never when the wife's is higher!
The Hartleys try to have a paired down holiday for “I'm Dreaming of a Slight Christmas,” however Bob ends up stuck at the office with a rowdy party, fearful patients, and power outages. Rather than being an obligatory seasonal episode, fun retro holiday style tops off the witty traumas and exhausting results. On The Bob Newhart Show, there's time for individual spotlights giving the ensemble their moments among the group storylines and crisscrosses thrusting everyone together. Though perhaps tame today, subtle commentary on a man and woman alone in the same room, unmarried couples living together, and more progressive topics remain well balanced each half hour. Where recent sitcoms or dramedies shortchange stories with squeezed A, B, C plotting, “The Jobless Corps” combines breakfast fads, talking to plants, recession fears, and the energy crisis in one scene packed with deadpans and humorous dilemmas. What should Bob charge for his 'Out of Work Workshop' anyway? These are tight times pinching pennies sans paychecks with women having to dress fancy for job interviews, 65-year-old men pushed out of business, door to door salesmen jokes, and self-aware television writer cracks. Next door neighbor and navigator Howard Borden finds himself in Bob's workshop after an airline strike, leading to rare moments between just Howard and orthodontist Jerry Robinson. While there are common prison jokes in “Clink Shrink,” The Bob Newhart Show addresses crime and re-entering the workforce when a parolee has Bob questioning his distrusting expectations. Bob does his best to get over his standoffish judgments but wonders if progress can truly be made once he suspects an expensive VCR gift may be lifted. Late in the season Bob has to re-assess his own budget and finances in “Mind Your Own Business.” Compared to today's medical conglomerates, it's interesting to look back at a lone entity doctor not rolling in the dough but caught between a mid-century savings mentality and the subsequent yuppie spending. Instead of stock sitcom tropes with very special episodes ripped from the headlines, the characters on The Bob Newhart Show have relate-able issues still felt today – and the pride among men over budgeting down to the quarter remains timeless comedy.
He's a Korean War veteran with hidden dancing talents, and the 'almost gifted' Dr. Hartley uses his telephone punchlines in nearly every episode of The Bob Newhart Show. This is a man of science, a doctor of the mind, yet Bob's conflicted when his advice trumps a patient's spirituality and grateful his wife Emily really understands him and his predictable routine. For his annual physical and upcoming birthday in “Fit, Fat and Forty-One,” Bob's counting calories, avoiding temptations, and fearing a surprise party as great psychical gags reflect his hunger stress and guru fads. Of course, it's all overboard for a whopping eight pounds, and wow, put on a record on for that wild aerobics class! Our eponymous straight man is likewise unenthusiastic over a planned trip to Mexico and Emily's peak conception timing in “Backlash.” Fun physical shtick and psychosomatic possibilities add to the marital banter as Bob's back goes out – not to mention some melodramatic soap operas and one aggravated Emily. A snowbound Emily's funk also interferes with Bob's very specific habits in “I'm Okay, You're Okay, So What's Wrong?” He wants her to face her flying fears, but scheduling conflicts lead to a great dialogue based zest and a wonderful argumentative interplay. Bob objects to seeing a marriage counselor and his reluctance over some role reversal therapy leads to delightful turnabout zingers. Unfortunately, Bob can't call his laid back, popular in-laws by their first names when Emily parents Junior and Aggie Harrison (John Randolph, Ann Rutherford) visit from Seattle in “My Wife Belongs To Daddy.” He likes their sense of humor, yet even after over four years of marriage, Bob can't be outgoing and doesn't change who he is to impress his father-in-law. It's okay for Bob to be the quiet leading man, Emily works because she wants to so, and kids will come when they are ready – and this refreshingly honest give and take anchors The Bob Newhart Show.
Naturally, home and work colliding isn't as fun as The Hartleys thought it would be when Emily fills in for the vacationing Carol in the aptly named “Emily In For Carol.” Suzanne Pleshette's third grade schoolteacher certainly likes her long dresses, in particular a repeated long gray skirt, but that seventies style goes well with her lightweight one glass of wine and crying over Casablanca personality. “The Modernization of Emily,” however, has Emily feeling old when a former student is all grown up and Bob gets her a 32-speed blenderizer for their fifth anniversary. Despite fine winter get ups, scarves, and berets still fashionable today, Emily drastically updates her look with a groovy, funky image in a delightfully progressive episode about being true to oneself. The always disastrous matchmaker asks Bob if he wants her to be a good wife and lie or to just tell the truth, but Emily usually gets her way in their otherwise perfect marriage – save for Monday Night Football, that is. She rides horses and loves the daddy's girl outdoors, yet Emily enjoys being at home with Bob more than anything. Most of their conversations take place in the bedroom or around that shocking double bed, adding intimacy and honesty to the relationship without resorting to today's in your face steamy. When Emily battles influential parents and her principal by refusing to skip a student in the “A Matter of Principal” finale, Bob supports her even if it means losing her job. The little woman is supposed to bow down to her husband's authority and her principal's decision, but Emily stands up for her ethics and educational responsibilities against patriarchal pressure that doesn't consider her informed opinion – right on!
Not only does Peter Bonerz direct two episodes this season and later go on to helm more episodes of The Bob Newhart Show than any other director, but his selfish orthodontist Jerry Robinson is always ready with a boys night scheme or a bulky portable television to watch the football game. He likes his bow ties and hates his problematic giant display tooth, however its the unwilling Bob who ends up in hot water when Jerry drives the two to Peoria to see a blacked out Bears versus Packers game in “Motel.” Jerry lies his way into picking up some hookers at the bar and gets upset when Emily won't help him cover dating two girls at once, yet Bob often ends up in his chair when he needs things put in perspective. Jerry brings Bob up to the times, but his adoption history and lingering resentment come to a fist through the door head in “Oh, Brother” when his suave brother and competitive dental protege Raul Julia (The Addams Family) moves into the building and steals Jerry's patients. Some sitcoms tend to leave characters pigeon-holed in their place rather than breach a real world change, however “Confessions of an Orthodontist” addresses the awkwardness of professionalism versus friendship, romantic interference, infatuation, and the evolving nature of inner circle relationships – after all, Jerry thinks he is in love with Emily and goes to another psychologist instead of Bob. Yowzah! Of course, its Bill Daily as navigator neighbor Howard Borden who cooks and helps Emily around the house – or ends up substituting vodka and beef bullion for chicken and left with 'chicken shot.' Although he only appears in one or two scenes per episode to start the season, Howard brings The Hartleys leftovers from the plane and keeps a whiff of religion to save him from an air pocket at 30,000 feet. He's a golf klutz, loses a girl to Jerry, and turns 40 just as his ex-wife remarries a pilot in “Blues For Mr. Borden.” Howard is made more pathetic and bumbling – he's laid off briefly and replaced by a 1974 navigation computer, too – but its a humorous pity with water bed jokes for good measure. Pat Finley (The Rockford Files) as Bob's engaged sister Ellen and their mom Martha Scott visit in “A Love Story,” and Ellen abandons her five year romance when she meets the awkwardly smooth Howard. While Howard being protective of his sister last season seems forgotten and Ellen feels brought in just for some overprotective conflict for the childless Harlteys, more of Bob caught in the middle amid the charming relationship moves are to come in Season Three.
This season, Marcia Wallace's colorful receptionist Carol Kester dresses slightly more mature in some repeat but nonetheless swinging fashions. We know such goofy little moments are coming, but Carol always has a quip or some secretary humor and knows how to get a complicated coffee order correct. She moves fast where gentleman are concerned, vacations in Rome, and has a hidden tattoo removed. “Old Man Rivers” has her dating an older man, but surprisingly modern ageism discussions and peer pressures interfere with the relationship. Another romance hinders Carol's work and leads to a rift with Jerry in “By the Way... You're Fired,” but Larry Gelman as urologist Bernie Tupperman and the rest of the doctors in the building find they can't handle her duties and miss her basic office skills. Although retreading slightly from when Carol went out with Howard in Season One of The Bob Newhart Show, “T.S. Elliot” sees her trying to keep things casual with Jack Riley's clingy, lift wearing, dry cleaning his toupee Mr. Carlin. Fellow therapy patients John Fielder as timid Mr. Peterson, Renee Lippon as neurotic Michelle, Florida Friebus as aloof Mrs. Bakerman, and Noam Pitlik's grumpy Mr. Gianelli appear early and often while Lucien Scott later joins as cranky Mr. Vickers alongside WKRP in Cincinnati's Howard Hesseman as out of work television writer Craig Plager. In a wonderfully contemporary clash during “Mutiny On the Hartley,” the group even strikes out its own after a hesitant Bob raises his rates. Other guest stars include a young Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein) in two episodes, Shirley O'Hara as the absent minded temp secretary Debbie, Seinfeld's Uncle Leo Len Lesser, and Fonzie himself Henry Winkler. Future Who's the Boss alumni Katherine Helmond and Rhoda Gemignani go through a lot of tissues, too, and although often referred to, we only see Mariette Hartley (The Incredible Hulk) as divorced downstairs neighbor Marilyn once.
The always catchy and classy “Home to Emily” theme from Year One continues here, although several episodes have a shorter opening sequence or are missing the telephone greeting and full route home. I do also love the jazzed up end music but both miss the giant old television cameras, big headsets, wires, and phone cords everywhere yet am glad such hefty hassles have passed. The remote control clicker is huge, too, but say hey, record players, short hand, and telegrams! That reception area sure is blue, but at least The Hartleys have updated from carpet to hardwood floors. Some of the ladies' make up is dated, too, and those patterns – plaid pants, velvet jackets, print shirts, diagonal ties, orange polka dots. Enough! When not blinded by the inevitable seventies flair, little things are noticeably different on The Bob Newhart Show as well. Items are rearranged from episode to episode, there's no key for the office bathroom and then no wait the bathroom's locked, even Office Number 715 becomes 751. Of course, such fun to spot quibbles are probably thanks to these twenty-four half hour episodes airing out of production order. The volume on The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series is again uneven with loud music and low voices varying from scene to scene. Fortunately, there are several commentaries amid the Season Two discs and a short making of feature with Bob Newhart and show co-creator David Davis discussing the series' The Mary Tyler Moore Show roots and hitting its sophomore stride with a unique brand of understated, straight humor. But really, I still can't get over that giant coffee machine, however, I'd like to schedule a half hour plumber for $63! $3.99 lb for filet mignon? Take me to that grocery store. And Chinese takeout for $8.95? Yes please! Yet somehow, our eggs still hover around 89 cents, go figure.
Marathoning The Bob Newhart Show moves fast once you settle in for a weekend of progressive smarts and period pastiche. Fine writing and ensemble conversations remain interesting sitcom commentary or timely humor material without being in your face on the topical issues. For family friendly comedy and classic wit, The Bob Newhart Show Season Two provides comforting, nostalgic laughter and then some.