31 August 2016

Writers and Rural Horrors

Writers and Rural Horrors
by Kristin Battestella

Literary paranormals, writerly investigations, isolated forest frights, and wooded vacations gone awry – nature time and being an author don't bode well for the pen-wielding or the backpacking in these recent scarefests.

The Eclipse – Widower Ciarán Hinds (Game of Thrones) encounters a horror writer and ghosts in this surprisingly charming 2010 Irish tale. The accents or slang may be tough for some, however candlelit receptions and picturesque churches add an ethereal pleasantness to the town literary festival and talk of nearby haunted places. Celtic chorales, seaside isolation, ruined abbeys, graveyards, and rainstorms invoke an off-kilter, sleep with the lights on, in limbo feeling where the creepy is possible amid the real world bustle. Pretty greens and almost black and white visuals echo the metaphorical light and dark schemes – our single father lingers over pictures of his late wife while trying to mend his relationship with his ailing, in a home father-in-law. Are the scary dreams, voices in the night, and sleepwalking grief or something more? Is it just wishful thinking when jumping to a paranormal conclusion? Screams outside and unusual dog behaviors suggest something is really afoot, but what? Conversations sharing childhood ghost stories recall the supernatural as both terrifying and an intriguing curiosity, creating tender but eerie moments as visions of the dead and soon to be deceased mount. Are these premonitions or attachment to past happenings? Do we go about our lives with unseen spirits about all the time – or do we make up a ghostly connection to feel better? There can be closure and even writing inspiration with this mature blend of adult themes, but drunken bore and miserable hack Aidan Quinn (Elementary) adds romantic conflict as a rival author. Here men are allowed to be weak louses or have frank comfort in crying or sadness. There are several dark, driving transition scenes, however these lead to character revelations and dramatic plot builds. Such quiet and personal makes it all the more scary when perilous apparitions do jar the melancholy. Viewers can believe the spiritual line is blurred, and we have to decide whether to let it be, move on, or despair our dreams away. At times, the pace may seem slow or uneven – perhaps this should have been either a straight drama or more overt horror. Fortunately, the supernatural potential is heartfelt and realistic, making for a hopeful, lovely little film.

Sinister – Writer Ethan Hawke (Training Day) researches a local murder and missing child case in this 2012 supernatural thriller. While the punk tween son, whiny little girl, and unwelcoming sheriff are typical, old photos and authentic reel footage accent the testy banter, marital strain, and tense family dynamics. Finances hinge on this next book being a success, and their new house is realistically modest – save for the hanging tree in the backyard, of course. Ironically labeled Super 8 reels found in the attic feature pool drownings, lawn mower mishaps, fiery bound and gagged victims, and more murders through the decades and across the country. Who could be committing and filming these crimes? Should our desperate author turn over the snuff evidence or keep going deeper, drinking and obsessing over this scoop? The pulsing music is unnecessary, as are extra shocks, loud bangs, and breaks in character point of view just to call attention to the jump scare for the audience's benefit. Power outages and blackout scenes add to the ominous investigation, however the picture is often too dark to see anything. Child attacks, night terrors, creaking doors, and suspicious movements about the house add better fears, and Hawke's performance keeps the viewer invested as the fantastic possibilities slowly build over the first hour. Snakes or scorpions indoors, eerie film figures, and fire burning away critical frames match the parallel kid drawings and supernatural incidents consuming the home. While meandering ancient information and occult lessons via Skype feel ham-fisted, the frightening photos, unexpected twists, and footage playing by itself seem more organic. Our writer forces himself to watch the gruesome to solve the crime, unaware or too fanatical in his research to see the surreal to which he's subjected his family. Granted, some audiences will like the paranormal turn while others may wish this stayed a straight thriller. The nearer two hour time could have been tighter rather than shoehorning in shock value try hards – triggers aside, the killer footage won't be that shocking to desensitize viewers. Can kids today even appreciate the whir of a film projector versus digital laptop transfers? It's also surprising old notions on the camera stealing the spirit or more recent smartphone instant videoing isn't discussed. Fortunately, the in the can framing story is much nicer than found footage gimmicks, and this is a fine puzzle where the audience must pay attention to the rising paranormal undercurrent. Despite some quibbles, this remains an entertaining little piece. I mean, why would a Babylonian deity need to move into the new millennium by filming his victims in the first place? Ancient gods be waiting for the invention of Super 8, booyah!

Split Decision

Cabin Fever – Dead animals, buzzing flies, and rowdy coeds finally free of campus requirements disrupt the golden forest, fallen leaves, and lakeside sunsets of this 2002 scarefest along with too many pop cues, the obligatory drive to the inevitable, and padding opening credits. I'm not really a fan of writer and director Eli Roth (Hostel), and it is tough to like this cliché group of characters who use “gay” as an insult – a jerk in a ballcap, the horny couple, and an innocent guy trying to take it to the next level with his girl BFF. The sex and cozy cabin are intercut with humor and stupidity, but the dock make out scenes feel derivative of older seventies and eighties horror. Naturally, there are cell phones out of range, vehicle mishaps, and typical arguments over how to handle the contagiousness amid stalling flashbacks showing the campfire tales being told as an excuse for pointless gore and a quick boo moment. An assy appearance by Roth himself complete with pot lures our intrepid group, too. Fortunately, sick locals, slaughtered pigs, errant gunshots, a shady deputy on a bicycle, and a tainted water supply add interest. Blood in bed and drastic divisions step things up halfway through – crazy neighbors take matters into their own hands, and it's fun when folks turn on each other or get what they deserve. Who's infected? Who's next? This had a lot more potential, however red dream inserts and slow motion dogs call attention to a try hard aesthetic or become laughable. The dialogue is basic and not much happens as these vignettes and strung together scenes fade in and out – there's a lot of set up but no scary atmosphere. Gruesome body parts and shootouts are thrown at the screen, leaving nothing but distractions from the premise. Let's stumble upon a body torn in half! Let's hit a deer! Let's find yet another group of drunk coeds in the woods! Too many endings don't really go anywhere, with yet more tacked on in the final fifteen minutes – hospitals, cops, new infections, a town hoe down. This may have ushered in a new wave of indie, R-rated horror for new millennium, but today it seems fairly standard and amateur throwback in its haphazard. If that kind of midnight movie splatter is all you are expecting, then this fits the bill.

Skip It!

Preservation – Wrenn Schmidt (Boardwalk Empire) leads this 2014 cliché ridden wilderness romp written and directed by Christopher Denham – whom I loved on Manhattan. From a driving montage over the opening credits and pretentious cell phone love/hate to redneck jokes, redundant “Are we there yet?” questions, and lots of alcohol mixed with firearms pride; this horror of two brothers and one woman in the woods is going to be same old same old. All you need are a dog and a gun for emergencies – unless your wife isn't up for the experience thanks to a strained marriage, band-aid pregnancy, and a vegan excuse not mentioned until after the deer is being strung up for dinner. The immediately problematic script double talks with hollow quotes and cop out contradictions in an attempted hipster cool, laying it on thick with nostalgia the brothers repeat for the audience and protests from the missus reluctant to go hunting – after we've already seen her enjoy hunting. Viewers have no reason to like this trio, and pretty outdoor photography quickly turns into unpleasant killing footage and dead animal imagery hitting home the man kills for sport motifs. PTSD and kill or be killed for survival adds to the derivative and unbelievable turns. It's 100 degrees with no food or water yet a tiny pregnant woman can rough it just fine barefoot with no map? The conflict and creepy is lame – noises in the woods, unseen observations, missing gear, deceptive directions, and X marks on their foreheads suggest the real scares lie in the hidden killer perspective. However, distant Peeping Tom camerawork and baiting the unprepared yuppies can't compensate for the stupidity of hiding from your attacker in a port a potty or the bored, text messaging kids on bicycles who have nothing better to do but kill. Naturally, one needs an inhaler, they have to get home or they'll be in trouble, and a call from mom comes just in the nick of time! Meanwhile, our insipid heroine uses a dozen flares for a smokescreen rather than blow up a wrecked car as a mighty help signal – the turnabout here comes far too easy and Eden Lake did this better. Why do people turn away from the killers and never make sure the bad guys are dead?

23 August 2016

More Short Lived Shows

More Short Lived Shows :-(
by Kristin Battestella

By design or cancellation, here's another helping of short lived television scares, creepers, documentaries, and fantasy to binge or avoid. 


100 Years of Horror – Christopher Lee hosts these twenty-six half hour episodes from producer Ted Newsom (Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror) – so don't let the very, very dated 1996 bad opening animations and made on the cheap poor video style deter you. Every scary topic one can expect is here from “Dracula and His Disciples” and “Blood Drinking Beings” to “Frankenstein's Friends,” “Mad Doctors,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Common topics such as “Werewolves,” “Ghosts,” “Witches,” “Mummies,” and “Zombies,” get their due alongside more unusual ground such as “Aliens,” “Mutants,” “Freaks,” and “Dinosaurs.” Interviewees such as Bela Lugosi Jr., Sarah Karloff, Hugh Hefner, Roger Corman, Hazel Court, John Carpenter, Caroline Munro, and Richard Matheson discuss “Bela Lugosi,” “Boris Karloff,” and “Scream Queens,” too. The overlapping topics are at times broad and there's nothing new for die hard horror fans – the series should have been a tight ten hour presentation as some of the VHS editions appear to have done. However, this does pack in a lot of rare photographs and archive footage of John Carradine, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. Brief nudity in the film clips earn MA warnings, and the subject matter isn't always family friendly, but overall this remains a nostalgic, informative set recalling the chronological growth of horror cinema from silent films and scary television parallels to the new millennium. Of course, it's great to hear Lee's booming yet casual narrative, dry wit, and conversational hosting style. The series is worth it just for his recollections – with more than enough pick and choose bonuses to get into a Halloween mood. 


The Enfield Haunting – Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5) and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter) star in this 2015 three part British miniseries recounting one family's 1977 paranormal encounter. Hide and seek in a cemetery and telling urban legends forebode the scares to come, however seventies touches such as knee high socks, the old ring ring on the horseshoe phone, viewfinders, a big television, and Starsky & Hutch posters add a sense of innocence, endearing the viewer with nostalgia before the creaking noises, phantom tappings at the door, and furniture that moves by itself. Psychic researchers and paranormal writers come with their giant cameras, capturing only ghostly video glitches and spooky static, but the interviews with the children are natural and well-done. Family conflict, past trauma, medical issues, and heart pills add to the freaky old man imagery, skepticism, and scary toppers while Episode Two brings debates about how to proceed. The entity follows the children to a relative's house but asking what it wants leads to frightful possessions and apparitions in the mirror. Are these mediums or charlatans? Is this a poltergeist or youth acting out? The investigators must face their own personal demons amid escalating one knock yes, two knocks no questionings. Quick library research moments and scenes with surviving residents detract slightly from the congested house, as eerie telephone calls and arguments over writing a book exploitations work better. The division among the experts skirts most of the real world doubting or then-hoax possibilities, and liberties are taken with a seemingly forgotten son and prior child deaths in the house or innuendo of past abuses only briefly mentioned. Fortunately, there are lighthearted quips alleviating the scares, after all, foul mouthed possessed kids can make a social visit pretty awkward and poltergeists sure are messy! By the Third Hour levitating urns, vocal trickery, orbs, and the seemingly vanquished moves fast with newspapers ready to jump on the story. Phantom doorbells, doppelgangers, and hospital cruelty create neurology versus mysticism questions alongside implications of self-harm, misplaced resentment, and unresolved grief. Is this a ghost with unfinished business or something more tangible? There are a few good shocks, but this tale is told in the time allotted without an urgency for over the top theatrics. The family drama remains at the forefront here thanks to choice paranormal frights and fine performances. 


Split Call

Robin Hood – Although technically not short lived at three thirteen episode seasons, this 2006 take on the legend moves fast, remaining messy throughout its tenure with too many zooms, chop edits, and tracking cameras. Despite the medieval setting, loud music, intrusive modern dialogue, anachronistic weapons, and desperately inaccurate ladies costumes interfere with viewer immersion. You can have a humorous episode or character, but the tone flip flops from scene to scene – is this a camp fantasy or serious moral play? The origins of Robin becoming the Hood and the introductions of the outlaws over the first season are lovely, however, the 45 minute round and round padding gets old fast. Audiences can only believe Robin's hollow threats to kill the Sheriff so many times when they chat weekly and have several opportunities to harm each other – it's Cobra shaking his fist on G.I. Joe. This superficial structure isn't the actors fault, but I don't care for Much, Marian, Allan A Dale, or Keith Allen who must have been directed to play the Sheriff of Nottingham as a poor man's Tim Curry. Worse still, gung ho, never shrewd, and not always likable Robin is only into stealing from the rich for the glory, and any character developments feel too tame or are forgotten by the next episode. Why not have Robin be anonymous, disappeared, or absent altogether ala Blake's 7? Of course, fans will eat up the Guy Gisborne guyliner and shirtless Richard Armitage scene chewing, but there should have been more of the mature family drama with Gordon Kennedy as Little John and the criminally (ha, pun) underused Harry Lloyd as Will Scarlett. A family friendly show doesn't have to be juvenile, and the serious character moments are better than the preposterous Old West saloons, babies, PTSD (complete with camouflage pants!), and National Treasure gimmicks intruding on the quality middle of Season Two. The deaths, betrayal, consequences, regal surprises, and great adventure drama comes too late, leaving unrealized potential or what should have been glasses clouding the viewing. I remember why I didn't like watching this show the first time around, and my gosh do not bother with Season Three!

Skip It

Cult – I had a lot of notes regarding this thirteen episode 2013 show within a show thriller. However, the always deliciously demented Robert Knepper (Prison Break) is the only real reason to tune in – and he isn't given much to do despite having a dual role amid this intriguing premise blurring the lines between television fiction and fandom reality. Are there really subliminal workings in media or just warped fans with a runaway theory? I almost wish the crime investigation and the titular internal series were separate shows, for the inside actors trying to not cross characters lines or crazed fans seem more interesting. Unfortunately, the disc encryptions, chat rooms, internet cafes, supposedly secret roleplaying, and newspaper reporter lead are terribly dated. Episodes run as short as forty minutes, and hokey, clue revealing 3D glasses play like an evil National Treasure. The CW goes overboard with inside promos and name drops, but pointless VHS skipping transitions and faux static can't hide on set unrealistics, sloppy detective contrivances, pretentious viewer interactivity, and lame torturing. Traditional intercut structuring breaks established point of view rules by presenting the inside show as the B plot instead of someone onscreen watching it. Throwaway events, uneven suspicions, and nonsensical catchphrases also make for poorly paced storylines. Rather than piecemeal with flat costume party wannabes and hypocritical statements, the show within should have been revealed in order or watched early each episode for parallel hints. Weekly killer teen obnoxiousness clutters the overlooked resources and obvious information that would solve everything, and only one protagonist is really needed – either reporter Matthew Davis (The Vampire Diaries) seeking his brother or show assistant Jessica Lucas (Gotham) discovering secrets. The cast seems diverse yet remains stereotypical, with a light skinned, more European looking black woman having the white hero romance while the more African featured villain is the scary black woman put in her place by an evil white man superior. The mystical negro boss is sacrificed over a white man's mistake, and there's a hip, wild haired tech chick, too. They want evidence but never take pictures with their phones? A reporter doesn't write about it all until after the fact? Bitch, anonymously blog that shit! Ominous “They know that we know that they know that we know” glares reiterate what just happened – even though each scene only lasts a few minutes – and ham-fisted cult begat show attempts at shock and sensationalized meta unravel instead of reveal. Abandonment and abuses are very anticlimactic, and one person's long lost secret is a Google search away to another. Motivations change with each derailed pursuit, and derivative storytelling compromises would be possibilities in favor of a household boob tube brainwashing theory. What is this, Batman Forever?

19 August 2016

Just Vampires, Siete!

Just Vamps, ¡Siete!
By Kristin Battestella

For our seventh vampire viewing list, here's a quartet mixing Old World and new, past and present, feminine frights and demure galore. ¡Ay caramba! 


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – The black and white patina of this 2014 Persian language spooky invokes a specific fifties or spaghetti western mood. Retro cars, big old TVs, and greaser styles are transposed to a modern, mid-century rundown and post-industrial bleak with kids begging on the street, unusual hookers, an old man injecting “medicine” between his toes, and icky drug dealers. Arash is already paying for his father's mistakes and taking guff from the rich – but a deadly vamp with a demonic voice and a belying angelic appearance rolls into town, cleaning up Dodge and making things better for the downtrodden. Fine scoring with carnival music touches and rhythmic, edgy throwbacks contrast the stillness and topsy turvy gender roles, for the fallen pimp, collapsing father figure, and absent mothers have created a vacuum for our eponymous mystery and the dark power hidden under her chador. We know the fangs and deservedly gruesome will happen amid the slow build drama or drug and sex frenzy but not when, leaving brief squishing effects, mild blood splatter, and attacking crescendos to speak for the minimal dialogue. A well-behaved stray cat parallels the titular feline predatory, yet sardonic skateboarding adds humor. Arash dresses up as Dracula, gets some bad ecstasy, and meets the real thing but retains his innocence and kindness among the cruelty – the simplicity of homemade ear piercings is much more charming compared to today's wham bam sex or moon eyes romance. It's an unconventional mix of straight drama and simmering horror, however at times writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour seems unsure which storyline is priority. The quirky vignettes and dialogue are nice while other scenes are pointless and the silence or music does more. This should have been a short feature or a limited series – viewers want to know The Girl better but this picture can't rely on earlier unseen shorts or companion comic books. With 100 minutes to fill here, the structure should have been tighter, perhaps with labeled character chapters and our vamp in both senses of the word connecting them. A sagging middle dampens the impact of critical scenes, and this feels more indie cool than truly foreign film – it's almost faux foreign with no real cultural references. Audiences accustomed to frights a minute will also be disappointed in the handful of horror moments amid the isolated interplay and justifiable girl power. Fortunately, this unusual world gets better as the protagonists go forth. Her bad frees his bad, is that a good or bad thing? There really should be a vampire drama category, and despite its flaws, this unique tale using horror to address social contradictions is worth a look. And there's a Bee Gees poster, people. ¡The Bee Gees!

Kiss of the Damned – This 2013 vampire tale feels much older thanks to a seventies style opening, video stores, Old World names, European accents, retro clothes, and bonus Montgomery Clift movies on the television. Ominous music, moody candlelight, and a bleak seaside house foreshadow the blood spilling to come, and the property comes complete with an un-tempting, blood disorder maid taking phone messages for her mistress – a lonely translator who's never available during the day and indisposed until evening thanks to a “medical condition” where she can't be exposed to sunlight. Wink. Intercut, handicam vamp violence and edgy, intrusive music or over-emphasizing flashes, however, are unnecessary, and melancholy pain with choice pop moments or ironic classical cues do better. Blue lighting, headlights, and golden interiors accent nighttime filming, creating a stylish mature alongside the frank conversations addressing how to chain a girl to the bed. Sexy turned killer teeth, wild eyes, askew angles, and violent thrashing elevate the alluring but dangerous as the heavy petting escalates in spite of the consequences. Reluctant Djuna knows this romance could be doomed, but Paolo wants to get sucked dry at both ends. (¿¡?!) Such erotic yet creepy may be too weird for some, but this realistic vampire relationship is refreshing and fast moving – the vampire turning happens early and the entire picture isn't a dying for love question. More time is taken for the lifestyle details on living forever, heightened senses, and the charming couple that preys together stays together. Problematic sisters and centuries old sibling rivalry parallel the role reversals and too good to be true good vampire behaviors. Biting on the club scene versus love and living posh, sisters forgetting their mother's face, cocktail parties and a close knit vampire community discussing why inferior humans reign and synthetic blood isn't FDA approved – there's just enough gore and blood to recognize the messy brimming beneath the gilded surface. The tense debate on whether they are monsters or not and why they shouldn't self-loath gets better as it goes on with bloody slip ups, saucy conflicts, sunlight perils, and deliberate virgin blood trickery. Although some scoring and editing are rough around the edges and debut writer and director Xan Cassavetes packs a lot of flash early on in the film to lure audiences, the likable cast and fine drama don't need anything else. This would have made a fine long form series, and I'm glad the vampire genre is growing up again with films like this.

The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn't already seen it. Fortunately, there's no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don't go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn't feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today's fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don't exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.

The Vampire's Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it's amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la sangre talk keep up the theme.

05 August 2016

The Bob Newhart Show: Season 2

The Bob Newhart Show Continues to Impress in Season 2
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.