The Bob Newhart Show Season Five Dips but Remains Charming
By Kristin Battestella
Dr. Robert Hartley (Bob Newhart), his wife Emily (Susan Pleshette), their neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily), orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz), and receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) are feeling a little deja vu with some stagnant retreads for this 1976-77 Fifth Season of The Bob Newhart Show. Fortunately, the series still has several landmark episodes, Peepers, and zany psychology.
It's a Bicentennial Fourth of July party costumes and all in “Caged Fury,” but Bob and Emily get locked in the storage closet when looking for the punch bowl. They reminisce over their wedding album and debate fooling around in the sleeping bags amid the exercise equipment both claim they don't need, and this majority two-hander puts the core of the series in focus. She's calm, he's convinced they're going to die – who's hungry, and who has to go to the bathroom? The Bob Newhart Show provides great laughs and honest relationship talk wrapped in arguing, bad jokes, and S.O.S 'Jingle Bells' played on the pipes. Bob, Jerry, and Howard also have the wrong supplies when taking several orphans into the wild for “Send This Boy to Camp.” Their inflatable boat is in an elevator, Bob doesn't need Emily's tips or 'gadgets' like a Swiss Army knife, and when he forgets to reserve a campground site, they end up roughing it in the building garage. The Bob Newhart Show is best when its main characters converge – too many episodes this season have A and B plots shoehorning in an ultimately irrelevant guest star. It's tough to tell which story is primary, creating misleading titles and too few scenes without full time for the hilarity. Multi part storylines are more interesting, with Mrs. Hartley Martha Scott separating from her husband mid season and going rogue by painting her kitchen 'off white' in “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” Bob's flummoxed at her offscreen cooking and cleaning, and can't get her to socialize at the church social – until she makes a new gentlemanly friend, that is. Bob thinks it is a good idea to invite both his parents for Christmas in “Making Up Is the Thing to Do,” but they are unfettered as the pie pieces get smaller and smaller. One by one the holiday crowd is knocking on The Hartleys' door, and the insults ultimately will out. Likewise, “The Ironwood Experience” sends shy Bob to a naked conference for a sex workshop lecture. Carol inserts 'yahoos' and 'whoopees' where he has left blanks in his write up, but Bob doesn't think 'such and such' is anything to snicker about when Jerry wants to come along and Howard jumps to the wrong conclusion. Bob's a fifties, Ike kind of guy, but can he relax enough on the seventies taboos to learn how nudists don't stick to leather chairs? Forgetful Bob also only has three days to do his taxes in “Taxation Without Celebration.” Unfortunately, tax day falls on their seventh anniversary, and Emily has a surprise planned – turning the bad perfume gifts, paperwork on the trip, and Bob's cranky deadline excuses into delightful banter. The Bob Newhart Show has had other trapped stories, however, the old written deposit, chit chat in the weaving rope line, and vintage banking comedy raise “Desperate Sessions.” When a bank robber holds him hostage, Bob thinks his army skills are enough to save the day – but he's too lightheaded without his lunch. Perpetual patient Mr. Carlin insists on having his session, too, bringing KFC for the stakeout in Jerry's office with a Crusty Dragnet detective looking for just the facts. Will Bob's patented phone skit save the day? “You're Having My Hartley” actually remains fitting as a would be series finale, matching the original not having kids pilot with this pregnancy dream episode. The men are getting mushy over the thought of babies, but Bob's overwhelmed with talk of moving to the suburbs. Drunken sing songs express the parental nervousness while waxing on baby names, and the social statements mix with the outlandish and a horse in the living room, literally.
Of course, glee club Bob is said to fear horses and prefer golf. He admits Howard is a nuisance, but likes that he has his own personality as he himself erstwhile stumbles over deadpan quips and witticisms. Bob tells his patients there's always a silver lining or quotes songs, but they already love him as the audience does. Many episodes aren't really about him per se, but there's a comfort in seeing whether Bob is going to stand up and fix a situation or complain about being caught in the middle. After all, he's said to have enough courage, but an even bigger grammar problem. In “The Great Rent Strike” Bob organizes the titular petition as heating, window, and drain troubles increase – refusing to back down against an unresponsive landlord until Mr. Carlin buys the building in a role reversal battle of wills between doctor and patient. Bob's too busy trying to record Emily snoring with his newfangled $420 Japanese three speed giant tape recorder with lifetime batteries and a huge corded mic in “A Crime Most Foul,” and the psychologist wants to record his group, too. Unfortunately, they fear their stories falling into the wrong hands – and everyone is suspect when the machine does go missing. On edge Bob points fingers and claims everyone doth protest too much, and the petty of the city also gets to him in “Halls of Hartley.” It's another leaving Chicago or changing jobs half hour, and The Bob Newhart Show can be tiring when every character makes repeated attempts to go away or make some kind of life change, but ultimately doesn't. Howard's opinion on The Hartleys' move, however, must be considered, and Bob's just as cranky about the isolated Iowa campus he visits for a bemusing, tongue tied interview. An observing student apparently has a crush on Bob in “The Heartbreak Kidd,” but she's hip and in some ways, more on the psychology ball than he is. Fortunately, Bob can admit he doesn't know it all – and misreads her signals before objecting to being praised as fatherly, mature, and aging gracefully. Likewise, Emily's sleek pants, tunic tops, and matching suits remain sophisticated alongside dresses and wraps from the First Season – go girl! Her changing hair also reflects her maturity, as the pixie of a free thinking teacher is now the longer bob of a serious school administrator. She's strong, confident, and recognizes when Bob feels left out because of all the times she's been left of out the male hi jinks. Emily tells her husband when he looks stupid in a bad tux and is ready to sleep naked when it is too hot even if uptight Bob won't. She stands by his principles yet also defends Carol when she wants more pay, becoming the series' go to support. At times, The Bob Newhart Show feels as if there should be an 'and Susan Pleshette as Emily Hartley' credit, for she is the one who laughs at all Bob's deadpans and serves him the best punchline. This season Emily seems most often stuck at home having Who's on First misunderstandings with Howard, but Bob compliments her brains and beauty, keeping their core of the series solid. Then again, Emily's matchmaking or meddling doesn't always pan out, either, as the working woman must also make time to sew for little Howie and take notes on Julia Child's chicken.
Series director Peter Bonerz is often only seen in the Rimpau Medical lobby for a jerky Jerry moment, even insulting patients to their face when not mocking the kids in his office or calling Carol a bimbo. He's upset when he isn't invited to a ball game or a Memorial Day party but refuses to host a Fourth of July shindig himself. Bob calls him an orthodontist with nothing to do who only comes around when he hears a checkbook open, and he's right. He also suspects Jerry embellishes his orphanage experience – where it turns out he was a complainer who wanted his steak medium rare. Jerry's down with a new digital watch but can't get into the locale yacht club in an off year where he makes $58,000 – that's over $230k in 2017 coin! – but he comes into real estate riches in “Jerry's Retirement.” This plot has been done before, and his coworkers momentarily admit they are sad to see his obnoxiousness go while Jerry calls their bemoaning sour grapes. Bob tries to set him set up with some savings, but Jerry is ready to blow it all at forty, lay back, and do nothing. It's odd that the Jerry-centric episodes are back to back, however this works as a two-parter when Jerry travels in search of his real parents in “Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson.” Although Raul Julia being his brother is forgotten for jokes on every girl Jerry's dated possibly being his sister, Emily's supports his quest while Bob thinks it will be a dead end disappointment. Of course, Jerry spends most of his money with ads in the paper and private detectives in this much needed humble in the days before easy DNA testing and Ancestory.com. Bob Daily's Howard Borden is also more naive and intrusive than ever, never doing anything but entering to ask what's for dinner and expecting Emily to water his plants even when he is home. He watches television in their apartment with the chain on the door, so it's nice to see The Hartleys walk in to his apartment unannounced for a change! Howard does try to break his habit of visiting only to eat – at one point, he literally almost takes a bite out of the sandwich in Bob's hand – so instead stops in to be sociable and brings an authentic Chinese dinner by calling for takeout. Good thing Howard's horseshoe phone has a long enough cord to go from his apartment, across the hall, and onto the Hartley's couch. In “Still Crazy After All These Years” Howard sees Bob's colleague for a new therapy technique to overcome his dependence, a change that probably should have happened sooner rather than letting his neighborly become so extreme. Fortunately, it is still humorous to see Howard not be himself and pretend to be like everyone else – even if he's back to his old self by the next episode, climbing into bed with Bob and Emily when there's no heat. Howard's just all thumbs when it comes to sewing, doorbells, and life, crying over a 'Dear Howard' letter when he inadvertently marries an island girl and putting a raincoat on his bass so he can take it to parties.
Now billed as Carol Kester Bondurant, Marcia Wallace's receptionist also spends most of this Fifth Year behind her odd circular desk for a scene or two of workplace retorts and exposition. She has to find alternate words when she types because the S key on her typewriter is broken, but she is down with digging the new lingo right on and knows how to bet wisely in the office sports pool. She quits again in “Et tu, Carol?”, which she seems to do every season rather than having any further growth now as a married lady. Today one woman could not do the booking for four doctors – much less their menial tasks and unreasonable demands – but Carol has to stand up for her work rights year after year as if her work environment is so terrible or the writers just don't know what else to do with her. Will Mackenzie as Carol's husband Larry appears in two episodes as dry dumb and dumber foil with Howard, organizing lame trips for one and all and having agency trouble in “The Mentor” before briefly appearing at Christmas when it's a little too late to do something with the character. Ironically, Shirley O'Hara as absent minded temp Debbie Flett has more personality, and I dare say we could have seen a lot more of her if anyone was willing to take Carol in a new direction away from the desk. Even Tom Poston's Peeper has some change to start the season in “Enter Mrs. Peeper.” Only Bob is enthused with the pie in the face and bucket over the door gags that go wrong for the eponymous gal, and he feels left out when everyone else enjoys The Peepers' mellow marriage. As much as we love Poston – future Mr. Pleshette so delightful on Newhart – the series perhaps uses this shtick one too many times. Although the singing moments are probably meant to be corny, the flat humor gets turned on the boys when The Peeper's hot college game tickets combine with mistaken hookers and a night in jail for “The Slammer.” They can't call their wives and must turn to the unreliable Howard before coming clean to the ladies – who take the boys in hot water as just another one of their lame pranks.
He's fearful of barley and snails, but Jack Riley's Mr. Carlin goes to a costume party as a 'revolutionary spy' before really being afraid that his secretary likes him in “Love Is the Blindest.” Bob encourages a night out, but Mr. Carlin insists his doctor and only friend double date before fibbing his entire biography – from inventing stuffed mushrooms to trying out for the Green Bay Packers and Bob being his insurance salesman. Though The Bob Newhart Show is once again redundant after Carlin's earlier dating fails, the funny line between what he sees as little white lies and what Bob calls 'science fiction' makes for some humorous platitudes. Things fare no better when Emily joins Bob's male group members for some positive female influence on their misogynistic attitudes in “Of Mice and Men.” The role reversals, arguments, and food metaphors make for some wild interplay as the session goes wrong, and the group is extra cranky in “Shrinking Violence,” taking out their frustrations on each other – knitting needles, revenge lists, auto repair disasters, and all for Oliver Clark as Mr. Herd, John Fiedler as Mr. Peterson, Renee Lippon as Michelle, and Florida Friebus as Mrs. Bakerman.. Bob tells everyone to place their anger where it is warranted, but no one succeeds in expressing themselves, with more fears in “Death Be My Destiny” as Mr. Herd tries to get in touch with his wild side. Of course, Bob ends up with nightmares, elevator mishaps, and an increasing fear of death as Mr. Herd has the time of his life breaking his leg while skiing. Although it seems like we see less of all the patients this season and there is an odd side plot about an old tuxedo, a little black book, and a glee club reunion that could have been its own song and dance episode, The Bob Newhart Show skillfully tackles another taboo in “Some of My Best Friends Are...”. When the group thinks they need 'fresh anguish' and invite fellow patient Howard Hessman as Mr. Plager to join them, he comes out. The men are all a little homophobic – even Bob – but the reactions both harsh and innocent are handled honestly as everyone wonders who might be a gay person and if it really matters because the world needs more gaiety anyway. This is a brilliant and progressive episode for the era that remains an interesting eye opener. Bob won't let his patient be an outcast alone, apologizing for the sissy comments and admitting that it is time for Dark Age attitudes to change. Huzzah, Dr. Hartley!
Frequent series director Michael Zinberg is back this season along with The Bob Newhart Show's regular writing teams doing several episodes each. The seventies steeped funk credits also remain – sometimes with longer titles or a shorter commute, depending on time or syndication episodes included in The Complete Series DVD set, where the sound is once again uneven for the Season Five discs. But hey, typewriter ribbon! The ties are terribly ugly, the scarves are hideous, and the plaid pants and plaid jackets worn together are two different plaids. There are pale blue leisure suits, too, and denim on denim. They don't think twice about the rotary wall mounted phones, but at least Jerry admits the round receptionist desk is 'funny.' The price of stamps also went up this season on The Bob Newhart Show – from ten cents to thirteen! Bob also says cashiers won't be replaced by computers because a computer can't say hello or have a nice day. Give it forty years, Bob! Studying this Fifth Season with a critical eye has a lot of writing on the wall with repeating plots, pulled back characters, and slapstick gags per episode placed over personality. However, The Bob Newhart Show still has a lot to love, and Season Five provides enough charm and sophistication for a marathon of lighthearted pastiche.