Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TV on DVD: NewsRadio Seasons 1 and 2

Genre: Sitcom
DVD released: May 24, 2005
Verdict: &&&1/2

An episode of NewsRadio is one of the few things that can almost spark a pang of '90s nostalgia in my '80s-bred heart. It does spark a pang of nostalgia for NBC Must-See Thursdays – now definitely a thing of the past but once the most savory night of television. While attending Ole Miss from 1993 to 1995, I'd pop next door to Burger King to pick up some comfort food and then settle in for an evening of laughs with shows like Seinfeld, Frasier, Mad About You, Friends and this ensemble-cast gem, which ran from 1995 to 1999. Revisiting a well-crafted sitcom like NewsRadio, I can't help feeling that 95 percent of the sitcoms on television today wouldn't have lasted more than a few weeks even as recently as the mid-90s.

The cast had nary a weak link and was key to the show's success: the incomparable Phil Hartman as smug news reader Bill McNeal (what a shame to lose such a great talent in a senseless tragedy); Andy Dick as office spaz Matthew Brock; Stephen Root as goofy, wife-hunting station owner Jimmy James; and Khandi Alexander (later of CSI: Miami) as Hartman's saucy partner on the mic, Catherine Duke. The show was also a launching pad for Joe Rogan (electrician Joe), perhaps best known today for one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated on the viewing public, Fear Factor, and Maura Tierney (reporter Lisa), who went on to E.R. Rounding out the bunch are Dave Foley as droll WNYX station manager Dave Nelson and Vicki Lewis as Beth the secretary.

The seven-episode first season is a little tighter overall than the second. Standout episodes in this set include "Smoking," in which Dave swears off caffeine to get Bill to stop smoking; "The Shrink," in which John Ritter appears as a counselor who brings out everyone's chatty, sensitive sides; "Presence," in which Jimmy loses Bill in a poker game; and an episode in which Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers) appears as a deranged temp. While the show skillfully balanced office and relationship humor with slapstick zaniness, Hartman's bombastic delivery consistently made the show, and his presence was sorely missed at the end.

// DVD notes // Twenty-nine episodes on three discs. Extras include outtakes from season two, episode commentaries and a featurette in which Hartman talks about trying out for the announcing gig on The Price Is Right before landing Saturday Night Live. Interesting to imagine how things would have been different had he, instead of Rod Roddy, got that job. He also said Bill McNeal's job is one he could imagine himself really doing had his career taken a different path.

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