Tom Poston, Bob Newhart, ...
Credit: Everett Collection

It’d be a tough sell in today’s TV landscape: a sitcom about a functional couple who move from Manhattan to Vermont to open an inn. (Wait, shouldn’t one of them be gay? Or at least do a voice-over?) But Newhart proves that you need nothing more than a simple set with a staircase, a front desk…and an impeccable cast who can make hilarity of anything.

As Dick and Joanna Loudon, Bob Newhart — in his second successful self-titled sitcom — and Mary Frann perform heroic feats of normality while surrounded by scene-stealing wackos: Tom Poston as guileless caretaker George; Larry (William Sanderson), his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss), and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad), crowd-pleasers from the second they’re summoned to dig a body out of the basement in episode 2. They all know how to make comedy from a situation (that’s why they’re called sitcoms, kids). Whether it’s Dick’s first ski trip or Joanna falling through the ice, it’s not about irony or one-liners — it’s about delivery and timing.

That’s exactly why we would’ve loved some commentary: This cast could teach a master class in TV comedy. The three-disc set offers a few cute featurettes, including a random doc about the fashion and footage of costars gushing about each other — though that’s worth the trouble, if only to see Larry and his other brother Darryl again. B+

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