There really was (and still is) no justice in the world when a show like NewsRadio was perennially ignored so often during the mid and late ’90s. I mean seriously, get a comic mind from Canada’s The Kids in the Hall (Dave Foley), another from the States Saturday Night Live (Phil Hartman), and yet another from the dark comedy Ben Stiller Show (Andy Dick) and give them some sitcom material to work with, and the result can be nothing but laughs.
And that’s what NewsRadio was about. But it didn’t go for cheap laughs where the cast would either yell their lines or make exaggerated reaction shots for the folks in the crowd. There was layer upon layer of laughs. Aside from the stories, there were small character quirks that fans of the show will always remember. Lisa (Maura Tierney, ER) has a somewhat veiled propensity to get drunk and (surprise!) has a criminal background. And speaking of mysterious backgrounds, there’s the station owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root, Office Space), a fairly goofy billionaire who is on an eternal “wife search” while sometimes hinting that yes, he may in fact be Deep Throat from the Watergate scandal.
And that’s not even covering Dave Nelson (Foley), the boyish News Director of WNYX who can never be purely evil and is a covert Canadian, and Bill McNeil (Hartman), the delusional, arrogant, loudspoken news anchor who never cares what people think about him, ironically doesn’t know key events in American history and doesn’t hesitate to show off his examples of “adequasivity”. As a group, the NewsRadio gang started off with a short run, then initially got some more support and really hit a creative stride in its second and third seasons. Now, some people seem to believe that the bloom was a little bit off the rose for this season, but to put it another way, both the second, third and (I think) the fourth season, the writers seemed to write more for themselves than anything else. They started to employ the “goofy concept episode” back in Season Three and employed it a little bit more in Season Four, and arguably there were some more gags that were more along the lines of a traditional sitcom. But in the show’s defense, not only did they write a character out of the show (Dick’s Matthew Brock was fired for weeks, but never really LEFT the show per se) and another character left to pursue other opportunities (Catherine Duke, a.k.a. Khandi Alexander from C.S.I. Miami), but they added a character for a multi-episode arc, an efficiency expert named Andrea (hey, is that the Gilmore Girls Lauren Graham?) who even gets her own little quirks. She has a friendship with Lisa that Lisa is unaware of, she is friends with Dave (though people in the office think he’s “hitting it”), and her perkiness is a little bit frightening as we find out in the season.
And the other thing about the Season that I think that the fans may not have enjoyed as much was that the focus seemed to shift away from Hartman as opposed to seasons past. The back and forth relationship between Dave and Lisa continued during the season and played more of a role this time around. Now granted, seeing Bill with a cane or continually trying to sneak cigarettes (under wearing a nicotine patch “utility belt” of sorts) in other seasons was pretty damn funny, even a perceivably less than full-strength season of NewsRadio was far better than a lot of teams A games, so to speak. Besides, who wouldn’t buy the paperback version of “Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler”?
It’s a sitcom, so the chances of seeing any sitcom with a 6 channel surround mix are slim and none. NewsRadio is one of those. There’s no musical accompaniment outside of the little bumper in between segments, and those sound fine.
It’s all on the full frame tip here. Everything looks OK and the colors from the show are reproduced rather accurately, with little room to complain.
Season Three was released only in February, so to see Season Four come out so soon was quite a surprise. Upon further review however, the rush to get it out seemed to lack some of the thought into extras that fans were used to in the past, or maybe the cast was tired of doing commentaries. There are still 8 commentary tracks, but most of them focus on the crew and writers, and they’re not that bad. There’s a gag reel full of bloopers that’s on par with the best of them. I mean really, there’s almost 20 minutes of flubs here! I do find it interesting that Tierney went from dropping f-bombs when she screwed up in the first couple seasons to laughing along with everyone else by Season Four, it’s nice to see she was won over to the dark side.
The best network sitcom of the ’90s gets another solid treatment on DVD. While it may not be as exhaustive and retrospective as other seasons, it’s still a worthy complement to the lot. Granted it’s natural to wonder how the show would have progressed if Hartman was still alive to witness it, but for most fans of the show, this was where the good times ended, and it’s great to relive them again.