The Ten Best THE BOB NEWHART SHOW Episodes of Season Two

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from Bob Newhart’s first situation comedy, The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978, CBS). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.

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Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley juggles life at home, where he resides with his loving wife Emily, an elementary school teacher, and their zany neighbor, Howard Borden, a flight navigator, with his life at the office, where he regularly interacts with a goofy orthodontist, Jerry Robinson, and their quirky receptionist, Carol Kester. The Bob Newhart Show stars BOB NEWHART as Bob Hartley, SUZANNE PLESHETTE as Emily Hartley, BILL DAILY as Howard Borden, PETER BONERZ as Jerry Robinson, and MARCIA WALLACE as Carol Kester. JACK RILEY recurs as Elliot Carlin.

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The second season of The Bob Newhart Show is an extension of the first, but the level of quality, which was already excellent, is exceeded. The characters are deeper, the stories are fresher, and the comedy is sharper. It’s an excellent season of situation comedy with strong scripts and a dynamic ensemble. The chemistry between Newhart and Pleshette is increasingly appreciated in this collection of episodes, and it’s really disheartening to note that the series, and the talented cast and crew, was never awarded a single Emmy. This is smart, sophisticated comedy — more “adult” (i.e. straight-shooting and unsentimental) than its neighbor and big sister, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS). Bob Newhart‘s Season Two has a lot of really fine offerings and watching them is always a pleasure. But I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

 

01) Episode 25: “The Last TV Show” (Aired: 09/15/73)

Bob reluctantly agrees to let his group do a session on television.

Written by Charlotte Brown | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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One of the show’s major assets throughout its run, but certainly in Seasons Two and Three, is the ensemble that makes up Bob’s “group.” The fivesome here, which includes Jack Riley, Florida Friebus, Noam Pitlik, John Fiedler, and Renee Lippin, is the strongest and most comedically rewarding. The premise of this episode is superb, and although the proceedings are predictably disastrous, the course the script takes is consistently character-driven and continuously hilarious. It’s a strong start to the second season and highly indicative of the subtle, but still noticeable, upswing in quality from the previous season. Absolute classic.

02) Episode 26: “Motel” (Aired: 09/22/73)

Bob and Jerry go to Peoria to watch a football game on TV.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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This premise reminds me of one of the better episodes from Good Morning World (1967-1968, CBS), with an incredibly similar set-up. What differentiates the two is Bob Newhart‘s trademark sophistication, which allows for Jerry and hapless tagalong Bob to get mixed up with a pair of hookers. (Well, Bob’s new friend, played by Zohra Lampert, describes herself as like Jane Fonda’s character in 1971’s Klute.) It’s a smart, humorous, and well-written episode that treks along unexpectedly, but, again, with consistent laughs.

03) Episode 27: “Backlash” (Aired: 09/29/73)

Bob’s backache threatens to cancel the Hartleys’ vacation to Mexico.

Written by Susan Silver | Directed by George Tyne

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Bob Newhart shines in this hilarious installment that finds him bedridden just before he and Emily are supposed to take a vacation to Mexico. (Although, the script never attempts to explain how Emily has suddenly overcome her fear-of-flying, a subject addressed both earlier and later in the series. But that’s a moot point.) This episode is a laugh riot, with my favorite moments involving Bob and his sudden fascination with the day time soap operas. A wonderful script by MTM regular, Susan Silver, made even better by Newhart and his great supporting players.

04) Episode 32: “Mister Emily Hartley” (Aired: 11/03/73)

Bob is startled to learn that Emily has a higher I.Q. than he does.

Written by Charlotte Brown | Directed by Jerry London

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Later sitcoms would take this premise and do their own variations on it, but in 1973, this was a highly original story. Of course, this episode is also blessed with a hilarious and brilliantly truthful script by Charlotte Brown. The “almost gifted” Bob’s reaction to Emily’s 22-point I.Q. lead is totally honest, and although his behavior could be considered petulant, the audience totally understands why. Meanwhile, the second act, in which Bob and Emily attend a high I.Q. club, consists of one brilliant gag after another. This is a fabulous episode — certainly the best of the season — and it’s recommended highly, especially for newbies and/or fans of the chemistry between Newhart and Pleshette. Definite classic.

05) Episode 33: “Mutiny On The Hartley” (Aired: 11/10/73)

Bob’s patients revolt when the doc decides to raise his rate.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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Yes, another group episode! Thankfully, the fivesome (listed above) from the season premiere is still in tact, and they’re still working off each other beautifully. Once again, Patchett and Tarses (who would soon go on to executive produce and assume creative control) craft a funny script around an ordinary premise — something this series does perhaps better than any other. Naturally, Bob would want to raise his rates, especially since he apparently charges on the low end of the spectrum, and of course his patents would be mad. It’s a believable story, and with this ensemble, very funny.

06) Episode 35: “Fit, Fat, And Forty-One” (Aired: 11/24/73)

In preparation for his 41st birthday, Bob decides to go on a diet.

Written by Bill Idelson and Harvey Miller | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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Everyone in this country can sympathize with Bob’s plight as he attempts to lose eight pounds before his 41st birthday. Diets may not be funny in real life, but The Bob Newhart Show turns the concept into a marvelously amusing half-hour full of great character turns and moments of fabulous comedy. Again, I must praise the superb ensemble and the chemistry between Newhart and Pleshette, whose scenes together become the highlight of the episode. If not for one other perfect episode this season, this installment would be my MVE.

07) Episode 38: “T.S. Elliot” (Aired: 12/15/73)

Carol accepts a date with Elliot Carlin, but later regrets it.

Written by Gerry Renert & Jeff Wilheim | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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Carol dating Carlin — Elliot Carlin? Of course, it’s a recipe for disaster (for them) and great comedy (for us)! It is always wonderful when the show can integrate Bob’s patients with the regular ensemble, and this episode gains major points for its ability to do so. Also, while episodes centered around Carol (played by the hysterical and underrated Marcia Wallace) are hit and miss, this one is much appreciated for its smart script that gives both she and Carlin chances to shine. Wonderful episode. (And we get to meet the scatterbrained temp secretary, Debbie!)

08) Episode 39: “I’m Dreaming Of A Slight Christmas” (Aired: 12/22/73)

Bob and his co-workers are trapped in the office during a blizzard on Christmas Eve.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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The Bob Newhart Show was always skilled at delivering funny Christmas episodes, and they gave us one every season. This particular installment, although not my favorite of the six, is beloved by fans — and for good reason. Like Season Four’s “Bob Has To Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve In The Hospital,” (which, I’ll confess in advance, is my favorite Christmas episode from the series), this installment, totally in fitting with this show’s tone, works because its eschews the saccharine tropes of TV families having perfect and idealized Christmases. It’s refreshing, and as usual, so very funny.

09) Episode 41: “The Modernization Of Emily” (Aired: 01/12/74)

Upon meeting an adult former student, Emily tries to recapture her youth.

Written by Charlotte Brown | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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Suzanne Pleshette never got the credit she deserved. Her performance as Emily Hartley is a master class in crafting a believable characterization, and that’s nowhere more evident than in an episode like this, in which the premise has her acting decidedly out of character. In a desperate attempt to remain youthful, Emily changes her appearance and attitude after she runs into one of her grown up students. Again, it’s something we can relate to as human beings. Furthermore, Brown’s script is delightful — especially at Emily’s birthday party, in which Carol’s gag gift (from “the house of tacky”) turns out to be identical to the silly outfit the new Emily has donned. Brilliant writing.

10) Episode 42: “The Jobless Corps” (Aired: 01/19/74)

Howard joins Bob’s new therapy group for unemployed people.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Peter Baldwin

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This installment introduces another group, this time dedicated to people who are depressed about being unemployed. (They will return next season, with a more general focus, in the well remembered “The Battle Of The Groups.”) What makes this episode most entertaining, aside from the usual strong scripting and good character moments, is the assimilation of Howard, who represents Bob’s home life, with Bob’s unemployment group, i.e. his work life. Also, this episode (like the series) is great at the little things — Emily’s subplot with Howard’s plants is an amusing time-filler.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Emily In For Carol,” in which Emily fills in as Bob and Jerry’s secretary, “Have You Met Miss Dietz?” in which Jerry and Howard compete over a divorcee, played by Mariette Hartley, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay, So What’s Wrong?” in which the future Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) plays a couples therapist to whom Emily drags Bob, “A Love Story,” in which Howard falls for Bob’s soon-to-be married sister Ellen,“Confessions Of An Orthodontist,” in which Jerry falls in love with Emily (and Teri Garr guest stars), and “A Matter Of Principal,” in which Emily’s principal wants her to let a student skip a grade.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of The Bob Newhart Show goes to…..

“Mister Emily Hartley”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Three! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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10 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE BOB NEWHART SHOW Episodes of Season Two

  1. Thanks for another great review. It looks as though “Mutiny on the Hartley” includes Noam Pitlik as Mr. Gianelli, who hadn’t been on the season premiere. He certainly gave poor Mr. Peterson another nemesis until his untimely demise a couple seasons later. (You may like that episode too.)

      • Sorry, I didn’t read your first post carefully enough to notice that Mr. Gianelli was in fact one of the five core members of Bob’s group therapy session. I do recall Howard Hesseman as Mr. Plager coming along later though. Mr. Plager may have replaced Mr. Gianelli specifically.

        • Plager started in this season’s “The Jobless Corps” as a member of the other group, which was later repurposed from an unemployed workshop to a more general assembly in “The Battle Of The Groups” (during which we get a temp Gianelli). Plager is then assimilated into the main group — but only when it suits the story.

  2. For me, Season 2 is a big leap forward from Season 1, and I’ve got to go with “Motel” as the Season 2 MVE. Bob’s trademark stammer in the hotel room when Zohra Lampert hits on him is a highlight of one of the best episodes of the entire series.

  3. I got season 5&6 this week finally. I’ll be looking forward to your opinions on S6 because the tone of the show really changes, some weird episodes. I remember ‘Backlash’ giving me the most laugh out loud moments but I agree with your final decision.

    • Hi, Samantha. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, I’m not too fond of the final season (particularly in comparison to the middle years), but I look forward to sharing my thoughts and making my case!

  4. Well, you mentioned my two favorite episodes of this season–which are two of my top ten of the entire series–so I’m happy. I love “T.S. Elliott” and “The Modernization of Emily.” The former has all that funny Nakamura stuff and the delightful Debbie, and the latter has one of Pleshette’s best performances (and it’s so funny to see the usually sensible Emily go overboard and become one of the zanies; reminds me a bit of Laura going wacky in “Pink Pills and Purple Parents,” a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW classic) and a pleasing early appearance from Sharon Gless! Also love the first scene in the supermarket, with Mrs. Bakerman in her own milieu. (P.S. I won’t elaborate but your fave Xmas episode of the series is mine also, and we agree on season six. And onward I go….)

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      “The Modernization Of Emily” is among Pleshette’s finest work on the series; I wish she was more often (and more formally) recognized for her remarkable talent — as evidenced here.

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