The Ten Best THE BOB NEWHART SHOW Episodes of Season Three

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, and PAT FINLEY recurs as Ellen Hartley.

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A crew of very talented writers/producers lead The Bob Newhart Show into its effortless middle seasons, during which the series truly establishes its rhythm and really delights in exploring these rich characters in original (and often realistic) stories. Meanwhile, Pat Finley recurs throughout the season as Ellen Hartley, Bob’s sister and Howard’s love interest, whom we first met at the end of Season Two. Although her presence helps strengthen the connection between Howard and the Hartleys and allows for new and fresh storylines, she’s not a great source for comedy, and her character will be phased out during Season Four. But there are many excellent episodes here in the third season, and more importantly, there are very few disappointing ones. Season Three is among the series’ best, so this was a tough list to make. 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 Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

 

01) Episode 50: “The Battle Of The Groups” (Aired: 09/21/74)

Bob’s two therapy groups converge at a weekend retreat.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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The group has long been established as a major comedic force, and with the creation of a second group last season, this episode brings both together in an exciting, albeit, unexpected way. Filled with many great character actors, the conflict between the opposing groups ends up taking a back seat to tension that mounts between Bob and Emily, as the combined group retreat turns into an extended session for the feuding pair. This is a well-remembered installment, and great for fans of “the group(s).” (Although the replacements in the main group are glaring.)

02) Episode 51: “The Great Timpau Medical Arts Co-Op Experiment” (Aired: 09/28/74)

Jerry organizes all of the floor’s doctors into a co-op arrangement.

Written by Coleman Mitchell & Geoffrey Neigher | Directed by George Tyne

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One of only a few episodes that make great use of the other doctors on the floor (which include Tupperman, the urologist, and Newman, the plastic surgeon), this very funny installment finds the floor pulling together for a “co-op” arrangement in which they all agree to treat one another. Several of my favorite moments include the group session with the doctors, and all of the moments involving the absolutely hysterical Merie [or Merrie] Earle as Bob’s patient, Mrs. Loomis. Big laughs in this one.

03) Episode 55: “Dr. Ryan’s Express” (Aired: 10/26/74)

Jerry hires an incompetent temp secretary when Carol is away again.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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Debbie, the incompetent temporary secretary who always refers to Bob as “Dr. Ryan”, is a very popular recurring character among this show’s loyal fan base. This is perhaps the best of her three appearances, and probably one of the laugh-out-loud funniest episodes of the season. Also, take note of the kooky little subplot with Emily trying to get new drapes. It’s a silly little gag, the drapes being too short, but the triviality of some of the stories explored on this series is really delightful. Great installment.

04) Episode 56: “Brutally Yours, Bob Hartley” (Aired: 11/02/74)

Bob decides to try total honesty, which others do not seem to enjoy.

Written by John Rappaport | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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We’ve seen several sitcom episodes where characters either decide or are forced to live their lives with total honesty, a great recipe for ruined friendships and big laughs. What’s most exciting about Bob Newhart‘s take on the story is how un-manipulative it seems. Bob being completely honest doesn’t seem like a stretch for his character, and there’s nothing gaggy or false about his behavior. It’s smart “adult” comedy, and because this is a well written script with some big laughs, this may be one of the series’ best episodes: utterly human.

05) Episode 57: “Ship Of Shrinks” (Aired: 11/09/74)

To Bob’s embarrassment, his chapter in a new psychology book is heavily condensed.

Written by Coleman Mitchell & Geoffrey Neigher | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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One of the things that sets The Bob Newhart Show apart is the way that stories are told. Their scripts often eschew a formulaic design, instead unfolding rather organically, and yet, unpredictably. Things just happen. For example, Bob’s embarrassment on the shortening of his essay on office furniture occurs just before he’s going to a conference in Hawaii. This story reinforces Emily’s fear of flying and brings in Howard, whose depression over a fight with Ellen threatens to hamper his navigating. Just a fun, cohesive and well written installment.

06) Episode 59: “An American Family” (Aired: 11/23/74)

Thanksgiving dinner is threatened when Emily’s father feuds with Bob’s mother.

Written by Charlotte Brown | Directed by Peter Bonerz

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This series is marvelous at crafting Thanksgiving and Christmas shows (even though this season’s Christmas episode is my least favorite of the six), and this installment is another fine entry. Most excitingly, it’s the first, last, and only time that all four of Bob and Emily’s parents are together — which include John Randolph, the first Frank Costanza, Ann Rutherford, Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister, Barnard Hughes, future star of MTM’s Doc (1975-1976, CBS), and Martha Scott, the original Emily in Our Town. It’s a veritable who’s who of actors, with a funny script to boot!

07) Episode 62: “Serve For Daylight” (Aired: 12/14/74)

Bob is dismayed when Emily is chosen as his partner for a tennis tournament.

Written by Jerry Mayer | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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Written by one of this season’s best writers, this installment, another fan favorite, also makes use of the office ensemble (including the other doctors on the floor) as a source for potential stories. The premise this time is an annual tennis tournament, in which Bob and Emily are chosen as partners — to Bob’s chagrin. The major comedy comes from Bob’s rare competitive streak, which is in full force in this episode, when Emily, clearly an inferior player, ruins his chances of winning the tournament. Newhart is divine.

08) Episode 67: “A Pound Of Flesh” (Aired: 01/25/75)

Jerry is angry at Bob for refusing to lend him money.

Written by Jerry Mayer | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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Okay, so the A-story in this episode, which finds Jerry and Bob at odds when the latter refuses to send the former money is only okay. While it is a truthful telling of a very realistic story, much of this episode’s comedy comes from the return appearance of the aforementioned Mrs. Loomis, who’s just as hilarious as ever detailing the intense rivalry she shares with her sister. It is because of Earle, whom I truly find to be hysterical (in all three of her appearances), that this episode makes the list!

09) Episode 69: “The New Look” (Aired: 02/08/75)

Bob’s routine is disturbed when Emily redecorates.

Written by Gordon & Lynne Farr | Directed by Peter Bonerz

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Ever since the days of I Love Lucy, many shows, when the higher ups decide to update the sets, choose to write the remodeling into the narrative. This self-awareness is much appreciated, although comedy can sometimes be difficult in episodes such as these, which are designed solely for the purpose of fulfilling a goal. Happily, this episode is funny enough to avoid that common pitfall. By the way, this is the first script by Gordon and Lynne Farr, who will soon become two of this series’ best writers.

10) Episode 72: “The Ceiling Hits Bob” (Aired: 03/08/75)

Howard and Ellen consider moving, Carol considers quitting, and Bob’s office ceiling collapses.

Written by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses | Directed by Alan Rafkin

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This episode benefits from a real sense of chaos, which is established in the two prior episodes (which you’ll find in the honorable mentions) that share similar titles. As a season finale, this is a smart installment, showing off the ensemble while simultaneously allowing for character growth. And best of all, Bob Hartley is precisely at the center of everything, which is just as it should be. (This episode reminds me of the second season finale of Frasier in this regard.) It’s a briskly placed, entertaining episode. Appropriate end to a great season.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “The Separation Story,” in which Emily goes back to school for her Master’s degree, “Sorry, Wrong Mother,” a mediocre episode in which Howie meets Ellen, but features a superb scene in an ice cream shop with a young John Ritter (see below), “Life Is A Hamburger,” in which Carol and Jerry share a night of passion, “We Love You… Good-Bye,” in which Emily inadvertently gets Bob kicked out of his women’s therapy group, “The Way We Weren’t,” which was James Burrows’ directorial debut on this series, and both “Bob Hits The Ceiling” and “Emily Hits The Ceiling,” which preceded the season finale.

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

“Brutally Yours, Bob Hartley”

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

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