First, my rating of 10 out of 10 is for the seasons where I feel the show was strongest. If I had to give an overall rating, it would be a high 8 or low 9.
I've written in other places that I feel vintage Newhart is seasons 3-6. The first two with Kirk and the previous maid seem like a different show sometimes; and the last two seasons contain a lot of jump-the-shark moments.
I understand there will be people who really love the more outlandish plots of the final seasons, but recently after watching two season 7 episodes, my feelings were re-confirmed about how much I dislike the writing at that stage of the series.
I think they really ruin Michael when they give him the nervous breakdown. In the episode called 'One and a Half Million Dollar Man, the scenes with him as the mime in the restaurant while Stephanie is on a date with an old friend were completely over the top. Even the subplot with Larry & the Darryls knowing Stephanie's friend intimately required too much suspension of disbelief. It's like the show was going for high camp jokes and sacrificing character development at this point. In earlier seasons, we certainly would not have had Larry and his brothers as people who went to New York to see Broadway shows on the down-low. It's funny, but this isn't true to their characters and their overall presentation as backwoods stereotypes.
The next episode 'The Little Match Girl' brings Eileen Brennan back as Corinne, an illustrator that worked with Dick on an earlier book. There is no way someone like Dick would have been so dumb as to sign her out of a mental institution without checking out what caused her to be placed there in the first place. And it's completely painful watching Michael languish in the sanitarium. The scene where Stephanie visits him was dominated by a bald roommate trying to make a move on Stephanie, and there was hardly any exchange between Stephane and Michael about what put him there and where their relationship had gone wrong. Again, solid characterization sacrificed for campy scenes with nutty patients and over the top jokes.
Of course, I am not saying all the episodes in the last two seasons do not work-- but many of them are off on such a weird tangent that it's difficult to watch.
At its heart, in the glory seasons from the third until the sixth year (with better writers and producers) we have a Rockwell view of life in a small New England hamlet, full of charm and slightly eccentric characters. But all of that just gets carelessly thrown by the wayside in season 7 and they had no real way to explain the ridiculous story choices and direction of the characters without making it Dick's dream at the end. And that in itself was ridiculous because nobody would have a dream with 184 separate, consecutive stories in it-- unless he was in a coma and had been sleeping for a long time-- not to mention he covered years of hairstyle changes, clothing changes and changes in technology in a deep sleep?
A sad way to watch this show go, when it was truly one of the best things on television for those four middle years.
6 out of 7 found this helpful