Sunday, December 2, 2012

Long Awaited, In One Set, NewsRadio - The Complete Series Is Worth It!

The Good: Funny, Interesting characters, Well-performed
The Bad: Odd packaging that uses more space than needed, No booklet
The Basics: NewsRadio - The Complete Series is an average DVD set of a thoroughly funny and enduring situation comedy!

There are few television comedies that I have been looking to get on DVD that have led me to hold out for a "Complete Series" DVD pack, but NewsRadio was one of them. Content to borrow DVDs and watch the show in syndication until a "Complete Series" set was released, I felt a noticeable lack in my collection from the absence of NewsRadio. With the release of NewsRadio - The Complete Series on DVD, that hole has now been filled and I am quite glad to have this to watch whenever I want now.

In this complete series multipack, there are no additional bonus features or discs that were not released as any of the prior four DVD boxed sets. Moreover, the packaging on this set is funky; to save plastic and (presumably) space, the discs from the five seasons of NewsRadio are stacked in a single tray. All twelve discs are stacked in a tray that is almost twice as deep as it needs to be to accommodate the discs, which makes one wonder why the producers did not simply simplify the packaging even more. Even so, there is great value in the NewsRadio - The Complete Series boxed set, as all ninety-seven episodes of the series are available for less than the price of any two of the season boxed sets!

This set is a simple collection of the originally pressed discs for:
NewsRadio - Seasons 1 & 2
NewsRadio - Season 3
NewsRadio - Season 4
NewsRadio - Season 5

Set in New York City's WNYX radio station featuring an all news format, this workplace sitcom followed the exploits of the straightlaced office manager, Dave, as he worked to keep the station up and running while dealing with the eccentric characters who inhabit the office. It is surprisingly original, hilarious and holds up remarkably well over many multiple viewings.

Dave arrives at WNYX to take over as station manager. There he meets Lisa, the angry producer who believes she should have gotten the station manager's job. Things become complicated for Dave and Lisa when they start dating unbeknownst to anyone else in the office or the station owner, billionaire Jimmy James. While concealing their relationship, Dave is forced to deal with problems like an on-air mispronunciation of Joey Buttafuco's name, a staff uprising over new desks, the station's budget problems, and Mr. James using the staff to test new product's he is investing in. As well, the show centers on Dave breaking up with his old girlfriend (for good), the death of the office rat, and Jimmy's crazy quest to get married.

In the third season, Dave Nelson continues to manage New York City news station WNYX while being micromanaged by station owner, crazed billionaire Jimmy James. While dating producer, Lisa, Dave is constantly stressed by managing the on-air talent, figuring out what Matthew is doing and making sure Joe keeps the station up and running. He reluctantly rallies the staff to have fun at the staff Halloween party, attempts to keep a bad magazine article from getting the staff down, leads the station to victory at an award's show, deals with a complaint box and tries to save Matthew from destitution from medical bills when he is injured. As well, the staff hallucinates when the air conditioning breaks down, the women have a photoshoot, and experience an alternate future.

In the fourth season, Dave finds himself hampered by budget problems which immediately lead to Matthew being fired and an efficiency expert being brought in to evaluate the station and determine what can be cut. When the expert's analysis leads to a change in staff positions, WNYX is turned upside down!

In the final season, Bill dies (a necessary change given the murder of actor Phil Hartman) and Dave hires Max Louis as the new on-air talent to keep station WNYX afloat. Louis instantly antagonizes Matthew, flirts with Beth, competes with Lisa and challenges Jimmy for who might be stranger around the office. With the appearance of Max, Lisa finds her hands tied at work and surprised when a criminal mastermind, Johnny Johnson expresses interest in her following Jimmy's arrest as a suspected hijacker. With Jimmy on the run, Dave gets bad vibes from Johnny and sets to exonerating his boss with the help of the others at the office.

What makes the series so funny is the writing. The dialogue is hilarious and delivered at a wonderfully fast pace by performers who have a genuine knack for comedy. So, for example, in the third episode, "Smoking," Dave is trying to help Bill quit smoking. He does this by supplying Bill with the nicotine patch and the following ensues between Lisa and Dave:
"Don't you need a prescription for those?"
"Yeah, I went to my doctor this morning and had him prescribe them for me."
"But you don't smoke."
"Yeah, but I told him that I was thinking about starting. You know, I don't think he's a very good doctor." - Lisa and Dave, respectively, "Smoking."

It translates well even reading the lines, but there is no substitute for seeing the talented comics delivering their banter. The show is edgier than some and while it starts off good, by the second season episodes, it is truly hitting its stride. The show is not afraid to push the limits of tasteful diction or subject matter, with workers exchanging nude photographs, competing for one another's affections and the entire staff railing ruthlessly on Dave when they think he's not listening. It's funny, it's sometime at the line of good taste, but it is always well-delivered.

NewsRadio starts out strong with the feeling of a show that has been on the air and while the first season employs a number of extras that are whittled out for the second season, there is only one major change in this boxed set and that is in the character of Matthew. Matthew starts out as a geek, but a suitably intelligent and with-it geek whose awkwardness is not a function of anything other than being awkward. At the outset of the second season (so after the first seven episodes) he is transformed into the village idiot, the comic relief because his clumsy character also happens to be painfully stupid. He remains the niche character of the dumb punching bag until the series ends. Outside that, most of the characters are fundamentally who they begin as.

That is not to say they do not evolve because one of the hallmarks of NewsRadio is that it is a rare semi-serialized show. As a result, relationships grow and change, there are consequences for some actions and some threads recur. In this boxed set, for example, Jimmy begins his search for a wife, Dave and Lisa work to keep their relationship secret at the office, and the workplace stress builds up with the staff prompting a staff retreat and a staff psychiatrist.

And like all great shows, NewsRadio has remarkably memorable characters. Here is how they are initially characterized:

Dave Nelson - Fresh in from the midwest, Dave takes over as station manager and discovers his adversary for the job, Lisa, is completely hot. He develops a relationship with her that he has to keep secret and works to manage the office of eccentric characters that occupy WNYX. At the mercy of station owner Jimmy James, Dave is charged with keeping Bill working and not harassing Catherine, and keeping both Beth and Matthew focused on their jobs,

Bill McNeal - On-air talent. He's boisterous, loud, and opinionated. His ego often causes conflict with the coworkers and with Dave. He is taken to trying ridiculous things like taking up a cane, just for the look,

Lisa Miller - Producer. She had been vying for Dave's job when Jimmy brought in Dave, so she is resentful of him, despite their romantic relationship outside work,

Matthew Brock - A lesser producer. He's the incompetent buffoon around WNYX who is often getting into trouble, falling down or being teased. After the first few episodes, he is the butt of almost every terrible joke or prank,

Catherine Duke - On-air talent. Frequently pestered by Bill - or in competition with him for the best stories - she is a dignified, though she does sink to getting into a practical joke war with Bill,

Beth - The staff secretary. She is bubbly and generally inefficient, though she comes with a fiery wit. She tries get-rich-quick schemes that never seem to pan out for her,

Joe Gareli - The station's handyman. He's a kind of brutish guy who is handy with equipment and blunt with people. He facilitates things like Beth's schemes and the practical jokes between Bill and Catherine,

Max Louis - The new radio anchor for the final season, he has been fired by over thirty jobs in the past twenty years, which makes him neurotic about being fired. When Dave does not fire him, he settles in to annoying Matthew, flirting with Beth and starting his own vendetta against Jimmy's security consultant,

and Jimmy James - Crazy billionaire who owns the station. He controls the staff through a weird mix of fear and random bonuses. He gives Dave difficult assignments at odd times and changes the parameters of his expectations almost constantly. As well, he has a habit of beginning sentences or asking questions without quite knowing where he is going with them.

Part of what makes NewsRadio - The Complete Series so truly great is that the casting is brilliant. NewsRadio features some truly talented individuals. They include Maura Tierney as Lisa, Vicki Lewis as Beth, Khandi Alexander as Catherine, and Joe Rogan (who actually works out perfectly) as Joe. Andy Dick appears as Matthew and it seems like many of his roles later on are derivative of his role her. Stephen Root plays Jimmy James and it is quite possibly his most memorable single role to date.

Phil Hartman instantly led NewsRadio some credibility and it's easy to see why. Hartman has a voice that makes him ideal for radio, so the idea of him playing a character who works in radio is perfect casting. But Hartman also has a versatility that makes it possible for him to embody a character who can flawlessly move between arrogant, erudite, and completely smarmy. Hartman plays with that versatility in almost every single episode and Bill McNeal is in many ways his live-action legacy.

But the show is carried on the back of Dave Foley as Dave. Foley, well-known to comedy fans from The Kids In The Hall (season one reviewed here!), plays a much more straightlaced character as Dave and it works because his deadpan and normalcy allow everyone else in the cast to be zany or petty. Foley works as the ultimate straightman against a completely eccentric cast that meshes from almost the very first episode.

The DVD extras on the various seasons of NewsRadio are fairly lean, though they seem to be pretty much the industry standard for comedies. There are a few featurettes on the characters and seasons and one or two commentary tracks, but not much else. In the "Complete Series" package, it would have been nice to have more than just a listing of episode titles (a booklet with little plot summaries would have been ideal!). Sadly, that is not present.

Still, it is not hard to get into this series and it is a series that one may get through rather quickly, yet want to have around for years to come. A worthy, if vastly underrated series that is now available in one bundle for fans to enjoy for posterity!

For other shows that air(ed) on NBC, please check out my reviews of:
30 Rock – Season 1
The West Wing
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Homicide: Life On The Streets
V - The Television Series
Star Trek


For other movie and television reviews, please visit my Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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