Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Of The Best Sitcoms Ever To Syndicate Comes To DVD With NewsRadio!

The Good: Great acting, Great characters, FUNNY!, Good writing, Good DVD extras
The Bad: Some predictable plots
The Basics: With twenty-eight episodes, most of which have commentary, this DVD set becomes one of the funniest and clever sitcoms anyone could add to their collection!

Any show that references space prostitutes is all right by me. Of course, to my knowledge, there is only one series that dares to reference Vixens From The Vacuum and that is NewsRadio, in its hilarious episode "No, This Is Not Based Entirely On Julie's Life" on DVD in the first NewsRadio boxed set. NewsRadio - The Complete First And Second Season is an example of doing right what the awkward The Practice - Vol. 1 (reviewed here!) did wrong. This boxed set includes all seven first season episodes and the twenty-one episodes that made up the second season. This also marks the only sitcom I caught in syndication that was so truly spectacular that I had to buy the DVD sets. If you've never seen or heard of NewsRadio, this DVD set should soon be in your possession and one that you'll find gets pretty heavy rotation.

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.

It's all good. Seriously. Front to back, this DVD set is a winner. In fact, when someone else compared it to Arrested Development (reviewed here!), I finally realized why I like Arrested Development so much! They are both fiercely original and have great writing. Honestly, the only thing I could come up with that brings down this boxed set from perfection is that some of the episodes are a bit predictable on the plot front. Not many, but a few. It's enough - in my stringent rating system - to keep the set from perfection. But it certainly should not keep you from picking the set up.

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 who they are in the first season:

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,

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 First and Second Seasons 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 here, like his part in Employee Of The Month (reviewed here!). 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 set is one of the truly great comedy DVD sets. Would that Sports Night (reviewed here!) had the extras that this set comes with! Twenty episodes have commentaries, there is a featurette. Season two has a pretty hilarious blooper reel and there are the usual filmographies included. It's an all around nice set of extras and the commentary tracks make for a wonderful addition to the DVD set providing hours more of entertainment. It honestly makes it worth it for those of us, like me, who might have been complacent about simply enjoying the series in syndication.

After all, I know I've been happier having NewsRadio on demand! I suspect anyone who likes a good laugh with humor that's above the curve, will as well.

For other works with Maura Tierney, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Baby Mama
Forces Of Nature
Primary Colors


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the television reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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