Monday, January 14, 2013

The Final Season Of NewsRadio Slips Some, Even On DVD, But It's Still Worth It!

The Good: FUNNY, Well acted, Decent serialization, Moments of character, DVD bonus features
The Bad: Plots are more standard, Problematic reshuffling of characters.
The Basics: With its final season on DVD, NewsRadio takes a slightly above-average sitcom and adds some wonderful bonus features to make a worthwhile buy.

Every now and then there comes a show that I enjoy more when I'm rewatching it on DVD than I did when it originally aired. Perhaps the most recent example would be with Alias. When I first watched the final season of Alias, I loathed it. When I picked up the boxed set of Alias - The Complete Fifth Season" on DVD (reviewed here!), it was tolerable and moments were even enjoyable. Unlike many fans of NewsRadio, who shunned the fifth season, I enjoyed the final season of the series and eagerly picked it up and have been rewatching it on DVD. It's a wonderful sitcom and the final season may slip into more average sitcom territory, but it is still far above any other straight-out sitcom that was on at the time.

Following the untimely death of Bill McNeal, Dave Nelson 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.

The fifth season of NewsRadio is easier to describe in terms of plot, largely because it is far more serialized than any of the prior seasons. In addition to the two episodes up front that focus on Bill's absence, there is a three-story arc with Johnny Johnson, followed later on by two follow-up episodes with him, and the two episodes that are effectively the series finale. The show's creator, Paul Simms, apparently disliked serialized episodes, but they work remarkably well for this series. It deserved the maturity of getting an adult audience vested in it with serialized plots that would bring them back each week. It may not have succeeded with the ratings, but it certainly makes this season work better as a boxed set.

The truth here is that the serialized nature of several of the episodes goes a long way to reviving what would otherwise be a pretty dismal set of episodic bits. Sure, "Flowers For Matthew" (a parody of "Flowers For Algernon," wherein Matthew becomes smart) is funny, but it's the exception to the rule for the episodic episodes in this set. Other episodes try to shake things up with Max and try to get humor out of Lisa going after a corrupt fast food restaurant, Dave and Jimmy becoming obsessed with white noise, Lisa taking on a Boston accent (no kidding, that is the a-plot of "Boston"), Jimmy hiring a security consultant and Matthew making himself up as a punk when he turns 30. Yes, some of the situations in this "situation comedy" become forced, making the comedy a bit more hit-or-miss, but there's enough to make it worthwhile.

Actually, the funniest line of the entire series is delivered, flawlessly, in the second to last (if the finale is looked at as one episode) episode when Matthew and Jimmy switch jobs for a week. In all honesty, the boxed set is worth it solely to see that episode and the moment Matthew explains what he did with Jimmy's seven billion dollar fortune. Hilarious.

But to truly understand where NewsRadio went right before it was axed, it helps to understand the characters. The principles for the fifth season of NewsRadio are:

Dave Nelson - The station manager at WNYX, he is in charge of hiring a replacement when Bill McNeal dies. His selection of Max Louis surprises most of the staff. While trying to convince Max that he hasn't been fired, Dave becomes addicted to white noise, works to keep Johnny Johnson at bay, fights his ex-girlfriend Lisa for a new apartment, and ultimately refuses to follow Jimmy and the staff to New Hampshire,

Lisa Miller - Getting more reporting jobs following Bill's death, she finds herself the object of Johnny Johnson's lust and considers using that to keep him from gaining power. As well, she takes up her childhood Boston accent, wears the same outfit as Matthew to the office, and has her puppy stolen,

Matthew - is convinced Bill is still alive until he is given proof he cannot deny. He has an instant hatred for Max and rebels against him constantly. As well, Matthew becomes brilliant, gets hypnotized and believes Lisa is a Satanist, decks himself out as a punk rocker and spends a week as a billionaire,

Max Louis - The new radio anchor, 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,

Beth - is weirded out by Max, but gets into a strange relationship of sorts with him. This season she demands Jimmy give employees a profit-sharing program, paints with Joe, and feeds Lisa's dog junkfood. As well, in "Freaky Friday," a CD club catches onto her scamming them and comes after her,

Joe - finds more time to paint and set up things like an internet camera in the break room. He also teaches Matthew his own martial art, "Joe-jitsu,"

and Jimmy James - The crazy billionaire who owns the station has reason to be crazy when his nemesis Johnny Johnson turns up to usurp his control of WNYX. In addition to fleeing the law when he is accused of being D.B. Cooper, Jimmy becomes addicted to white noise, works on his legacy and tries to get the staff to move to New Hampshire.

It is worth noting that Khandi Alexander, appears in the first episode of the season as Catherine Duke. Catherine left near the beginning of the fourth season and it was classy of Alexander to come back for "Bill Moves On." Also featured in a recurring role throughout the season is Patrick Warburton as Johnny Johnson. Warburton might be best known for voicing Joe on Family Guy but as Johnny Johnson he is hilarious in an over-the-top deadpan villain way.

Much of the plot and character development is a result of reshuffling due to the murder of actor Phil Hartman who played Bill in the prior seasons. In addition to ending his run as a voice actor on The Simpsons, Hartman's live-action career was cut short by virtue of him being dead. Jon Lovitz, who was a coworker and friend of Hartman from before they worked together on Saturday Night Live jumped in to fill the niche left by Hartman and Lovitz's Max Louis is certainly memorable (and no relation to either of the characters Lovitz had played in earlier seasons).

The acting in this season is good, but only Andy Dick truly has something different to do as the rest of the characters are pretty static for the season. The actors know their parts, are comfortable in their (very wonderful) ruts, but nothing in these episodes challenge them. Instead, they give great performances that make the viewer feel like they are returning (one last time) to the company of some good friends. Andy Dick becomes more like himself (or at least, his public persona) with Matthew's outrageous experimentations (smart, punk, rich) throughout the season.

On DVD, this set renews the confidence of the buyer in how generous the producers can be with bonus features. Despite what the box says, there are eight commentary tracks, a gag reel that is longer than most of the episodes (it becomes a little tiresome, but it is funny), and there's the One Man Newsradio segments. According to the box, there's deleted scenes, but I couldn't find them. The commentary tracks and other featurettes are decent and make the set worth buying for that alone.

The fifth and final season of NewsRadio is not the best season the show produced, but this is not an unworthy boxed set. Instead, this is a little above average with the DVD bonuses being decent, despite the deceptive packaging. And with the way the show ends, this easily became one of the Top Ten Shows I wish would return to television! A must for any fan of NewsRadio and a nice denouement for series. It's harder to sell this to fans of general comedy, but anyone who likes Jon Lovitz ought to pick this set up.

It's a nice end, though it would be nice to see where it could go.

For other works with Jon Lovitz, please visit my reviews of:
Southland Tales
The Benchwarmers
Farce Of The Penguins
Small Time Crooks
The Critic


For other television and film reviews, please visit my Index Page on the subject for organized lists!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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