Are you depressed? Anxious? Needing some rest and relaxation from creative endeavors, work-related stress, heat exhaustion, and/or the looming immediacy of upcoming weddings, holidays, and other various and sundry Social Occasions? Then look no further for a half-hour’s respite than Newhart*, a sitcom from the 1980’s about a city-slicker writer and his wife who run a bed-and-breakfast in rural Vermont.
This has become an end-of-the-day ritual for me, my parents, and at least a few of my siblings. After a hard, busy day of work, there’s nothing like collapsing on the couch and laughing your head off with a short episode of Newhart before bed. From the happy theme song and the endearing characters, to the quick, witty dialogue and the charm of small-town drama, it’s no wonder my mom says watching this show is better than going to see a psychiatrist.
The aforementioned city-slicker writer, Dick Loudon, is played by the hilarious, dry-witted Bob Newhart. (We millennials know him as the voice of Bernard from “The Rescuers,” and Papa Elf from the Christmas movie Elf.) Dick is a quiet, sensible soul who just wants to run his little business and write his DIY books in peace and comfort; his wife, the livelier and more sympathetic Joanna (Mary Frann) tries to strike more of a balance between his no-nonsense personality and the quirky characters who come in and out of the Stratford Inn.
Because all poor Dick wants is to be left alone. He’s an introvert, an author, and someone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. But if the City Council isn’t hounding him to head one committee or another, he’s mediating between feuding lodges, fending off pushy neighbors, offering stammering (but well-meaning) counsel to friends who consider him the fount of all wisdom, or assuring his terrified guests (and employees) that the woman buried in the Stratford Inn’s basement–a woman who, by the way, was hung during the Salem Witch Trials–is not actually haunting the bed and breakfast.
The organized and truly lovely Joanna, meanwhile, does a great job managing the Inn, so long as she can keep the resident maid Stephanie (Julia Duffy) in line, off the telephone, and doing more with her life and hands than painting her nails and tossing her platinum locks. The warmhearted handyman George cheerfully keeps the Inn in good working order, while the surprisingly eloquent redneck Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl run Minuteman Cafe next door. (Yes, you read that right: both of the brothers are named “Darryl.”) One never knows what’s on the menu at the Cafe. Sometimes it’s better not to ask…unless you’re interested in, say, raccoon.
There’s a bit of mild language (words like “damn” and “hell” tend to pop up in a few episodes, unfortunately), but for the most part it’s a charming show, with its perfect blend of the realistic and the oddball. For example, every writer can relate to Dick’s frustration when he spends hours editing a single sentence in his latest book, or to his melodramatic despair over a bout of writer’s block that sends him careening into a brief stint as a cowboy. On the other hand, you’re probably not likely to find roadkill being served in a cafe in a tourist town…but if you spend time in a rural area you might still meet a warmhearted redneck with a preference for squirrel brains. It’s possible.
It may not be the trendiest, newest, or most action-packed of shows, but if you just want a healthy dose of the best medicine you really can’t go wrong with Newhart*!