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The Bob Newhart Show
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Bob Newhart Show is a classic '70s sitcom that cultivates laughs from the everyday follies of its low-key protagonist and his circle of quirky friends, family members, and psychology patients. Though the visual trappings feel dated, the show's much-loved, clean-cut comedy still works for families today. When the plot raises sensitive issues like homosexuality or divorce, it does so lightly and with a mind for the comedy. While it's not so overt in its portrayal of changing gender roles of the time as were timely counterparts like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it does cast a new brand of women in both prominent female roles. Little in this show's content will give parents pause, which makes it a great choice for viewing with your tweens and teens.
What's the story?
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW stars Bob Newhart as Dr. Bob Hartley, an amicable psychologist with a successful practice in Chicago. His wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), is a school teacher, and their neighbor Howard (Bill Daily) is practically part of the family as well, prone to barging in on the Hartleys at every hour of the day with a litany of needs or whims. At work Bob is flanked by his quick-witted secretary, Carol (Marcia Wallace), and their office neighbor Jerry (Peter Bonerz), who's a dentist. The series chronicles the personal and professional follies of Bob as he deals with his patients and his personal life, which is often fraught with its own minor disasters.
Is it any good?
Newhart's celebrated comic genius shines in this timeless character as he delivers zingers with his trademark deadpan facade amid the flurry of activity that often surrounds him onscreen. Between balancing his work and home life, coming to the aid of his hapless friend Howard time and again, and filling the needs of his parade of patients, Bob's life is a recipe for comical misadventures. And while he never seems to recognize the humor in them as they're happening, you certainly will.
The Bob Newhart Show is a sitcom from another era, when sex didn't sell and jokes didn't need shock value to garner laughs. You'll see reflections of its place in history in subtle ways -- Emily portrays a new generation of working wives, which brings certain challenges to a marriage; Carol embodies the single, working woman with options in life and love; and some episodes touch on issues becoming more widely accepted in the '70s, including homosexuality and divorce. Even so, despite the time lapse, the situations are still relatable today, and age hasn't tarnished the show's superb casting and sharp writing that so aptly plays to each character's strengths.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how we can learn about history through the entertainment it inspired. What does this show teach us about the prominent issues of the 1970s? How has society evolved with regard to those issues since this show aired?
How well does the media portray female roles? How do Emily and Carol represent different sides of the female population of their time? Are both positive role models? Why or why not?
This series succeeded without gratuitous violence, language, or sexual content. Would a show like it survive on TV today? Why are we more tolerant of this kind of content now than we were decades ago? Does that influence our tolerance of this behavior in real life, or is it the other way around?
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