"Newsradio" stands out, in my opinion, as one of the most underappreciated sitcoms of the 90's, and maybe ever. The series took a little while to get going, but once it did, the show's incredible ensemble, which featured a set of comedians with their own styles, really became remarkably funny. The series ran from 1995-1999, but suffered a loss with the tragic death of Phil Hartman.
The pilot episode had Dave coming to New York from Wisconsin to take over the position of news manager at WNYX. He faces some problems, though: billionaire owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root, in a classic performance as a boss who does whatever he wants because he has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it) has not told the staff that Dave is coming to work there as their boss. He also expects Dave to fire the man that he's going to be replacing. "Newsradio" started in 1995 as a mid-season replacement, with a total season of only 7 episodes. By the time the opening run had wrapped up, the series had begun to come together, with the cast getting into their roles and the writing getting sharper and funnier.
While I thought the show's first and second seasons started to get rolling as they went on, it's the third season where "Newsradio" makes the jump from wonderful to brilliant. Despite never gaining the ratings that it deserved, the show was somehow able to keep going under-the-radar for the few years it was on (probably one of the last shows to be able to do so - today it wouldn't get a chance), which appears to have resulted in more creative freedom than the average sitcom.
"Newsradio"'s fourth season not only kept up the kind of comedic excellence seen in the third season, it actually managed to build upon it at times. As superb as the "Space" (same show situation, only set in space) episode was in the third season, the show tops that with "Sinking Ship", an episode that moves the "Newsradio" workplace to the Titanic.
Sadly, star Phil Hartman was killed after the fourth season ended. The fifth season opens with "Bill Moves On", which is a very touching episode that takes place after the characters have returned from Bill's funeral. The episode is a terrific mix of emotional moments and bittersweet laughs, and the end is a quiet, simple and yet heartbreaking goodbye. The next episode, "Meet the Max Louis", finds the characters searching for a replacement for Bill and finding one in Max Louis (Jon Lovitz), one of Bill's old friends. Lovitz has funny moments throughout the season doing his classic Lovitz delivery, but he really never fits in with the cast.
The middle of the season is taken up with a 3-part episode involves the legendary hijacker DB Cooper, who turns out to be none other than Jimmy himself. While Jimmy James is off in jail, his evil replacement Johnny Johnson (Patrick Warburton, who would have worked better as than Lovitz with this cast), who has his sights set on Jimmy's empire and Lisa's heart. Warburton's character returns later in the season, looking quite different, in order to make a second attempt at Lisa. The character was amusing in the earlier 3-parter, but his return just doesn't work, as Tierny and Warburton just don't have any chemistry with one another, and the romantic plot between the two isn't believable in either the 3-parter or the later 2-parter.
Still, there are definitely some highlights throughout, such as "Freaky Friday" (Matthew doesn't think Jimmy does anything all day; when the two switch jobs for a day, Matthew accidentally loses all of Jimmy's billions); "Noise" (Joe builds a white noise machine to lower Dave's blood pressure); "Flowers for Matthew" (Joe's new "smart drink" appears to have a big effect on Matthew's IQ); "Boston" (Dave puts together a video for his old teacher's class) and "Spooky Rapping Crypt" (Jimmy and Beth battle over a profit-sharing plan).
Bill Moves On
Meet The Max Louis
Flowers for Mathew
Clash of the Titans
Spooking Rapping Crypt
VIDEO: "Newsradio" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Video in 1.33:1 full-frame. Despite the fact that 22 episodes are presented across three discs, the picture quality here actually was quite good. Sharpness and detail were above average throughout the episodes, with only slight occasional softness. Some minor shimmering and a few traces of pixelation are apparent briefly on a few occasions, but the picture is generally up to broadcast quality, if not slightly better at times. Colors remained bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing. Overall, the image quality was quite similar to the prior sets.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack was perfectly fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: "The Lost Episode" one-man "Newsradio" short film starring writer/producer Joe Furey, a hilarious 22-minute gag reel. We also get commentaries for "Wedding", "Padded Suit", "New Hampshire", "Lucky Burger", "Flowers for Matthew", "Jail", "Spooky Rapping Crypt", "Stinkbutt" and "Towers" with creator/exec producer Paul Simms, actor Stephen Root, actor Andy Dick and various members of the writing staff and crew. As with the tracks on the prior sets, the commentaries are a great deal of fun, as the cast members joke about behind-the-scenes stories and working on the episodes. Everyone shares favorite lines and moments, and has a great deal of fun looking back on the episodes after several years.
Final Thoughts: Maybe the fifth season of "Newsradio" isn't as consistent as the outstanding prior four seasons, but there's some good episodes here, and it's proof that the series really was funny right until the very end. "Newsradio" still remains one of the best, most underrated sitcoms in recent memory; if sitcom fans haven't started buying seasons on DVD yet, I'd highly suggest they do so. Recommended.