“Bob” premiered in 1992, back when Alan Moore probably thought he’d get those Watchmen rights back someday and Frank Miller was still on time with Sin City. The show’s got no overt comics pedigree despite being a spot-on (just early?) look at grimdark revisionist comics, with lead Bob Newhart’s Silver Age-ish hero Mad Dog getting a post-Dark Knight Returns revamp by grim and gritty creator John Cygan.
Now, the show doesn’t use any of those phrases—I wouldn’t bet anyone told Newhart the phrase “Silver Age”—but there’s a surprisingly solid comics foundation to it. Cygan’s going to bring back friendly neighborhood wholesome Mad Dog (a vet who gives himself dog powers through medical science) but as a vigilante. His first step? Killing off his sidekick so no one thinks they’re gay.
Despite a life-changing fortune offer, Newhart hears Cygan’s idea and is out the door—leading to this other prescient subplot about the CEO (Michael Cumpsty) listening in to every conversation in the building and talking to his employees—only for them to get together after the commercial break and decide it’s a better idea for a show if Cygan and Newhart work together on the relaunch than Newhart just going back to illustrating greeting cards.
As a sitcom, “Bob”’s high middling. Newhart’s hilarious, even when the jokes go stale onscreen, but the supporting cast isn’t on par. Carlene Watkins is blandly fine as his wife; Cynthia Stevenson is their daughter, who Watkins apparently had at ten. Stevenson’s got Mr. Magoo-esque near-sided jokes and otherwise just has a crappy (unseen) boyfriend. You can see Stevenson trying to act and the script getting in the way, like she doesn’t know how to do sitcom.
Watkins can do sitcom.
We also meet the art department staff, who don’t get character names except Ruth Kobart, who knows Newhart from the old days. When were these old days? Given Mad Dog: The Comic ran twelve issues before Stevenson was born and assuming she’s not playing her thirty… it’s still like twenty-five years ago….
Doesn’t matter. I’m overthinking it. Or I'd just forgotten how much sitcoms can under-think, especially when they’ve got Newhart still able to get laughs whenever he wants. They’re even able to do a telephone gag.
Cygan’s okay enough… he plays really well opposite the cat, which helps immensely. But he’s wearing this puffy windbreaker thing with shoulder pads and it’s hard not to stare in abject horror at early nineties fashions. Plus one of the white comics dudes is wearing shorts (both the so far unnamed dudes in the art department are white comics dudes).
“Bob” is Newhart’s last titular sitcom so I always figured I’d give it a shot someday, but I had no idea how well its ideas would age even if its fashions are an exceptional eyesore. Also the ableism is very weird.
But it’s a good mix of interesting and okay and it doesn’t hurt Newhart can just make the laughs happen.