The Third Season
(First new episode to air on a Wednesday night 9:00 to 9:30 PM)
When Dave returns from vacation, he discovers that Jimmy is running for President of the United States. No one can get a straight answer on Jimmys motivation to campaign, but Lisa undertakes to dig up the dirt on Jimmy. Meanwhile, Matthew returns from his summer vacation with a large mustache, which only serves to distract his co-workers. Al Roker guest stars.
Dave has his hands full when Matthew, feeling neglected at work, becomes obsessed with the comic strip character "Dilbert" and quits his job at WNYX to work at a coffee house. Meanwhile, after a review of the station in a radio trade publication, everyone reacts as if theyve been given a bad report card, except for Bill who seems to revel in being called "adequate." Scott Adams (creator of the Dilbert comic strip) guest stars as a coffee shop patron.
When Jimmy has to make some financial cuts at the station, he enlists Dave to break the news to staffers, but the WNYX employees threaten a mutiny when they learn that their coveted office snacks are victims of the budgetary axe. Bill uses the situation to selfishly order a special massage chair. Also, it seems that Joe has a crush on Catherine when Beth notices that hes paying undue attention to repairing Catherines desk.
As the office budget cutter, Beth organizes the replacement of the sandwich vending machine with a vintage video game, Stargate Defender. While Bill waxes nostalgic over the loss of his beloved sandwiches, Dave must confront his latent arcade addiction. To complicate matters, Lisa fears that age is killing her I.Q., and she convinces Dave to retake the SAT test with her. A young Leelee Sobieski has a brief appearance as a student.
In order to get the staff invited to Jimmys lavish costume party, Lisa and Dave must prove that the folks at WNYX have Halloween spirit. At the party it turns out to be Dave who provides the most shocking surprise. Meanwhile, a psychics prediction that Bill will die on his 82nd birthday has him feeling really down.
Dave cant seem to motivate a pessimistic WNYX staff into being excited about an upcoming award show. But theyre in for a surprise when the station achieves a clean sweep. Unfortunately, Joe takes his jealous overprotectiveness of Catherine to boorish depths. Meanwhile, Matthew takes it upon himself to rid the office of a supposed ant problem. Sportscaster Bob Costas guest stars.
Heat-induced daydreams plague the staff as they sweat out a day with a broken thermostat. Among the reveries: Matthew is Beths worst nightmare, and Bill is every womans fantasy.
James Caan (playing himself) stops by WNYX to do some research for a film part as a radio news anchor, but his visit brings out embarrassing adulation in both Bill and Matthew. Meanwhile, Daves idea for a birthday gift doesnt thrill Lisa, and Catherine and Beth compete for Jimmys extra ticket to the Knicks game.
Jimmy begrudgingly offers a financially unstable Beth some tips on playing the stock market, but its Bill who becomes bullish when he crashes their lessons for inside information. Meanwhile, Matthew torments the staff with vacation stories, and Lisa stubbornly refuses to replace her squeaky chair because she doesnt want it to appear like she receives special treatment from Dave.
Its Christmas eve at WNYX and everyone is hurriedly trying to tie up loose ends before they leave for the holidays, but Dave, who is trying to get home to Wisconsin to introduce Lisa to his parents, has trouble leaving on time to catch a plane all because he is too busy covering for everyone else. Meanwhile, Jimmy runs his Christmas list of wealthy media moguls by Matthew. Elsewhere, Bill talks Beth into being his dialog partner for an outside voice-over job.
Bill brings Matthew with him to check out memberships at a prestigious gym. The slick manager (guest star Ben Stiller) impresses Bill by telling him that the gyms larger than life owner, Eddie Chambers, will be his personal trainer. Meanwhile, at the office, Beth and Matthew discover something shocking on Daves birth certificate. When they reveal their secret to Lisa, she also feels completely betrayed by Dave. Also, a nervous Jimmy enlists Daves help in polishing his unrefined table manners, as hes been invited to attend an upcoming dinner with President and Mrs. Clinton.
Jennifer: This one has it all: Two equally notable plots; the first being Bill getting duped into a health club membership by a fast talking rep (Ben Stiller), the second being the staff's discovery of a secret Dave's been hiding. Everybody's funny, including Stiller and comic Patton Oswalt in a tiny role, and the humour and pacing are at a high. There's even plenty of Dave-and-Lisa intrigue for those of you who like that sort of thing.
Adrian: The most accomplished sequences here are the Catherine-Matthew gag mentioned in the main text and the complex Lisa, Dave and Jimmy scene where Lisa first confronts Dave about his secret. Both are fast, furious, and hilarious.
Bill finally discovers that his beloved rap music actually has lyrics, lyrics that offend him to his very patriotic core and incite him to voice his opposition to them on the air. In response Dave gets Jimmy to bring in his friend, rap artist Chuck D (guest starring as himself), to discuss his views on the air at WNYX. Meanwhile, Lisa is embarrassed to be voted Cutest Reporter in New York by New York Magazine, while the reactions of her female co-workers range from jealousy to outrage.
Jennifer: The title story gets off to a great start as Bill discovers that the rap music he loves so much actually has words and theyre offensive to him. Rapper Chuck Ds brief appearance unfortunately doesnt amount to much, and the story loses its momentum towards the end. However, the B-story is easily one of my all-time favorites. Lisa is voted "Cutest Reporter in New York" by New York magazine, inciting jealousy from both Beth and Catherine. Beths definitions of prettiness and Catherine and Lisas ladies room confrontation are particular highlights, and the increasingly outrageous photo shoot brings the episode to an energetic close.
Adrian: "Cute," "Pretty," "Beautiful," "Gorgeous," "Sexy," "Exotic." "These and those," and "this and that." A crazy photo shoot. Both story lines are excellent, but its the Lisa-Catherine-Beth camaraderie that really makes this episode special.
When Bill makes Matthew cry in the office, Dave insists that Matthew confront Bill with his feelings. But Daves advice backfires when Matthew, feeling empowered by his confrontation with Bill, becomes a menace to his co-workers with his bullying behavior. Meanwhile, Jimmy enlists Catherines help with some gambling tips after he is taken by street cons on his way to the office.
Jennifer: This episode is as funny as its premise suggests: When Bill takes one of his jokes too far, Matthew punches him out and ends up on a ridiculously extreme power trip. Besides being laugh-out-loud hilarious, this is another prime example of every character playing out their part in the context of a single story, with great results.
My only comment will be to recount one of NewsRadios most
elegantly constructed gags (trying to get Matthew to open the door).
When Dave installs a complaint box the complaints get out of hand. Meanwhile, Jimmy takes off on his annual vacation but stays in close touch with the office by a speaker box that Joe created for him. Catherine moonlights for a books-on-tape project with Joes help, but Joes technical wizardry tests Catherines patience.
Jennifer: I dont know any NewsRadio fan that doesnt completely adore this episode. It takes realistic elements from the main storyline, involving the offices new complaint box, and the more fantastical elements of the B-story, a voice box that allows Mr. James to "be" in the office while hes physically elsewhere, creating comedy that is particularly inspired. The beautiful intertwining of the two plots also allows for a rare Joe and Catherine subplot. All in all, top notch TV. One of the best gags: Voice box reaction shots.
Adrian: Stylistically, this episode was a precursor of the sustained flights of fancy of season four. The only difference is that they hadnt yet found a way to maintain the intrinsic grounding within the shows relationships to maintain a frame of reference for taking those fantastic flights. "Complaint Box" occurred in the middle of a stretch of great episodes in season three.
Jimmy is duped by a young collector (Glenn Walker Harris, Jr.) who sells him a bogus collection of movie memorabilia, and he takes his case to small claims court with Joe serving as his legal representative (with guest star David Clennon, thirtysomething, as the presiding judge). Surprise witness George Lindsey (Goober on The Andy Griffith Show) guest stars as himself. Back at the office, Dave introduces a new evaluation plan where each staff member evaluates a co-worker. Lisa obsesses about Dave taking credit for her idea about the evaluation plan, but the plan backfires when the evaluations create nothing but ill feeling.
Jennifer: The phony movie memorabilia provides for some great moments, such as the tip of the hat to Citizen Kane in the teaser or the memorable Basic Instinct gag (must be seen to be believed). However, the progression of the story: George "Goober" Lindsey! An underground judge cult! Not a favourite.
Adrian: "Rose Bowl" has been extensively discussed in the main text, but there are several more remarkable scenes that deserve attention. One scene that has always caught my attention is the one that occurs just as Bill is about to do Catherine's evaluation. Bill is glorying in anticipation of the forthcoming mêlée. The next part is the hard part: How do you bring Catherine into the scene and maximize the comedy? NewsRadio's solution is to have Dave call Catherine and go out of the office (all done very efficiently, of course). Then Catherine walks into the office first with her head turned to look back at Dave. The moment of anticipation is sustained, and it is only when she looks around to discover that her evaluator will be Bill that her surprise and then disgust provides the comic payoff. Every time I watch this scene I marvel at its brilliance and simplicity. Another great scene is the second staff meeting, where three comedic arcs coincide in one scene. Arc one is Dave lamenting how everyone is looking at him with "hate in their eyes" after the abject failure of the new evaluation scheme - exactly the result he indicated that he was trying to avoid at the first staff meeting. Arc two is Catherine surprising reprise of Bill's "Evil Otto" comment. Arc three is Dave sounding like he had learned a lesson from his own evaluation but then turning the tables on Lisa by revealing that the evaluation system was her idea. All three arcs are complex but handled smoothly and efficiently. If that isn't enough I haven't even begun to comment on the comic eloquence of Bill's verbal hurly-burly or the wonderful Jimmy-Joe scenes (an incredibly inventive escapade worthy of extensive discussion in its own right). What makes "Rose Bowl" easily the most skillful episode of season three is the fact that it accomplishes very difficult things and makes them look easy. And in art, that is the definition of elegance. Once you appreciate the elegance of "Rose Bowl," other television comedies look crude and clumsy.
Jimmy implements a program that allows youngsters into the station to learn about the radio business. He has the staff baby-sit a group of rambunctious third graders so he can get a date with their teacher. However, on this day some very adult reading material shows up in the office, and this has Dave searching for the owner.
Jennifer: Say what you will about this episodes gimmick (i.e., a kid paired with each staff member), but it works. The rather lackluster plot of porn magazines being found around the office gets a huge boost from some particularly funny scenes involving the kids, such as the separate meetings held by the males and females of the office. There are also some laughs to be had when Mr. James takes his kid and the teacher out to lunch and ends up coaching the boy in bad manners.
Adrian: On the whole, sex in art is only rarely gratuitous, and the "porno mag" idea is a potent catalyst for this episodes comedy. NewsRadios comedic style creates absurdity without embarrassing its characters through any fault of their own (we are a long way from Mr. Bean-type comedy), the clown-like Matthew being the sole exception. In order to place Dave in a hilariously compromising position this sort of plot device (the socially embarrassing misunderstanding) is needed.
With Dave and Bill stuck at the St. Louis airport, Lisa takes charge of the office, where Jimmy makes it her task to keep Joe and Catherine from going on a date. Meanwhile, Beth and Matthew visit Bills love shack of an apartment.
Jennifer: I've never particularly enjoyed this episode. The main plot, in which Dave and Bill get stuck at the airport and Bill insists on berating the locals, is just incessantly mean-spirited. Even when Bill has a change of heart, we are greeted with another cynical development. As far as subplots go, Beth and Matthew's trip to Bill's apartment is funny enough, and the next installment of Joe and Catherine's developing romance is very welcome, but way too short.
Adrian: The strength of this episode is execution. Whether you prefer one storyline or you love them all, they are all wonderfully performed. The interaction with strangers enhances the Dave and Bill relationship. We find Bill at his most obnoxious (and then, in a novel twist, surprisingly civil), and Dave has no choice but to put up with it. Lisa generates great comedy from body gestures, visual gags, and moral turns: e.g., "And we did so know each others names"/"Last names"/"That information wasnt relevant at the time"/"Mmm, hhh" followed by a sneer from Lisa; or Jimmy having no confidence in her managerial skills. This is also one of the three great Catherine-Joe episodes (Catherine to Lisa: "No, because you two skipped all that and just jumped right into the sack before you even knew each others names"; Joe: "Ah, Im willing to give that a shot if thats more appropriate.") Finally, the exotic pairing of Beth and Matthew succeeds in its absurdity as Matthew becomes amorous in Bills apartment and Beth has to fend him off. "Airport" is a clear demonstration that screwball is at its most potent when sexually charged. This combined with the exceptional acting of everyone (but especially Tierney, Hartman, and Root) make this one of the best episodes of season three. (Postscript: Congratulations to Carolina for astutely pointing out that when Lisa takes out a pack of condoms from the drawer in Daves office to give to Catherine and Joe, there are deeper implications about this prop being there in the first place and Lisa knowing about it.)
Its a twisted day at WNYX when Matthews twin brother Andrew (guest star Jon Stewart, The Jon Stewart Show) shows up at the office. Meanwhile the office furniture begins to disappear thanks to Jimmys latest budget-busting idea. But Dave eventually works out whos responsible for the budget overrun.
Jennifer: I cant think of anybody better to have played Matthews "twin" brother than Jon Stewart. His dry delivery is the perfect counterpoint to Andy Dicks naïve and excitable Matthew. This episode is a favorite (among many) for its clever handling of the twin premise, as well as a budget-cutting subplot that opens the door to some great sight gags.
Adrian: The shows writers once admitted how they tried to reflect the shows struggle with poor ratings in their writing (NewsRadio had become "the worst-rated sitcom on television" around this time). They chose to do this through WNYXs now-perennial struggles with the budget. The most memorable moments for me are the movers exchanging Catherines chair and desk for cheap replacements (transporting a comically perturbed but compliant Catherine in the process) and the novel solution to the budget crisis at Bills expense. Jon Stewart also makes a very successful guest appearance that allows for an interesting elaboration of the Matthew Brock character.
The constant racket from upstairs triggers an office feud led by Joe, who thinks that his noisy neighbors have also been sabotaging the WNYX office. Meanwhile, Catherine decides to teach Bill a lesson when she hears his live voice ad for Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor. Elsewhere, Lisa encounters some uncooperative children at the White House, where she is covering the annual Easter Egg roll.
Jennifer: Just another top-notch installment in that series we call NewsRadio. The moments that stick out in my mind here are the winks to fellow NBC office redhead Kathy Griffin (Suddenly Susan), namely Vicki Lewis quick Griffin impression and the wig-adorned employee from the office upstairs. But lest I discount the rest of the episode, Bills Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor spots are absolutely hilarious, and Joes misguided prank war provides for much visual silliness.
Adrian: I love Maura Tierneys performance at the White House Easter Egg Roll with its glorious moral turns. Her ability to generate negative rapport is remarkable. Bill and Catherines conflict over Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor is perhaps the greatest of their clashes, and a drunken Bill McNeal is a special highlight.
(Was re-aired on 04/01/98 as a Pop Up Video episode for the diehard fans)
Dave and Catherine try to bail Bill out of a crazy situation when he is admitted to a psychiatric ward after fighting with the traffic police over a minor violation. However, Bill is not in a hurry to return to the real world as he seems to have bonded with fellow patient Fred (guest star Jon Lovitz, Saturday Night Live). Meanwhile, Joe tries to boost the WNYX listening audience by pushing Lisas buttons on the air. Elsewhere, Beth makes the most of her opportunity to do market research for the shows new format.
Jennifer: While the main body of the episode revolves around Bills stay at a mental institution, I much prefer the B-story with Mr. James attempting to drive up the ratings by putting Joe in the booth with Lisa. Still, Phil Hartmans exchanges with then-guest star Jon Lovitz are amusing, especially their bedtime conversation about an episode of Family Matters. Oddly enough, Andy Dick appears in this episode for mere seconds, while Vicki Lewis manages to get a sizable chunk of screen time despite the fact that she had to film her scenes separately, due to her Godzilla filming schedule.
Adrian: This episode is famous because it was selected for a special showing as a Pop-Up Video episode. As befits the celebratory title, there certainly is some grandness to the design of this episode with its extravagant Bill-in-an-asylum storyline, the infamous marriage proposal, and Beth on an expenses-paid tear. For all this, "Our Fiftieth Episode" is a good but not great NewsRadio episode, because it doesnt play much on the internal relationships within the cast, making the episode drag in places. (The exception is the Lisa-Joe story, which could be why Jennifer finds it preferable.) For great NewsRadio episodes on a grand scale, I refer the viewer to "Pure Evil" [4-6], "Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show" [4-8], and "Sinking Ship" [4-22], where the comedy makes great use of the casts relationships.
When station owner Jimmy James suffers a mild heart attack, WNYX staffers react in their own inimitable fashion. Lisa shocks Dave when she announces during the crisis that she wants to have a baby immediately.
Bill and Lisa are desperate to save "The Real Deal," their poorly rated interview program, but luckily they stumble upon the star of televisions highest-rated series, Jerry Seinfeld (guest starring as himself). Bobbie Brown (Baywatch Nights) also guest stars.
Jennifer: I dont completely dislike this episode, but it is definitely missing some of the inspiration that makes NewsRadio what it is. Its interesting to see Bill and Lisa scheming together for once, and I quite like the opening scene (notice how the "Screw you too!" jingle is sung to the tune of "N-B-C"). Still, Jerry Seinfelds guest appearance takes up a lot of time and amounts to little, which is where the primary weakness of this installment lies.
Adrian: "The Real Deal" is a candidate for the worst NewsRadio episode ever made (although "Ploy" may still be slightly worse). Both storylines are gravely flawed. While the writers, especially Paul Simms, expressed great (and well-placed) admiration for Jerry Seinfeld, the bottom line is that Seinfelds style of comedy is completely antithetical to NewsRadios own style. Jerry Seinfeld is a quintessentially and purely verbal comedian. His style does not mesh well with the physical-verbal screwball of NewsRadio, and in catering to it both Bill and Lisa seem slightly out of character. Its bad NewsRadio and its adequate Seinfeld, but the biggest problem is that there is no resonance between this plot and anything else NewsRadio does. As for the second storyline, I will always contend that Matthew was most interesting when he had some degree of power (creating a tension between the power and his own incompetence). The emasculation of Matthew through his virginity drains the drama out of this plot. Moreover, in a comedy you have to be careful about how you handle the sexual adventures of a clown (who are, by the nature of their roles, defined by their incompetence), and misjudgment here makes the whole plot seem excessively sordid. If you want to see how it should be done, look at "Pure Evil" where Matthew mentions that he borrowed Lisas apartment and brought a date.
An embarrassed Dave regrets making hurtful comments about WNYX staffers in a prestigious radio magazine interview and tries making amends with his wounded employees. Also, Matthew is jealous when a new office temp, Brent (guest star French Stewart, 3rd Rock from the Sun), appears to be taking the weirdest office person crown away from him.
In a special effects-laden episode hosted by NewsRadios Phil Hartman, viewers are asked to imagine the WNYX radio station operating in outer space. In the galaxy of our imaginations, we find News Director Dave still trying to run a tight ship, although some things never change. Dave and Lisa debate whose space pod theyll move into. Beth speaks to Dave via a large video screen, still allowing her to eavesdrop on Daves office. Joe tries hard to compete with technology of the future, but his quick-fix skills of yore may be putting the station in grave danger. Matthew is in love with Irene 4395, a futuristic robot. Bill and Catherine vie to keep their jobs, while Jimmy is still trying to trim the station budget.
Jennifer: "Space" was NewsRadio's first "big budget" (in relative terms) conceptual extravaganza, and also their first big letdown. Phil Hartman's introduction is promising, but the characters in the episode are reduced to their most basic conceits, the exception being a brief scene in which Beth and Joe go to the newsstand. However, if you choose to watch the episode with an awareness of the show's mindset at the time (i.e. possible cancellation after a season of dismal ratings), you may actually get a kick out of all the gallows humour that permeates the show and the goofily incessant space jokes. (Possibly the result of one crazy writing session.) Yes, Season Four's Titanic finale is better, but there's something to be said for the bewilderment of "Space."
Adrian: Overall, this is an interesting venture into black comedy. However, of the two themed season finales I think "Sinking Ship" is much more successful because it plays upon the characters' relationships at a much deeper level whereas "Space" only superficially refers to them.