Seasons One and Two
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jeff Giles
or all the ironic pop culture love that’s been given “Mr. Belvedere” over the years – shout-outs in “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” a Tom Hanks-led sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” et cetera – you’d think it was actually a hit show when it aired. But “Belvedere” was never much more than a mildly dependable afterthought on the ABC schedule, finishing outside the Nielsen Top 30 during each of its six seasons. Heck, the show was even canceled twice – once in 1987, and again in 1989, both times without much in the way of an announcement from the network. Given that it was a runt in ABC’s ‘80s powerhouse litter, it isn’t surprising that it’s taken almost 20 years for “Mr. Belvedere” to find its way to DVD. What is a bit of a shock, however, is how well the show has aged.
The character of Mr. Belvedere, first seen in Gwen Davenport’s 1947 novel “Belvedere,” was already familiar to older viewers, thanks to a hit film trilogy (“Sitting Pretty,” “Mr. Belvedere Goes to College,” and “Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell”) that starred Clifton Webb in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. The sitcom took a few liberties: Davenport’s Belvedere was a novelist who takes a babysitting gig in order to secretly research a neighborhood’s gossipy moms for a book, whereas the ‘80s version was actually a housekeeper who worked for Winston Churchill and the royal family before being hired by the Owens clan. The culture clash at the heart of both versions was roughly similar, and both presented plenty of opportunities for laughs. Of course, like most of the TV comedies of the era, “Mr. Belvedere” could often be corny, but then again, most of those shows didn’t have the advantage of two comic talents as gifted as Christopher Hewett and Bob Uecker.
Uecker was the only member of the cast who had any real name value when the series started, and “Mr. Belvedere” was supposed to be his show; in fact, much of the first season’s abbreviated run centered around the antagonistic relationship between Hewett’s mannered, sarcastic Lynn Belvedere and Uecker’s salt-of-the-earth sportswriter, George Owens. The writers realized pretty quickly, though, that they got the most mileage out of the storylines that centered around Belvedere’s dealings with the youngest Owens, grade-school terror Wesley, played by Brice Beckham. (In the first episode, Wesley jokes that Lynn is a girl’s name, and Belvedere responds that Wesley must have gotten his name thanks to a difficult birth.) The other two Owens kids, oldest son Kevin (played by Rob Stone) and middle child Heather (Tracy Wells), were never really fleshed out. During the first two seasons, the writers went to fairly ridiculous lengths to give them stories, including the episodes where Kevin falls in love with an Amish girl and Heather dates her blind French tutor.
And speaking of those storylines, it bears mentioning that “Mr. Belvedere” was certainly not shy about putting together Very Special Episodes – this batch includes several, including one where Wesley and Heather bring a bag lady home for dinner and, of course, the famous (and actually rather ballsy, especially for early ’86) show about Wesley’s best friend contracting AIDS. They lay the sentiment on about as thick as you’d expect, but to the writers’ credit, these episodes retained a fairly high laugh quotient – even the AIDS one, which uses Wesley’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in his school’s presidential pageant as a way of underscoring prejudice against AIDS patients (and gives Wesley the opportunity to joke to a black schoolmate, “give me a bite of your cupcake and I’ll free you”).
That episode aside, “Mr. Belvedere” never brushed up against groundbreaking television – and you have to forgive a certain amount of eye-rolling and mugging if you’re going to make it through a single show – but Uecker and Hewett were always worth watching. The cast actually seemed like a family you might know; none of them were Hollywood pretty, and they seemed to have an honest affection for one another. That affection is reinforced with “The Owens Family Remembers,” a brief series of new interviews with most of the cast (minus Hewett, who passed away in 2001, and Wells, who must have been busy doing -- something) in which they all talk about how much they felt like a real family. (The other bonus feature, the “Mr. Belvedere Fan Club” sketch that aired during the 1992 season of “Saturday Night Live,” proves the show’s creators have a sense of humor about their work.) If you remember the show fondly enough to consider owning it on DVD, you can take comfort in knowing that a lot of it is still quite funny. Of course, given its $45.99 MSRP, you can also pretty much bank on subsequent seasons taking a while to arrive, if they show up at all, but something is better than nothing, right?