My take on The Dick Van Dyke Show
I’ve recently finished watching the entire series of The Dick Van Dyke Show (thank you streaming Netflix and Roku).
It’s always been one of my favorite shows, and it was great to see it hold up in intensive viewing like that.
Oh, I usually only watched one episode at a time going through this, although that might have been more than one episode in a day, certainly. There were five seasons, but back in the early 1960s (when it first aired), seasons had a lot more episodes. There were 158 episodes…more than thirty per season. A typical season now is much shorter: Friends ran for ten seasons and had 238 episodes.
The situation is simple: Rob Petrie is the head writer for The Alan Brady Show, a comedy/variety television show. He’s married to Laura: they met when he was in the army, and she was in a USO show as a dancer/singer. They have a young son, Ritchie.
The Alan Brady Show is Rob’s first big break. When he’s hired, there are already two writers, Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers. Buddy and Sally lean towards more old-fashioned one-liners, while Rob is more experimental, sometimes suggesting long physical comedy bits.
There are several other regular and recurring characters, including: Alan Brady, the acerbic host of the show; Mel Cooley, Alan’s sad sack brother-in-law and the show’s producer; Millie and Jerry Helper, the Petrie’s neighbors; Sol Pomerantz (in military flashbacks); and Stacey Petrie, Rob’s sleepwalking brother.
No witches, no mermaids, no robots.
That might be a surprise in what I like in 1960s sitcoms. I’m more attracted to shows with fantasy elements, but it’s not needed on this show.
The writing is great. It’s also, perhaps, contrary to what you might think, cutting edge. Yes, we do get 1960s sexual politics (Rob is able to override Laura, just on the basis of being the husband). But more than one episode looks at race (or doesn’t even notice it), and Buddy is explicitly Jewish on the show (he even has a bar mitzvah to please his mother).
There are some fantasy elements, although that’s not the draw. One of the best episodes is It May Look Like a Walnut (season 2). It’s a show about an alien takeover of Earth…or is it a dream? My favorite moment in television comes in an episode called Talk to the Snail (season 5), with ventriloquist Paul Winchell. It’s nobody else’s favorite moment, to my knowledge, so I’ll leave you wondering. 😉
I wouldn’t start with Walnut, just because knowing the characters first can help.
You might try one of these:
My Blonde-Haired Brunette (season 1) (Laura tries coloring her hair)
A Bird in the Head Hurts (season 2) (Ritchie says he’s being attacked by a woodpecker)
That’s My Boy??? (season 3) (In a flashback, Rob suspects they brought home the wrong baby from the hospital: has a widely-lauded moment)
It Wouldn’t Hurt Them to Give Us a Raise (season 4) (Corporate economics as explained by Roger C. Carmel ((Harry Mudd on Star Trek)))
The Ugliest Dog in the World (season 5) (No, really…it’s about an ugly dog)
I picked one from each season.
Are there running gags? Yes, but they don’t get repetitive…they generally twist them a bit. Buddy insults Mel, for example, but it’s a different insult each time.
That’s one last thing I’ll say: the pairings. There are a lot of them, which is a sign of the depth of the cast.
Buddy and Mel
Buddy and Sally
Laura and Millie
Laura and Rob
Sally and Herman (her unsteady boyfriend)
…and many more.
If you do go through the whole series, it does have a marvelously meta-ending. The very last show is basically a clip show, but it ends with Alan Brady (played by Carl Reiner) buying Rob’s life story to turn into a TV series, starring himself…which is sort of inside out from what really happened. Carl Reiner wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show based on his own life, and wanted to star…the brass liked the show, but didn’t like him in the part. 🙂
After you’ve seen some of the episodes, you might enjoy this little parody I did. It’s really a piece about EBRs (E-Book Readers), but I wanted to poke a little reverential fun at The Dick Van Dyke Show as well. 🙂 The nook Van Dyke Show: Neither a lender…
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.