Welcome to another Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing with the best episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. This is my favorite sitcom of the 1960s and every single episode is available on DVD (and Netflix)!
Rob Petrie, a lovable TV comedy writer has his hands full at work, contending with Buddy and Sally, two larger-than-life writing partners. (Not to mention a spineless producer and an egomaniacal star.) Then Rob goes home to his quirky wife, Laura, an adorable son, Ritchie, and a pair of eccentric neighbors.
The Dick Van Dyke Show stars DICK VAN DYKE as Rob Petrie, MARY TYLER MOORE as Laura Petrie, ROSE MARIE as Sally Rogers, MOREY AMSTERDAM as Buddy Sorrell, LARRY MATHEWS as Ritchie Petrie, RICHARD DEACON as Mel Cooley, ANN MORGAN GUILBERT as Millie Helper, and JERRY PARIS as Jerry Helper.
After a first season that had the show twice on the brink of cancelation, The Dick Van Dyke Show returned with a second season that found everything improved — chemistry, pacing, scripts, etc. The show had found its footing and began telling stories that would become synonymous with excellence in television writing. (Even the duds — of which there are a few this season — are elevated above the duds from last season. There’s a higher level of quality, even in the worst of scripts.) With everything clicking, it was a bit difficult to narrow my choices down. But I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 32: “The Two Faces Of Rob” (Aired: 10/03/62 | Filmed: 08/14/62)
To prove that a wife can’t always recognize her husband on the phone, Rob disguises his voice and asks Laura for a date.
Written by Sheldon Keller & Howard Merrill | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 032
One of the things I most adore about this series is its ability to address and discard sitcom tropes that had already been established on both radio and television. While writing a sketch, the Alan Brady writers argue over whether or not a wife could recognize her husband’s voice on the telephone — even if he disguised it. So Rob calls Laura, pretending to be a debonair Italian, and he has no clue as to whether or not she knows it was him. Of course, Laura knows and the casual reveal that Moore gives is phenomenal. This is a fun and funny episode.
02) Episode 33: “The Attempted Marriage” (Aired: 10/10/62 | Filmed: 08/28/62)
Rob and recalls the time when a crippled jeep and a sprained ankle made him two hours late for his own wedding.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 034
Ah, another flashback. This isn’t one of the funniest flashback episodes, if I’m being honest with you. This is a fan favorite because of its sweetness. People are a sucker for the Rob/Laura cutesy stuff. But there are a couple of good bits in this very well-written installment. One is Rob and Laura’s uncontrollable shivering during his proposal. The other is the sequence where Rob sprains his ankle while trying to fix his broken down car. Van Dyke’s excellence at physical comedy elevates this episode to classic.
03) Episode 36: “My Husband Is Not A Drunk” (Aired: 10/31/62 | Filmed: 09/18/62)
Rob suffers from a post-hypnotic suggestion meant for someone else, and it causes mayhem at work.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Alan Rafkin | Production No. 037
I generally find hypnosis to be a silly gimmick that sitcoms use for cheap laughs. (See: The Lucy Show) But this episode is not only funny from start to finish — with killer lines and great work by every single member of the ensemble — but Dick Van Dyke gets a veritable tour de force in the drunk bit that he subconsciously lapses into every time a bell rings. That would be enough to make this an excellent episode, but the installment is so densely packed with laughs, that I’d probably include it here even without the hilarious second act. Probably one of my favorites from this entire series.
04) Episode 45: “The Cat Burglar” (Aired: 01/02/63 | Filmed: 11/20/62)
A phantom burglar pillages the Petrie home after an evening of broken doors and jewelry box bullets.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 045
This is another episode elevated by Van Dyke’s unrivaled penchant for pratfalls and physical comedy. Another fan favorite, I have a couple of favorite moments. One is Rob trying to get the bullets out of the jewelry box without playing the music. (What a creative bit, writers! Excellent.) Another is the length of time it takes the Petries to realize that their entire dining room table is missing. Very funny.
05) Episode 48: “Ray Murdock’s X-Ray” (Aired: 01/23/63 | Filmed: 12/11/62)
Rob is in trouble after giving a television interview in which he unwittingly portrays Laura as a nut.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 048
This episode falls into the same category as last season’s brilliant, “The Curious Thing About Women,” and even references the events of that episode. Rob goes on TV and inadvertently reveals that Laura inspires a lot of the husband/wife sketches on The Alan Brady Show. The best part of the installment has Rob trying to distract Laura from seeing the interview by dancing with her. For me, the episode loses a bit of momentum after Laura sees the program — but it’s still consistently funny. An excellent episode.
06) Episode 50: “It May Look Like A Walnut” (Aired: 02/06/63 | Filmed: 01/15/63)
Under the influence of science fiction, Rob fears that a walnut will steal his imagination… and his thumbs!
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 051
This is another episode that many fans (and DVD alumni) regard as an absolute classic. I’m going to tell you straight: dream episodes (from any series) are hit and miss with me. Fortunately, this one — for sheer uninhibited lunacy and utter originality — is a hit. There are several laugh-out-loud moments in this very engaging episode. It’s not the best-of-the-best as far as I’m concerned, but the series’ ability to generate laughs while going against sitcom norms is incredibly appealing and astonishingly fresh. (And a cameo by Danny Thomas is ALWAYS welcome!)
07) Episode 51: “My Husband Is A Check-Grabber” (Aired: 02/13/63 | Filmed: 01/08/63)
Laura tries to break Rob of his expensive habit of picking up the check when out to dinner with friends.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Alan Rafkin | Production No. 050
The interesting thing about this series is that some episodes are incredibly dated and others are unbelievably “timeless”. This episode falls into the latter category with a story — Laura’s fury at Rob’s insistence to always pick up the tab at dinner with his friends — that is Seinfeld-ian in its realness and relatability. The framing device of the dinner is well used and the turn that the story takes, while not as funny, is excellent in its exploration of Rob and his flaws.
08) Episode 52: “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain” (Aired: 02/20/63 | Filmed: 01/22/63)
To his great regret, Rob ignores Laura’s warning to stay off the big slopes during his first skiing excursion.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Coby Ruskin | Production No. 052
Here we have another episode with comedy hinged on Van Dyke’s strength as a physical comedian. (Noticing a trend? The series quickly learned how to utilize its assets!) This is honestly a fairly predictable episode, but it’s one that offers a proportionally large amount of laughs. Again, a fan favorite with great performances and many funny bits.
09) Episode 58: “Divorce” (Aired: 04/10/63 | Filmed: 03/05/63)
Rob finds himself caught in the middle after Buddy announces that he’s going to divorce Pickles.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 058
I didn’t remember this episode being anything special, but when watching it again, I found it to be a laugh riot! The episode revolves around the revelation that Buddy’s wife, Pickles, (played here by Joan Shawlee — Sweet Sue from Some Like It Hot) was not only married once before, but has also been writing mysterious checks to another man! Though Shawlee overacts in her scene with Van Dyke, Amsterdam gets a lot to do in this episode, and though he’s very funny in office scenes, sometimes episodes centered on Buddy himself aren’t as successful. This one fortunately is. (Love Sally’s imitation of Pickles’ crying too.)
10) Episode 60: “A Surprise Surprise Is A Surprise” (Aired: 04/24/63 | Filmed: 03/19/63)
Laura despairs when Rob learns of her elaborate plans to throw a surprise party for him.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 060
Surprise parties happen more on television than they do in real life. This episode addresses that in an indirect way — it’s difficult in real life to keep a surprise party a surprise! So this episode has Rob finding out about the surprise party, in a script with many hilarious twists and turns that pays off with Laura actually surprising Rob. The office scenes are brilliant, as usual. One of my favorites.
Runners-up from this season include “What’s In A Middle Name?” in which Ritchie learns via flashback why his middle name is Rosebud, “The Night The Roof Fell In,” in which Rob and Laura’s fight is shown à la Rashomon, “Gesundheit, Darling,” in which Van Dyke sneezes himself into comic frenzy, “Somebody Has To Play Cleopatra,” in which Rob is suckered into directing the PTA show, “The Square Triangle,” which sees the return of a Frenchman from the Petries’ past, and “I’m No Henry Walden!” in which Rob is invited to a dinner party among famous literati.
Two episodes this season had great musical performances. I’m delighted to show this sparkling Rose Marie moment from the music-heavy, comedy-light, “The Sam Pomerantz Scandals.”
Come back next Tuesday as I cover the best Dick Van Dyke Show episodes from Season Three! And remember to tune in tomorrow for an all-new Wildcard Wednesday post!