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.
Before re-watching the series straight through for these posts, I would have insisted that Season Two was the series at its best. However, I am officially revising my opinion — Season Three is, undoubtedly, the show’s strongest collection of episodes. Even the stinkers, and there are a few, maintain a level of quality, with laughs and scripts that are of a higher caliber than expected. Though the first half of the season contains more gems than the second half, the entire year is brimming with stellar installments and storytelling that challenges sitcom tropes in incredibly fresh and funny ways. This list wasn’t as hard to make as Season Two, but it does truly include the brilliant and best of Season Three. So the many episodes that are simply great (and would have been certainly included in my Season One list) are not included here. But I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a great place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 63: “That’s My Boy??” (Aired: 09/25/63 | Filmed: 08/06/63)
Rob recalls the days after Ritchie’s birth, when he was sure the hospital had given them the wrong baby.
Written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 064
This classic episode has gone down in television history for a hilariously shocking plot twist that, honestly, is funniest if you don’t know it’s coming. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, DON’T read any further. The idea of having the other couple be African American is brilliant and the reactions from both the actors and live audience are priceless. However, even with a couple of funny bits, the episode will always be remembered for the superb final gag which truly MAKES this episode a classic.
02) Episode 64: “The Masterpiece” (Aired: 10/02/63 | Filmed: 08/13/63)
Rob and Laura return home from an auction with two mysterious objects of art.
Written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 065
This episode features a very funny bit at the art auction (later stolen for use on The Golden Girls) but remains funny throughout with a couple of nice running gags. The scene from the auction was recently chosen as one of TV’s funniest. Well, it’s not even this series’ funniest, but it is a strong scene from an excellent episode.
03) Episode 65: “Laura’s Little Lie” (Aired: 10/09/63 | Filmed: 08/20/63)
Laura confesses to Rob that she lied about her age on their marriage certificate. She wasn’t 19, she was 17.
Written by Carl Reiner & Howard Merrill | Directed by John Rich | Production No. 066
In the funny first part of a two-parter, Rob’s baffled as to why Laura keeps running out every time the life insurance man visits. He soon learns, like Sally predicted, she lied about her age on the marriage certificate. But not in the way you would expect. This is one of Moore’s funniest episodes.
04) Episode 67: “All About Eavesdropping” (Aired: 10/23/63 | Filmed: 04/09/63)
The Petries are offended after hearing a conversation between the Helpers on Ritchie’s toy intercom, making for an awkward dinner party.
Written by Sheldon Keller & Howard Merrill | Directed by Stanley Cherry | Production No. 063
I adore this episode, which was shot at the end of Season Two, but held over. The dinner party with the brilliantly nasty charades game is a series highlight. Furthermore, I think it works for the comedy that Rob and Laura are in the wrong the whole time. Buddy and Sally are excellent, providing many laughs; I’m so glad they were included, as they don’t get to interact with the Helpers directly very often.
05) Episode 74: “The Sound Of The Trumpets Of Conscience Falls Deafly On A Brain That Holds Its Ears” (Aired: 12/11/63 | Filmed: 10/29/63)
Rob thinks he has witnessed two crooks running from the scene of a crime.
Written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 074
This is Van Dyke’s episode all the way, but the comedy extends from the opening sequences in the office with the confusion over whether the robbery was real or just one of Buddy’s jokes, to Rob’s hilarious trips down to the police station. Moore is incredibly loose and honest by this time in the series, and for some reason, that really stuck out to me in this episode. The twist at the end is great with a couple of big laughs.
06) Episode 76: “The Third One From The Left” (Aired: 01/01/64 | Filmed: 11/05/63)
A young chorus girl on The Alan Brady Show falls in love with Rob.
Written by John Whedon | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 075
This episode features a predictable sitcom beat — using reverse psychology to stop the advances of an unwanted love interest — and it makes it fresh. Though we’re almost positive it will blow up in Rob’s face, the episode makes the sequence so hilarious that, for more than a moment, we’re not quite sure what will happen. The ensemble is truly magnificent in this episode — so many fantastic one-liners all around. With an excellent balance of Rob’s home life and work life, which is key to the series’ success, this is a very funny installment.
07) Episode 79: “The Life And Love Of Joe Coogan” (Aired: 01/22/64 | Filmed: 12/10/63)
Laura reunites with her old love, who has since entered the priesthood.
Written by Carl Reiner | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 080
This shockingly grown-up episode has Laura keeping momentos from her past — namely love letters from Joe Coogan, a man whom Rob has just played golf with at the club. Laura goes behind Rob’s back and invites Coogan home for dinner, discovering that he’s now a priest. Unaware of Coogan’s new profession, Rob hopes to de-romanticize the situation by setting him up with Sally. Rose Marie is priceless in the dinner scene. Priests in comedy are incredibly cliché, but this episode features some wonderfully funny and adult storytelling.
08) Episode 80: “A Nice, Friendly Game Of Cards” (Aired: 01/29/64 | Filmed: 12/17/63)
Tempers flare when Rob wins at poker after inadvertently using a deck of marked cards.
Written by Ernest Chambers | Directed by Howard Morris | Production No. 081
Sitcom magic always occurs when you stick the ensemble in a room together and force them to interact. With some solid guests and a refreshingly original story, I guarantee that you’ll laugh-out-loud a couple of times. Again, hilarious one-liners that are grounded in the character.
09) Episode 90: “October Eve” (Aired: 04/08/64 | Filmed: 03/03/64)
Sally is shocked when she finds a nude painting of Laura at an art gallery.
Written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 090
This is shockingly naughty for a ’60s sitcom. Okay, so Laura never actually posed nude, the artist just took the liberty of painting her without them. But wow — a nude painting of our little Laura! Reiner, less than a year before he officially became the face of Alan Brady, is great as the offending artist. Sally’s initial shock at seeing the painting is great, and the episode is very funny — winning both Van Dyke and Moore Emmy awards!
10) Episode 93: “I’d Rather Be Bald Than Have No Head At All” (Aired: 04/29/64 | Filmed: 03/24/64)
Rob think he’s going bald and tries a barber’s secret recipe which consists of salad ingredients.
Written by Bill Persky & Sam Denoff | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 093
We’ve seen this story many times, and we’ve seen it done similarly. (I immediately think of the equally funny I Love Lucy episode where Lucy tries to cure Ricky of his balding fears.) This show shatters expectations by going a hilariously kooky route — another dream sequence. The episode is funny, but the dream sequence is hilarious — with everyone acting brilliantly odd and Rob’s head-of-lettuce being one of the show’s best visual gags.
There were many other great episodes this season, but the two that I really wish I could have included were “The Lady And The Tiger And The Lawyer,” which is superbly funny and adult, but is ruined by a resolution that, while adult, is not very funny, and “My Neighbor’s Husband’s Other Life,” which, again, is so refreshingly adult, and brilliantly incorporates the ensemble with Jerry and Millie as the focus.
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Four! And remember to tune in tomorrow for a Wildcard Wednesday post!