Welcome to another Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re finishing up 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, JERRY PARIS as Jerry Helper, and CARL REINER as Alan Brady.
The final season of the smartest sitcom of the ’60s suffered a bit as a result of Reiner’s temporary break from executive producer duties; Persky and Denoff assumed responsibilities during this three month absence, until Reiner returned to finish the series in style. Despite a handful of merely adequate episodes, Season Five manages to hit a couple of home runs that are, truly, some of the best episodes the show ever produced. Additionally, there’s more experimentation with format and structure, a lot of which actually works. As in Season Four, the challenge of balancing Rob’s home life with his work life becomes more obvious, and by now, there’s a resolution that his home life with Laura is providing more stories. But the ensemble still gets chances to shine — even Deacon’s Mel. Collectively, Season Five is a trifle less consistent than previous seasons (save Season One), but the highs are much higher, with some incredible laughs. The series ended, I think, at the perfect time, and this is a mostly strong collection of episodes with which we can say farewell. So 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 Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 127: “Coast To Coast Big Mouth” (Aired: 09/15/65 | Filmed: 08/03/65)
Laura accidentally reveals classified information on a TV quiz show — that Alan Brady wears a toupee.
Written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 128
A strong start to the final season, this classic episode has often been considered among the series’ best. The reason for its success, in addition to an incredibly funny script and excellent performances, is that the storytelling mixes Rob’s home with Rob’s work. As I’ve said in weeks prior, this combination is usually an ingredient that makes for great episodes.
02) Episode 136 “Go Tell The Birds And The Bees” (Aired: 11/17/65 | Filmed: 10/05/65)
Rob and Laura are called into the school’s psychologist’s office when Ritchie begins lecturing his pupils on the birds and the bees.
Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 136
I love how honest and mature this episode is, while remaining utterly silly and unoffensive to audiences of the era. After a stretch of middling episodes, this funny (and, in 1965, sophisticated) episode sticks out as one of the season’s smartest and sweetest installments. Mathews, by now, knows how to act and he’s not a detriment to his scenes, making episodes that involve his character actually a welcomed experience. (Especially if they’re well written, like this one.)
03) Episode 139: “You’re Under Arrest” (Aired: 12/15/65 | Filmed: 10/26/65)
After a fight with Laura, Rob is accused of hitting a woman in a barroom brawl, but he insists it didn’t happen.
Written by Joseph C. Cavella | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 139
This was one of those episodes I’d at first underestimated; this is a very funny show! The final scene in the police station is supreme, and there are several well executed bits. I am pleased that Buddy and Sally were included in this mildly farcical episode that otherwise can be considered a “home life” episode. This is definitely one of the funniest from the first half of the season.
04) Episode 144: “The Curse Of The Petrie People” (Aired: 02/02/66 | Filmed: 12/14/65)
Rob’s parents give Laura a precious family heirloom, and she accidentally drops it down the garbage disposal.
Written by Dale McRaven and Carl Kleinschmitt | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 145
Perhaps a bookend to the first season’s “Empress Carlotta’s Necklace,” Laura gets more ugly jewelry. This time, however, it’s from Rob’s folks, and both she and Rob agree that it’s hideous — a gaudy gold pin of the United States with gems for each city in which a Petrie was born. But Laura accidentally drops it in the garbage disposal, jumbling it all up. Now they must find a way to replace it. Sitcom hijinks!
05) Episode 147: “Dear Sally Rogers” (Aired: 02/23/66 | Filmed: 01/11/66)
Sally advertises for a husband on national television and is flooded with fan mail.
Written by Ronald Axe | Directed by Richard Erdman | Production No. 148
This is the best Sally-centered episode because it’s the funniest. She (like Buddy) is so unbelievably hysterical in episodes not centered around her character, but often when she’s the focus of a story, the writers make it sentimental. That’s no good — we want laughs! And this episode delivers. It’s also the most we ever get to see of Herman Glimscher, Sally’s part-time fella and insatiable Mama’s boy.
06) Episode 149: “Bad Reception In Albany” (Aired: 03/09/66 | Filmed: 11/23/65)
While out of town for Laura’s cousin’s wedding, Rob must locate a television to watch an important show.
Written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 142
Okay — this episode I completely forgot about. I watched it in preparation for making today’s list, and I was blown away! It plays on completely different sets, features only Rob, Laura, and a bunch of guest stars, but it is consistently funny. The TV repairman has a nice rapport with Rob, and the scenes between Rob and Laura in the church are breathtakingly well-written (i.e. really funny). I was very impressed.
07) Episode 152: “Obnoxious, Offensive, Egomaniac, Etc.” (Aired: 04/13/66 | Filmed: 02/22/66)
The writers desperately try to retrieve a script in which they purposely, but with no intention of keeping, insulted their boss.
Written by Dale McRaven and Carl Kleinschmitt | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 153
This is another episode that plays with structure. The entire episode, save for the brilliantly hysterical final scene, is set entirely in the writers’ office building. But don’t worry — Laura is in on the shenanigans too. It doesn’t play entirely in realtime, but its contained action and singular plot contribute a level of theatricality that is invigorating. This is what multi-camera situation comedies should be. And that final scene — superb!
08) Episode 153: “The Man From My Uncle” (Aired: 04/20/66 | Filmed: 03/01/66)
The Petrie home becomes a command post when government agents put a neighbor’s home under surveillance.
Written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 154
We’ve seen this story on later sitcoms (The Golden Girls is one that immediately comes to mind), but other sitcoms don’t have the comedic stylings of Dick Van Dyke. He makes this episode better than it could be. I’m not impressed by the story, but I was impressed by his interaction with the agent, Mr. Bond, played without fuss by a black actor. (This is also the most refreshingly progressive sitcom of the early ’60s!) Furthermore, Van Dyke and Moore are incredibly loose, seemingly having lots of fun. That’s always a joy to watch.
09) Episode 156: “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” (Aired: 05/11/66 | Filmed: 01/25/66)
Laura spends a harrowing night alone when he rest of the family goes off on a fishing trip.
Written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 150
This is one of those episodes, not unlike Season Two’s “The Cat Burglar,” that everyone remembers as being an excellent showcase for physical comedy. I’ll be honest with you — I’ve never been bowled over by either installment, and I’m a big fan of physical comedy. What I appreciate about this episode, however, is the integrity of the performances — specifically of Moore and Guilbert, whose presence in the episode was dramatically and brilliantly increased during the rehearsal week. It’s one of both ladies’ best episodes.
10) Episode 157: “The Gunslinger” (Aired: 05/25/66 | Filmed: 03/22/66)
Rob dreams he’s a frontier sheriff in the Wild West.
Written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 158
The final episode, which is a clip show, was shot the week before this one, making “The Gunslinger” the last Dick Van Dyke Show episode ever produced. It’s an atypical script — almost entirely a dream sequence. But it’s unbelievably brilliant. The entire ensemble — even Carl Reiner and Allan Melvin — are incorporated into the dream and it’s a laugh fest. Such a fun show that perfectly utilizes every member of the sterling ensemble. You’ll laugh more than once.
Those were my picks for the ten best episodes from the season, and admittedly, this wasn’t one of the tougher lists to make. However, I do want to mention a few episodes that are notable or memorable but didn’t quite rank with the above: “The Great Petrie Fortune,” which finds humor in some non-threatening suspense, “See Rob Write, Write Rob Write,” which features a then-unique storyline and some nice conflict and big laughs, “The Bottom Of Mel Cooley’s Heart,” which is the only episode centered around Mel, “Talk To The Snail,” which not only features some truly original stuff with a snail puppet, but has a great Alan Brady scene at the end, and “A Day In The Life Of Alan Brady,” which has a good premise and allows for the ensemble to come together.
As we move to sitcoms premiering in 1962, I had initially planned to begin next week with The Beverly Hillbillies. I was under the impression that only the first three seasons had been released on DVD, and that the other six seasons, which I do have special access to, were not widely available for public viewing. Then I discovered that Season Four has just been released as a Walmart exclusive! So, with the confidence that perhaps the entire series will get released on DVD, I’m going to skip this series and come back to it later — when I can adjudicate them properly and with the knowledge that you all will be able to find them as well. If at the end of our stint in the ’60s, which will take us about six months, there is still no word about future releases, I will return and feature The Beverly Hillbillies on Sitcom Tuesdays. Until then, we’re pressing on with The Lucy Show, coming next week!
Come back next week as we begin the best from Lucille Ball’s third series, The Lucy Show! And remember to tune in tomorrow for an all new Wildcard Wednesday post!