Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re concluding our coverage on the best episodes from one of the most interesting early ’70s sitcoms that you may have forgotten about, The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-1974, CBS). This series has not been released on DVD, but it was mildly syndicated for several decades, and I have an almost complete collection on a set of DVD-rs. (I’m only missing one Season Three episode.) I’m confident that because of Mr. Van Dyke and Mr. Reiner, the series will eventually be released. Until then, I’m thrilled to present the first ever guide to the best episodes!
Dick Preston moves to Los Angeles with his wife Jenny and daughter Annie. He gets a job starring on a medical soap opera. The New Dick Van Dyke Show stars DICK VAN DYKE as Dick Preston, HOPE LANGE as Jenny Preston, and ANGELA POWELL as Annie Preston. Also starring RICHARD DAWSON, CHITA RIVERA, DICK VAN PATTEN, HENRY DARROW, BARRY GORDON, and BARBARA RUSH.
With the second season failing to deliver the ratings of the first, CBS relocated production of the series to Los Angeles, brought in Carl Reiner to take a more permanent hand, and changed the entire format. Gone were all of the neighbors and co-workers from Phoenix. Dick was now a soap star, and his working chums included Dick Van Patten, Barry Gordon, Henry Darrow, and Barbara Rush as his temperamental co-star. Dick and Jenny’s neighbors were the Richardsons, played by Richard Dawson, who was just beginning a stint on Match Game, and Chita Rivera, with whom Van Dyke had worked on stage in Bye, Bye Birdie (1960). Is the new format better than the old? Well, it allows for storytelling variety and establishes itself as a more contemporary show. There are several outstanding installments, a few of which probably could stand as the best of the entire series. However, too many of them are forgettable. Thus, while the ratings did pick up with the re-tooling of the premise, I am of the personal opinion that the series essentially maintained the quality of its prior two seasons — neither declining or improving. So, my intention was to pick ten great episodes like usual, but I am missing one (“The Back Break Kid”) that I could be getting from a friend sometime in the near future. If and when I obtain that installment, I’ll update the post. In the meantime, I have decided to pick eight episodes that I think exemplify this 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 eight best episodes of Season Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 52: “Dick In Deutsch” (Aired: 10/01/73)
Dick almost gets arrested while vacationing with Jenny in Germany.
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock | Directed by George Tyne | Production No. 56
This farcical episodes plays theatrically in a little German motel. Its strength lies in the physical comedy it affords Dick, who elevates the mediocre material and wrangles some big laughs. Harold Gould and Bea Silvern are amusing guests in their roles as the motel owners. It’s not a fabulous episode, but compared to the ones that surround it, the comedy quotient is higher.
02) Episode 56: “She Kisses Like A Dead Mackerel” (Aired: 10/29/73)
Jenny accidentally makes an unflattering comment about Dick’s leading lady to the press.
Written by Pamela Herbert Chais | Directed by George Tyne | Production No. 66
A winner because of the strong premise, this episode, although amusing, never quite lives up to its full comedy potential. However, because the story is unique and allows Lange to be more than just set dressing, the episode stands out from the rest. Also, it beautifully interweaves Dick’s home life with his work life, a hallmark of the earlier (and superior) Dick Van Dyke series. Wish more stories like this were done.
03) Episode 57: “Preston Al Naturale” (Aired: 11/12/73)
Dick gets cast in an Italian movie, and then learns that he’ll have to do a nude scene.
Written by David Pollock & Elias Davis | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 51
Probably the funniest episode of the season, this mildly contemporary installment is reminiscent of a second season That Girl (1966-1971, ABC) episode. There, like here, the lead character is cast in a film by an Italian director, only later to learn about a nude scene. Although that installment is one of That Girl‘s best, this is probably the funnier excursion. Very laugh heavy; a classic.
04) Episode 59: “Exit Laughing” (Aired: 11/26/73)
Dick’s uncle comes to visit and dies, leaving the family to plan the funeral.
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock | Directed by Norman S. Powell | Production No. 64
Guy Raymond guest stars as Dick’s uncle, an old vaudevillian with a gag-a-minute, who comes to town and dies. Another sitcom attempt to find comedy in death, this episode doesn’t have as many laughs as it needs to have. Things pick up, actually, with the arrival of Joan Blondell as Dick’s aunt, culminating in an amusing funeral scene. Fran Ryan plays Dick’s mom; where was Mabel Albertson?
05) Episode 61: “Mr. Dazzle” (Aired: 12/17/73)
Dick does a commercial for a toilet bowl cleaner.
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 52
One of the better episodes crafted around Dick’s life as an actor, the whole idea of Dick being forced to sing and dance on a toilet for a bowl cleaner commercial is hilarious. In addition to Dick’s dancing, the installment treats us to the stylings of Chita Rivera, who gets to dance with Dick again since their turn as Rosie and Albert! Also, director Jerry Paris makes a cameo. Fun episode.
06) Episode 69: “Commercial Housewives” (Aired: 02/25/74)
Tension abounds when Jenny and Connie are cast in a commercial.
Written by Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon | Directed by Peter Baldwin | Production No. 55
Although I find this premise to be too unoriginal, it’s actually pretty funny. Interestingly, much of the comedy is given to characters who don’t normally get to show off on this series — Lange and Rivera, who are appropriately awful in a commercial for stain remover. It’s the most the latter will ever get to do on this series.
07) Episode 71: “We Met At Mama Lombardi’s” (Aired: 03/11/74)
Dick tells his co-workers how he and Jenny first met at an Italian restaurant.
Written by Carl Reiner, Mark Elias, and Frank Shaw | Directed by Bud Molin | Production No. 71
Another flashback show, this one has Dick telling his coworkers how he and Jenny first met. The circumstances, clearly helmed by Reiner, are original and clever (if a bit cute). The episode isn’t funny enough to be considered excellent (and the attempts to make the cast look younger are futile), but it’s a breath of fresh air. This was the last episode to air primetime on CBS.
08) Episode 72: “Lt. Preston Of The 4th Calvary” (Aired: SYNDICATION ONLY)
Annie accidentally walks in on her parents making love.
Written by Sybil Adelman & Barbara Gallagher | Directed by Jerry Paris | Production No. 53
This is the infamous episode that CBS refused to air, which Reiner later cited as the reason behind his decision to leave. (But it seems like Van Dyke was ready to go as well, despite the better ratings it had received this season.) The installment, with its risqué and then unique premise. is much funnier than you’d expect it to be. And although it only aired in syndication, it’s undoubtedly one of the highlights of the season.
Other notable episodes that missed making the list above include “Mrs. Ferguson,” in which Ruth McDevitt plays an obsessed fan of Dick’s soap, and “The Young Surgeons,” in which Dick remembers his first acting job in Los Angeles. They are both fine episodes, but not quite funny enough to jump up to the list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of The New Dick Van Dyke Show goes to…..
“Preston Al Naturale”
UPDATE – 09/24/17: I have finally added “The Back Break Kid” to my collection, thus completing the series. Now, I am happily able to say that it’s indeed possible to choose a list of ten favorite episodes from this season. I’ve added them below.
09) Episode 54: “I’ll Cry Today” (Aired: 10/15/73)
Dick has an unusual response to his dentist’s laughing gas.
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock | Directed by Jay Sandrich | Production No. 50
Although I didn’t even single out this installment as an Honorable Mention in my initial 2014 publication, I now consider it a funny, memorable showcase for Van Dyke, to whom the series wisely crafts the opportunity for expert clowning — here, a crying jag brought about by laughing gas. First, I considered it too broad, but Van Dyke sells it, as does Sandrich’s direction.
10) Episode 63: “The Back Break Kid” (Aired: 01/07/74)
Dick is injured after a scene with an eager young actor.
Written by Dennis Klein | Directed by Noam Pitlik | Production No. 68
I’m glad I waited until I received this entry to craft a full seasonal list of ten, for there’s no doubt this excursion deserves to be here. As with the above addition, this story is designed to showcase Van Dyke’s physical comedy prowess, and from the moment his character is injured (by a young actor played by Barry Van Dyke) until the episode’s end, it’s all Van Dyke slapstick!
Come back next Tuesday for the start of coverage on a whole new sitcom! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!