Dick Van Dyke Show: 50th Anniversary Edition
The term ‘classic television’ has been applied to a myriad of shows that have found their way into our living rooms. Over the last six decades or so that little glowing box in the center of family rooms all across the globe has undergone more changes than could easily be listed but as far as content is concerned not a whole lot of the series that have come and gone over that period come anywhere close to being worthy of the appellation; ‘classic’. To realistically earn that title some strict criteria must be applied. At the top of that list has to be factors such as longevity, creativity and innovation. This is where must shows fall short. Few of the series on during the last years will be remembered as fondly a half a century out as the show under consideration here; ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’.
Image Entertainment is helping to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of this series with a fan favorite collection that features twenty of the best episodes offered by this ground breaking series. As someone who grew up watching this show not only in syndication but as some of my initial exposure to first run television I’d rather not think too much that I have been a loyal fan of this series for fifty years, a significant percentage of my life. As I pursued the episode list that arrived with the screener I found myself drifting back to my childhood as I gleefully recalled details of shows I haven’t seen in decades. This is part of something being a true classic when you have allocated a part of your neural storage capacity to a television show not seen since grade school. I seriously doubt that such a strong emotional reaction will be elicited by even a handful of shows more recent in their incarnations. I was literally overjoyed when I discovered I was going to receive this set. It invoked such a good feeling that I actually could forget the usual work-a-day nonsense that plagues us all. This was one of the primary functions of television that appears to have been forgotten by many network executive that control TV programming; provide a fun respite from the drudgery of reality. Everything seems to be overloaded with social commentary or cultural significant that good old fashion silly fun has been left behind. This five disc set has already become a treasured part of my collection. In fact I’ve been so busy watching I nearly forgot to get to this review; the set just enthralled me so much.
My first contact with this series was watching with my parents on our black and white Sylvania set. For years afterwards episodes would be a main stay when home sick or rainy summer days. I could not have imagined ever seeing these episodes remastered for viewing on a 48" 1080p television with reprocessed 7.1 audio. Admittedly I did set the receiver to better emulate an old television just for the sake of nostalgia but the standard setting for 7.1 did provide a full, rich sound stage that was much more realistic than I would have thought. It would also be a safe bet that the series creator, Carl Reiner, never imagined his show would be viewed by such unimagined technological wonders. Reiner, proud father of Rob Reiner, a directorial genius in his own right, was one of the true pioneers of television. When home entertainment was still synonyms with radio, Reiner, along with such comic geniuses as Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs created a creative atmosphere that has never quite been recreated. Most of these comedians already had many years of experience honing their comedic skills in radio, film and vaudeville including one of the most fertile proving grounds for comedy ever, the so called Borsch Belt, predominately Jewish resorts in up stated New York. This gave these people experience running the gamut from the controlled environment of the studio to the unpredictability of performing before a typically unforgiving live audience. Reiner took his own personal experience and delightfully twisted it to arrive at the central premise of ‘The Dick Van Dyke show’. The titular Mr. Van Dyke was cast as Rob Petrie, the head writer for the fictitious ‘Alan Brady’ television show. Eventually the role of Brady would be undertaken by Reiner creating the ironic situation of exchanging places with Van Dyke as the main character and writer. This also set up two overlapping zones for the comedy that were readily relatable to audience members; home and work. On the home front Rob was joined by his stay at home mother Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) and their young son Ritchie (Larry Mathews). Usually hanging around were there best friends Jerry Helper (Jerry Paris), a dentist, and his wife Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert). This typically played off the antics at work were Rob had to contend with his coworkers, writers Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). The straight man and target of most of Buddy’s verbal quips the Brady show’s producer, Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon). Like many watching Rob was part of the growing number of men who commuted between their suburban home and workplace in the city.
This series never engaged in controversy, it depended on a gentle, family friendly format that is largely forgotten except for a few early evening shows on designated family cable networks. The job of comedy writer was brilliant. It permitted the humor to be expressed on two tiers. First there was the comedy derived from the interaction of the ‘writing staff’ were ‘shtick’ was the name of the game. The premise was ideal for this type of comedy providing a natural setting for the rapid fire jokes typical of standup comedy of that day. The second level that the show worked on was some just emerging half a century ago, the situation based comedy. Although common place and a staple of programming now back then this format was still being tested both by the artists involved in production and the audience. In this capacity this show was extraordinary. Each episode was stand alone as was the norm back then but most everyone was a comedy gem. This collection features twenty fan favorites and for once that designation is accurate. Each one has stood the test of time and remains hysterical.
The Sick Boy And The Sitter