What can be said about The Dick Van Dyke Show that hasn’t been said before and said again countless times? On one hand, we have the snappiest workplace comedy ever scripted for Rob Petrie (Van Dyke), Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), along with memorable appearances from their boss, Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) and his long-suffering producer, Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon). On the other hand, we enjoyed the engaging homelife of Rob Petrie with his sexy wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) who live together at 148 Bonnie Meadow Lane in New Rochelle, New York.
Oh yeah, the Petries also lived with their son, Little Rickey, er, Little Ritchie Rosebud Petrie (Larry Matthews). Then and now, I never understood why Matthews got co-star billing in the opening credits. Back then, there was a phrase that proclaimed “children should be seen and not heard.” This was Ritchie. Unlike most TV kids of any era, in fact, Ritchie spent most of his time both out of sight and out of mind. Based on screen time alone, not to mention the number of episodes she appeared in, it was Ann Morgan Guilbert, who played next door neighbor Millie Helper, who really deserved co-star status. From time to time, we’d see her dentist husband Jerry as played by Jerry Paris. But Paris’s primary contributions were the many episodes he directed for the show. So let’s raise a glass to Millie, the most under-appreciated TV best bud of the Golden Era.
Speaking of Paris, he directed the fifth season opener, “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth,” in which Laura (at Millie’s instigation) goes on a TV show and lets it slip out Alan Brady wears toupees. Broadcast September 15, 1965, that story would ultimately be ranked at Number Eight by TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time in 1997. While few stories to follow would be quite on that level, it’s no wonder the fifth and final season of The Dick Van Dyke Show earned seven Emmy nominations and has been continually available for decades on reruns and on DVD packages since 2003.
Now, all 32 episodes have been released anew on Blu-ray transferred direct from the 35mm negatives. This means, if you don’t already have a good DVD set from Image Entertainment, now’s a good opportunity to get very clean and clear picture quality for your home library. What is disappointing about the release? Most of the alleged bonus features fall short.
What is the point of a series of promos for the show as aired on rerun stations? Why does the audio commentary from Don Rickles included in this package discuss an episode from the previous season? Yes, there are short nuggets like the TV Academy tribute to Carl Reiner featuring Garry Shandling, clips from TV Land awards, and audio commentaries from Rose Marie and Larry Matthews discussing “Dear Sally”—an episode in which Matthews didn’t appear. Hmm.
In the main, The Dick Van Dyke Show doesn’t need special bells and whistles to be appreciated anew. Some episodes contain more contagious laughter than anything out there now. For me, “Go Tell the Birds and the Bees,” one of the few featuring Ritchie, is LOL from start to finish as Rob and Laura learn their son is giving imaginative playground lectures on the facts of life. It’s funny to see Buddy Sorrel forced to contain his jibes in “The Bottom of Mel Cooley’s Heart” where Buddy’s trying to boost Mel’s ego by withholding his bald jokes. If you want to pick Carl Reiner’s most memorable appearance, perhaps you’d choose “A Day in the Life of Alan Brady” in which Brady tries to hijack the Petrie’s anniversary to boost his own oversize ego.
Another favorite, no doubt, would have to be “The Last Chapter.” Broadcast June 1, 1966, the grand finale presented a series of flashbacks illustrating chapters from Rob’s autobiography before the full cast comes together one last time to learn the fate of Rob’s book. A classy way to end a classy series, “The Last Chapter” contained the last poignant moments in a show full of such moments, a show all about human relationships in an era where character interaction was more important than one-liners.
So dodge the ottoman one last time with Rob, Laura, Sally, Buddy, Mel, Alan, Ritchie—and Millie—in glorious black-and-white. TV never got better.