by Brad Nelson 9/3/14
And if you’ve guessed the content of today’s blog post without skipping ahead, you too are an old-timer. For those who didn’t, here’s the theme song.
Netflix has all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke show available for streaming. I commonly like to watch something while having lunch or dinner, and that makes short half-hour shows just the ticket. But I’m not always in the mood for death, destruction, and dysfunction. And if you exclude that, there isn’t a lot left to watch on TV.
Enter The Dick Van Dyke Show. The worst you get from this show is Morey Amsterdam’s corny jokes. (Did you know that it takes two elephants to make the keys for a piano? Answer: I didn’t know that elephants were so good with their hands.)
The show first went on the air October 31, 1961. It was created by Meathead’s father, Carl Reiner. According to Wiki , the episodes “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “It May Look Like a Walnut” were ranked 8 and 15 respectively on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2003, the show itself was ranked #13 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time (a somewhat weak list — Phil Donahue is at 29, Larry Sanders at 38, Buffy at 41, and Roseanne at 35 — what are any of them doing on the list at all?).
This show is wholesome by today’s standards. Rob and Laura slept in separate single beds, for instance. But it was also funny. There’s an innocence to the humor that is missing from today’s television (or movies, for that matter).
Nothing about this show screams “Watch me” by today’s aesthetic. First of all, it’s shot in black-and-white. It’s about two white people, the man who works and the wife who stays at home and looks after their son. It’s often just a two-setting stage play (Rob at home and Rob at the office). But it works as a piece of harmless entertainment that doesn’t require that you shower afterwards.
Rose Marie’s schtick (perhaps most identify her with The Hollywood Squares) is the hard-luck woman who can’t seem to find a husband, although she thinks she’s the most beautiful woman in the world and a solid catch. Morey Amsterdam plays the kind of wise-guy, fast-talking, sidekick that was probably the prototype for such a character in later cinema and TV.
Mary Tyler Moore is not totally unrecognizable as the Mary Richards character she would later play in what is certainly one of TV’s greatest creative efforts at harmless pablum, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Oh, if today’s TV could only shoot for harmless pablum it would be a gigantic step up from the soul-degrading fare that is typical.
And there’s a warm charm to The Dick Van Dyke Show that is not universal just because it is old and just because it is in black-and-white. You might not find this gentle charm in such shows as the iconic I Love Lucy which, in its own way, was the forerunner of such squalid fare as Married with Children. One didn’t tune into I Love Lucy to be comforted so much as to make one’s own problems seem small and normal by contrast. And if that didn’t work, just the high-decibel content would muffle your own problems from your ears.
But that is not so with The Dick Van Dyke Show. Although it generally consists of a bunch of strung-together foibles and misunderstandings, they are light foibles and easy misunderstandings — and certainly not of the noxious (but often still funny) variety of, say, Three’s Company.
We may look back at the 60’s and suppose that what was offered was a laughably idealized family. But Rob and Laura argue. There is jealousy. There is some hardship. But never does it rise to the level of wearing these hardships like a badge of honor. The angst is dealt with and resolved. Unlike today, it was not considered a higher thing to be defined as wounded. There was a time when “Get over it” was actually played out, if in gentle and mild tones.
And although I wouldn’t call this light and somewhat frivolous fare an active balm for the soul, neither is it an agitator for the soul. And that which frivolousness can’t move, mere nostalgia could likely achieve passively.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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