Fun with Rob and Laura.

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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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to Fun with Rob and Laura.

  1. J.C. Michael says:

    Having grown up around reruns of this show, plus first-runs of things like The Love Boat & The Waltons, so when I stumble on them on satellite, it makes me realize just how ROTTEN television has become. and how it’s just not at all entertainment, but just plain GARBAGE designed to shock and to coarsen.

    I’ve even gone out and bought the DVDs of show like Twilight Zone, Wild Wild West, The Lieutenant, and Johnny Staccato, and just marveled at how INTERESTING and well-thought out it all was.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      A lot of these shows were indeed interesting. They had to work harder because they couldn’t just sit back and rely on throwing f-bombs around and stuff like that.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    It wasn’t at all hard to guess the meaning of the title; I watched a lot of TV after we got back from Greece (where no TV was available, except on the island of Crete, which isn’t where we lived). The walnut episode — such a nice parody of horror movies and such (and with a hint of The Twilight Zone) is easily my favorite, but there were plenty of others I enjoyed (and sometimes can still remember portions of).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ll have to skip ahead, if need be, and watch the Walnut episode next.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I believe there are large portions of that episode that I have in my readily accessible memory.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I watched the Walnut episode just now over dinner. It was pretty good. It must have been a boon to the walnut industry.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            “What is a Danny Thomas?”

            “I have perfect 20-20 20-20 vision.”

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Yeah. A good line.

              This certainly wasn’t true true at the time of The Dick Van Dyke show. She didn’t gain real super-tele-stardom until she got her own named series. But when she did, did you know that the networks paid Mary Tyler Moore than any other actress?

  3. Glenn says:

    The Andy Griffith Show was my favorite from that time and the reruns have been playing on one of the gazillion channels I get now. I still enjoy watching the show which I guess proves the truly good shows have staying power … at least for us old people that nostalgically remember watching it while sitting in front of our old black and white RCA Victor.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I watched an awful lot of TV at that time, and that was certainly one of the shows. This may have been influenced by the fact that we had some old Andy Griffith humor pieces on tape (and perhaps on records from which they had been taped). Oddly enough, I mostly didn’t see the Barney Fife episodes at first, because those mostly appeared while we were in Greece. By the time we came back, Don Knotts was about to leave the show.


    I actually stopped watching network television for a long time around 1980, when junk like Hill Street Blues started being taken seriously as drama, because I was always more interested in drama than sitcoms, but I thought The Dick Van Dyke Show was about the best sitcom the medium ever had. I’ve seen some Seinfeld reruns and found them clever but ultimately spiritually exhausting – is it really a good use of time to follow those four utterly worthless human beings around? About the only modern sitcom I can recommend is The Simpsons during its prime years, before it got into heavy-handed Leftist political messaging. The Left ruins everything it touches, even television.

    So enjoy the Van Dyke show on Netflix, Brad – it was very well done.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Nik, I just watched episode 4, season 1 (“Washington vs. the Bunny”) at lunch today. It was a really good episode. The best yet (in chronological order). You see that some of the man/woman themes it delves into are timeless. Yes, today they take these same issues and layer them in f-bombs and such. But it was surprising to see The Dick Van Dyke Show playfully wrestle with the conflict between the sexes in a humorous way and without all the extraneous gunk.

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