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DVD SAVANT

The Dick Van Dyke Show Season 1
&
The Dick Van Dyke Show Season 2


Cinematography Henry Cronjager Jr., Robert De Grasse
Created by Carl Reiner
Art Direction Kenneth A. Reid
Original Music Earle H. Hagen
Written by (among others) Carl Reiner, Jerry Belson, Garry Marshall

The Dick Van Dyke Show Seasons 1 & 2
Image/Brownstein
1961-63 / B&W / 1:33 flat full frame / 30 min. x 62 episodes (both sets, sold separately / Street Date October 21, 2003 / 69.99
Starring Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Mathews, Richard Deacon, Jerry Paris, Ann Morgan Guilbert


Produced by Sam Denoff, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Persky, Carl Reiner, Danny Thomas
Directed by (among others) Peter Baldwin, Richard Erdman, Sheldon Leonard, Howard Morris, Jerry Paris, Alan Rafkin, Carl Reiner, John Rich

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

There was a show with Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss that I'd like to see first before committing myself, but The Dick Van Dyke Show was probably Savant's favorite 60s situation comedy. The show was consistently funny and carried a chemistry of niceness and honesty that suited the times. The wildest, most progressive thing on the air in 1962 was The Loves of Dobie Gillis, but Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore were people we wanted to be like and live with. At age 13 or so, it was my image of how adults were supposed to behave.

Along with seemingly every other notable TV series ever made, The Dick Van Dyke Show is being released in massive boxed sets, one per season. The packaging is slick, the transfers excellent, and each volume comes with plenty of extras.

Synopsis:

Rob Petrie is the head writer for the Alan Brady Show and rides herd on his nutty co-writers Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam). With his loving wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), he raises their son Ritchie (Larry Mathews) and spars with their neighbors Jerry and Millie Helper (Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert).

I suppose I Love Lucy invented everything about the sitcom from the three-camera film setup onward, and The Dick Van Dyke Show can be accused of being derivative in some basics. Both families are in show business, so there are plenty of opportunities for different kinds of 'performing.' They have business problems at work and domestic complications at home, and a pair of friendly neighbors to keep thinks lively and provide a foil for the comedy.

I prefer The Dick Van Dyke Show because of the wider variety of material and the personalities of the stars. Ricky and Lucy were charming but the plots of their individual episodes always veered toward high farce and ridiculous situations, mostly around Lucy's outrageous behavior. Laura Petrie is much more down to Earth, and the Petrie's problems are generally more intimate and believable. The humor in the earlier show depended upon two comic characters with extreme personalities to generate a big rift; in this series the husband and wife actually talk to each other and work out their problems. The individual problems are usually so petty that they aren't the issue at all; the fun is in seeing the characters rebound naturally off one another.

This is way before the advent of sitcom insult humor, where character and theme don't matter as long as there's a snappy rejoinder every ten seconds, at whose expense we don't care. Rob and Laura care about each other, and we can tell that they do. Rob is tall, optimistic, fair-minded and emotionally vulnerable; and Laura is bright, sexy (those capri pants), loving and even more emotional. They may be generic nice upscale Americans, circa 1961, but they're not demographically formulated.

In one of the extras on the very first disc, series creator Carl Reiner explains that after the demise of one of the Sid Caesar shows, he flopped around for awhile until he wrote a series sitcom pilot on a dare. He made the hero a writer like himself, for a TV comedy star like Caesar, simply so he'd believe in what he was doing.

The first disc has a perfect copy of the series pilot called Head of the Family. Reiner stars as Rob Petrie, with Pamela Britton as his wife. The Buddy Sorrel character is more of a nerdy accountant type, and Sally Rogers is played by Sylvia Miles, the lady with the poodle ten years later in Midnight Cowboy. The pilot is horrible. Reiner has little appeal and most of the comedy is forced.

Enter television sitcom genius Sheldon Leonard, the ex-actor who played tough guys in everything from To Have and Have Not to It's a Wonderful Life. Leonard put the show on track with some terrific re-casting built around Dick Van Dyke, the recent star of Broadway's Bye Bye Birdie. Apparently competing with Van Dyke for the role was none other than Johnny Carson. Mary Tyler Moore was known mostly as a pixie-like sales girl for TV ads, and as a voice and a pair of legs on David Jannsen's Richard Diamond Private Eye show. Surely it was all professional, but the pair have a definite chemistry on screen.

At work, there's the hot duo of Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. Individually overbearing (he the famous 'joke machine', she an obnoxious ex-child performer - see International House, 1933), together they're charming and actually do a good job of fabricating how a writing team works. Neither is particularly photogenic - today the roles would have to be filmed by people who looked like fashion models. The comedy team have a perfect foil in the person of dour Richard Deacon, who does a minimum of one walk-on per show to receive insults and other abuse.

Like I said, comedy on The Dick Van Dyke Show doesn't have Laura doing sneaky things behind Rob's back, or trying out terrible schemes to get rich or become a star. Laura's more likely to worry about a simple jealousy, or a communication problem, or some petty secret from Rob's background. A number of episodes play as flashbacks to the time when Rob was a lowly serviceman and Laura a USO dancer.

The first season carries a plainwrap title sequence where photos are tossed on a table. Starting with the second, Rob makes an entrance at home and tumbles over an ottoman. Eventually the opening was mixed and matched with one of him avoiding the ottoman, but I always looked up during reruns to see what happened. Hooked, I guess. I particularly liked the neighbors Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert; sure, they were just the drop-in-for-coffee chorus for Rob and Laura to bounce off, but Guilbert was hilarious and personified many of my mom's housewife friends. She obviously had much more of a range, but could have done wonders with the Gladys Hotchkiss role in The Pajama Game.

Carl Reiner joined the show later as Rob's boss Alan Brady, but on these two seasons, I think he's an unseen presence, always represented by the flat-faced Richard Deacon.


Image's boxed sets of Seasons One and Two of The Dick Van Dyke Show are almost intimidating. The many episodes in each box are on five slim-cases, and come annotated as to show date, director and the bare plot outlines. Each episode has at least one extra, if just a soap commercial or something, but every disc has an interview featurette with Reiner, Amsterdam, Marie and Leonard.

The boxes will be easy to spot in the stores: the covers each have lenticular trick pictures with animated shots of Rob falling over the ottoman, and Laura tumbling out of a closet filled with what look like walnuts.

The quality of the shows is excellent, as each episode appears to be given more than adequate encoding space. They have full title sequences and credits and look immaculate.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Dick Van Dyke Show Seasons One and Two (separate boxed sets) rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: many individual interview pieces, the pilot show Head of the Family, TV commercials with the stars
Packaging: Slim cases in card box
Reviewed: November 5, 2003





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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