Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" - "The Meershatz Pipe"

Spoilers for this week's episode of Dick Van Dyke after the jump:

I'm not sure if everyone who's a fan of this show feels the same way (or even if most fans do), but Rob Petrie's insecurities have never been my favorite part of Dick Van Dyke. I like the guy most of the time, but those occasions when he starts becoming irrationally insecure about something never really seem to work and usually wind up being rather irritating. Indeed, if memory serves they will eventually result in a couple of my absolute least favorite episodes of this otherwise fine series. The generally solid "The Meershatz Pipe" fortunately isn't one of those, but its overall quality is definitely harmed by the problems with Rob's story.

The idea behind that story isn't a bad one. Early in the episode, Buddy takes out a pipe he claims (falsely, as we'll find out later) was given to him by Alan. This immediately causes Rob to feel jealous. Things get worse when he gets sick and has to miss work for a few days, as he discovers that perhaps Buddy and Sally can write the show without him. There are some great bits that emerge as a result of this, from Rob inadvertently reading a story about a pipe to Richie to Laura forcibly keeping him from getting out of bed. Remember those funny Laura-Rob moments I said were coming? Well, there's one of them.

So at first glance it seems like this could wind up being a terrific episode. However, a few great individual segments don't necessarily mean the execution of the overall plot was great or even good, because here it certainly wasn't. The big problem is that the Rob-centered material is very hard to buy into or care about. Initially he just seems petulant, which is fairly entertaining at first ("well, he didn't give me a pipe") but quickly wears out its welcome once we realize that petulant Rob isn't really all that funny. 

Worse is when the episode switches to serious mode later on and actually tries to get us to take Rob's decision to resign as a legitimate dramatic development. I guess the idea here is that insecurity isn't always rational, which is true. But sorry, Rob's "woe is me, I should resign" attitude doesn't strike me as believable at all given his intelligence and the lighter nature of the rest of the storyline. Instead, he just comes off as annoyingly self-pitying: something I seriously doubt was intentional. But maybe it was, as this is a side of Rob that will emerge again in a few other episodes down the road. Either way, it results in those final scenes (when he inevitably finds out that he's very much needed) falling flat.
Amazingly, everything else in this installment is quite strong in spite of this major flaw, which in some ways makes it all the more unfortunate. The opening and closing scenes with Rob, Buddy, and Sally are more examples of the office-centered material being just effortlessly funny, and I've already mentioned a few of the other strong comedic moments. And if nothing else, "The Meershatz Pipe" contains a certain line spoken by Alan (see the other thoughts section) that is one of the most hilarious things you'll ever hear. On the whole, I'd say it's actually slightly better than "The Sick Boy and the Sitter" in terms of the overall level of humor.

That said, it'll take some time before Dick Van Dyke truly shows why it's one of the best sitcoms ever made. This episode, though decent, is nothing compared to what we'll see from the series later on.

Other Thoughts

- Buddy's ivory joke was great, and provided the episode's second-biggest laugh (for me, anyway).

- The biggest was this line: "When you walk down the street, keep a smile on your face. And you'll be amazed at how many people will come up to you and say 'what's so funny?'."          

- The two bits with Rob, the chicken soup, and the salt water were predictable but funny. Loved Sally giving him some soup as a gift and saying "Laura said you like to gargle with it".

- Next week's episode is "Jealousy". See you then.

Grade: B

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