Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" - "Jealousy"

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

"Jealousy" is the first episode of Dick Van Dyke that's truly solid almost from start to finish. While the first two installments we looked at both had their moments, this one marks a definite step up in quality. Like "The Meershatz Pipe", it deals with the topic of insecurity (this time Laura's as she worries about her husband working long nights with a guest star on the show), but it does so in far better and funnier fashion than that episode did.    

To begin with, Laura actually has a few legitimate reasons to be upset as the episode goes on, whereas last week Rob's actions just seemed childish. Granted, most of these reasons are caused by inconvenient timing, like when she walks in on the last part of Rob's rant at Jerry and hears it out of context. But they're reasons nonetheless.

At the same time, there's never a sense that she really thinks he's actually having an affair with Valerie Blake, which is one of the things that hurt the Rob story in the previous episode. It seemed to me as though he actually thought he was going to be replaced: a notion that was of course ridiculous. Laura's story in "Jealousy" never feels that way. Instead, her insecurity and eventual anger stem largely from a very believable feeling of being taken for granted.

Unlike the almost artificial drama of "The Meershatz Pipe", all of this unfolds quite naturally. That's something that is probably helped by the fact that - despite the focus on Laura - this episode is much more of an ensemble piece. Because while Laura's tirade after Rob's innocent morning is a brilliant and hilarious scene (her final "good morning, why not?" and his reaction are both priceless moments), the problems with the Rob-centered material last week showed that twenty-five minutes of Laura (or of any other character) feeling jealous and insecure would probably have worn thin.

"Jealousy" avoids that pitfall by allowing just enough of the main story to unfold with her off screen. Much of this is simply the typical office interactions between the members of The Alan Brady Show's staffwhich remain very funny. But another key sequence occurs shortly after the aforementioned scene where Laura walks in on Rob and Jerry just in time to catch the final few words between them. Right after calling her and making up, Rob gets a phone call from Mel. We know immediately what the news is going to be, but his terrified reaction still gets a big laugh. And then comes the phone call with Laura, which provides even bigger laughs as he tries to find something to say that will keep her from being completely furious.

This is of course much better from a humor perspective than a face to face conversation would be, as it forces the viewer to imagine just what Laura's expression looks like and what she's saying (assuming she said anything before hanging up) rather than simply spelling it out. Equally important is that it avoids the possibility that Laura's behavior might start to seem simply obnoxious rather than realistic and sympathetic, which is something that definitely happened with Rob at multiple points during "The Meershatz Pipe". The episode simply chooses not to take this chance, and it's all the better for it.

The other noteworthy thing that occurs here is our introduction to the Petries' neighbors, Millie and Jerry, which for the most part is handled very well. In that early scene with Laura they seem like a bit of a distraction, existing primarily to help set the central story into motion. But by the second "you're just terrible, Jerry" scene they've been established as very entertaining and funny characters thanks to the excellent work of Ann Morgan Guilbert and Jerry Paris.

The only real complaint I have about "Jealousy" is that it's still not as spectacularly funny as the Dick Van Dyke's best episodes. I laughed a lot, but not as hard or as consistently as I do at the average installment of many current comedies, and certainly not as much as I will when revisiting numerous later episodes of the series for these reviews. Hopefully we'll get to at least one of those episodes before this first batch of reviews concludes in a few months, but for now you'll just have to trust me when I say that this is simply a pretty good episode of a great series: one certainly worthy of praise but not quite deserving of complete adoration.    

Other Thoughts

- Buddy and Sally literally reversing their previous movements after being told they need to work was terrific.

- One of Mel's favorite responses to Buddy's constant insults is to use some variation of the word "yuck" when talking to or about him. We will see it many more times in future episodes, and it never stops being funny.

- "Something about that guy, the way he brightens up a room when he leaves it."

- Loved how Millie just keeps on saying how awful Jerry is after she takes the phone away from him, despite the fact that Rob obviously wouldn't have a clue what she's talking about. Funny stuff.

- Next we we'll take a look at "Sally and the Lab Technician".

Grade: B+

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