Friday, June 15, 2012

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" - "Oh How We Met the NIght That We Danced"

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

One of the many great things about Dick Van Dyke is the quality of its flashback episodes. And I'm not talking about the kind we saw last week, which used this common storytelling device (in this case unnecessarily) to flash back merely to very recent events. There are a number of those, for sure, and quite a few of them are good or even great. But many of the show's best flashback episodes go much further back: typically depicting key events long ago in Laura and Rob's history. In the case of "Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced" the focus is on the initial few meetings between the couple, including that time he broke her toes. And the result is an episode that is just effortlessly charming.

The story plays out according a pretty standard romantic plot outline: boy meets girl, boy is initially rejected, boy refuses to go away, boy eventually wins girl over. This fairly simple structure has been used repeatedly in just about every medium of storytelling, and Dick Van Dyke doesn't deviate too much from it. Which is fine, because it usually works when you have two terrific actors with great chemistry, which is something that's definitely the case with Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. Add in a very funny supporting performance from Marty Ingels as Rob's army friend Sol, and you've got the makings of an extremely strong episode right there.

This is a good thing, because the script isn't one of Dick Van Dyke's most inspired. It's solid, just not anything breathtaking. There's an excellent joke here, a superbly written line there, and so on. But it's the acting that really brings out the inherent humor and romance in this story, and in doing so makes the episode into something memorable. Rob's obsession with getting to know Laura could have been creepy rather than endearing, but it's not: mainly because of the way Dick Van Dyke radiates both Rob's determination and his uncertainty in every scene. He confidently declares to Sol that he's going to marry her, but underneath all that bravado is the very real worry that maybe she's really never going to like him. This allows us to root for him, which is of course something that was impossible to do last week. Plus, the lovestruck expression on his face after her initial rejection is absolutely priceless.

That's even more true when you consider the enormous difference between it and Laura's own expression --- which borders on outright hatred and disgust and is equally well-portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore --- just about every time he renews his efforts get her to like him. The contrast between the two is simply delightful, particularly as hers is generally accompanied with some of the most hilarious putdowns you'll ever see. For instance, after Rob gives a lengthy speech in response to her claim that she isn't allowed to date servicemen, he asks her what her second reason for not being interested in him is. Her response is short but sweet: "I don't like you. At all!"

So, how did these two end up getting married? Well, being the lovestruck fool he is, Rob refuses to give up and decides to maneuver his way into Laura's dance number by first learning the moves and then bribing her partner to let him dance with her instead. From that moment on it's pretty clear where all of this is going, but it's still fun watching the episode reach its destination. And the song and dance routine to "You Wonderful You" is just a lovely sequence in every way, particularly as you see Laura's anger begin to soften just a bit while dancing with him. Right before he accidentally steps right on her foot, of course.

We never get to see the aftermath of this event, which is probably just as well. Rob visiting Laura in the hospital isn't completely devoid of comic potential, but it probably would have paled in comparison to the rest of the tale. So having "Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced" end with Laura and Rob simply telling Richie how the story ends (no flashback) seems fitting to me. It's in keeping with the episode's happily reminiscent and sentimental tone, which is infectious even if it's a bit hard to believe that Laura would be so thrilled to recount this rather painful event. I know I wouldn't be if it had happened to me. (Or maybe I would, years after the fact. Who knows?)

In any case, it should be clear by now that I pretty much adore this episode. As with "Jealousy", my one complaint is that it's just not as hilarious as so many of Dick Van Dyke's later classics. But I think that's less of an issue with this because it's going for romance in addition to laughs, and is mostly successful at both. There are isolated moments that don't work (though funny, Rob's emceeing goes on a little bit too long), but on the whole this is easily the show's finest installment so far, and a much needed return to form after the last two. Just a well-made, well-acted, and highly entertaining episode of TV comedy.

Other Thoughts

- Sol is just too funny in this episode. His biggest highlight is probably this line, in response to the aforementioned declaration by Rob: "Marry? Hey yeah, it's a great idea. That'll give her a chance to get to know you better..."

- Next week we'll look at "The Unwelcome Houseguest".

Grade: A-

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