Admittedly, about four or five of my articles so far this summer have amounted to, “Gee, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” And on the grounds that those articles have been hugely popular, with a downright unprecedented readership, I have decided that this week, not wanting to rock the boat too much, you understand, I’m going to do the exact same thing I’ve been doing all summer.
A couple of years ago I had a “Summer of Shakespeare.” This year I find myself in the middle of a “Summer of, ‘Gee, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’” Anyway, I haven’t done this about TV before.
So, I’ve been watching The Dick Van Dyke Show a fair amount lately, which stars the eponymous Van Dyke as a TV writer and focuses largely on the day-to-day of both his professional and private life. It’s a sitcom in the truest sense; that is, largely based on situational comedy. How about that? For example, Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, in the first episode, finds himself having to convince his wife, Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), to accompany him to an office party so he can impress his boss. She doesn’t want to go because their young son Ritchie (Larry Matthews) isn’t feeling well. Hilarity ensues.
Seriously, these are the most basic, day-to-day situations anyone could possibly dream up, but they are executed with ingenuity and brilliance. You could summarize any episode of this show with “Mundane daily activity, tiny snag, hilarity ensues.” How do they keep this premise fresh? Well, every episode is written by Carl Reiner, the 9-time Primetime Emmy Award-winner who brought us Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Caesar’s Hour, The 2000 Year Old Man, and Rob Reiner. His expertly charming, witty dialogue paired with pinpoint comedic timing from Van Dyke, Moore, and their costars (including Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam) creates a refreshingly genuine comedy happy hour (a thirty-minute comedy happy hour).
So, the last episode of this show aired over fifty years ago, on June 1st 1966, which perhaps begs the question of how anyone could describe it as refreshing, because isn’t that adjective usually reserved for the new and different? And I find myself back at that same old spot: “Gee, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” They most certainly do not. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then someone will come out with a fabulous bit of television, even a fabulous sitcom. Hell, I loved Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I really enjoyed the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and most recently I’ve gotten terribly hooked on Jane the Virgin, and… uh… yeah, seen quite a bit of WWE this summer, too, and that ought to count. And maybe The Dick Van Dyke Show was as much a rarity at its time as those new shows are now, but I’ve just gotten, for the most part, burned out on TV these days. Jane the Virgin is filling a timeslot I usually reserve for binge-watching 90s Simpsons episodes for the hundredth time, so it is nice to have something new, but damn, new stuff these days is hard to get invested in.
With that in mind, although you could describe it as an “old” show, Dick Van Dyke is, indeed, refreshing. Sometimes new stuff can be stale, you guys. Just take a gander at the marquee at your local cinema and try to prove me wrong based on what’s playing this week. Sometimes it pays to look back at what’s old, to identify what made it good in the first place, especially if the standard of today is well below the par of yesterday.
Intellectually stimulating? Not so much. Funny, witty, genuine, refreshing, entertaining, and comforting? Definitely. And hey, it’s all on Netflix. Add it to your queue, but try to watch it before you watch all that garbage that’s ahead of it.
And yes, I know I’m a bit of a curmudgeon; I don’t care.