Summer TV Club: The Dick Van Dyke Show, "That's My Boy?"
Luckily I have returned from my much-needed vacation because last week's discussion of Red Dwarf was way too balanced and cerebral. I thank John Gray for filling in; perhaps he'll watch some TV again with us this summer.
This week, Pete has chosen nothing other than a television classic comedy, The Dick Van Dyke Show. In this particular episode, "That's My Boy?," Dick, (whose name on the show is Rob Petrie) his best buddy Jerry, (Jerry Paris) and wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) recount the day that they brought home their son Richie from the hospital. As the story unfolds, the audience finds out that for one very long day Rob was under an intense suspicion that Richie was not their son! Through a series of mix-ups at the hospital involving another couple who also had a son on the very same day and whose name is Peters, quite similar to Petrie, Rob convinces his family that they have taken home the wrong baby. And hilarity ensues.
ABBY: I will admit that I have only seen a handful of Dick Van Dyke episodes and I was pleasantly surprised at how funny it was, even now 50 some odd years later.
JEF: It's from a time when comedy relied almost exclusively on stage timing, and you didn't have the camera tricks and other effects to shore up the weak points. I honestly thought it got a little hammy, but that stage timing is something to witness, I'll tell you.
PETE: Well, that and the writing. This particular episode was scripted by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, who collaborated on the bulk of Season Three's episodes after Carl Reiner started doing other things. Fun fact: Persky and Denoff also created That Girl. Fun fact #2: DVDS writer John Whedon is grandfather to Buffy's Joss.
ABBY: When Rob and Jerry go to pick up Laura at the hospital the day after she's given birth, she looks like she just stepped out of a salon. Both of you guys have wives who have had children, how accurate is that?
JEF: About as accurate as an automatic shotgun. My wife looked like the prettiest mugging victim in the world after giving birth. Beautiful, of course, but also like someone had stabbed her in the stomach and removed a significant part of her anatomy.
I wish they'd tackled my favorite post-pregnancy bit... watching newly un-pregnant women readjust to their former center of gravity.
PETE: To this day I wonder how many cases of post-partum depression in the late '60s were attributable to women crushed because they didn't instantly drop to a size 2 within 48 hours of giving birth.
ABBY: Were either of you afraid that your children weren't really yours? Even now perhaps?
JEF: True story, one night they brought me a Chinese baby. I held the little guy for a second, looked at the nurse, and she said, "Oh, that's not you." Then she just turned and walked off. So glad my wife was asleep.
PETE: "Afraid?" Honestly, it would validate my current state of denial that all my shitty personality traits are manifesting themselves in my children.
ABBY: Last question about this, did either of you ever wish that you were switched at birth? I prayed for it every night but alas I look just like my father.
JEF: I think that's more of a girl thing. Secretly a princess and all that. Boys just dream about finding something radioactive and hopefully getting superpowers in the bargain.
PETE: Switched? Not precisely. I assumed for years I would inherit a fortune from some distant wealthy relative and eliminate the need for my seeking a job after college. That didn't work out so well.
ABBY: The payoff of this episode is worth every minute leading up to it, even if no one but Rob thinks that maybe his baby is the wrong one. Were you guys shocked or you saw it coming a mile away (P.S. the payoff is that the Peters are black, so obvs their baby does not belong to the Petries)?
JEF: I did not see it coming, and it is the funniest payoff I have ever seen. Seriously, it's 23 minutes for one punchline and everyone just nails it perfectly! I must have laughed for ten minutes.
PETE: While I didn't make the connection when I first saw it (circa 1985), I wouldn't be surprised if modern audiences didn't get it either. And that's mostly because I think present-day TV viewers might gloss right over the possible racial outcomes.
ABBY: 1960s sitcoms moved away from the "father knows best" mentality and portrayed many of the patriarchs as sort of bumbling idiots that their wives need to reel in from time to time to save them from their own self destruction. It's was sort of an interesting time in domestic sitcoms because of this gender-bend. Yes? No?
JEF: I don't know... I get sort of sensitive about that sort of thing honestly. I can't tell you how many times I've been out in public with the kid and had any number of women just assume I was a bumbling idiot when it came to childcare. "Oh, you're doing so well with her!" Like they expect me to clothe her in dishrags and use mud to keep the ticks off. Still, it's heaps better than that paternalistic bullshit that preceded it. I'll give you that.
PETE: Has that sitcom dynamic changed? Modern TV dads are still pretty idiotic (Modern Family, According to Jim). I don't want to take Jef's example to Glenn Beck extremes (Jef Beck?), but I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who view a man who can maneuver multiple children through the Galleria as some kind of fucking Super Dad.
ABBY: Are you the father knows best types of dads or the bumbling idiots?
JEF: Most of the time I just pretend I'm Sir Richard Attenborough, and that I've been tapped by the president to communicate and care for a crash-landed alien species while also assessing its nature and potential danger. No idea where that puts me in your scale.
PETE: Self-identification is pointless. My kids will regard me as the first type until sometime around puberty, and then they'll see me as a bumbling idiot. Hopefully when they reach adulthood they'll realize their mom and I did everything we could for them.
Even if I did let them watch Sharknado when they were four.
ABBY: Why did Dick Van Dyke not use his real name or at least his real first name, which was so common for sitcom stars with celebrity power back then (and even sometimes now). You don't have to answer this question, I was just wondering.
JEF: The role was almost given to Johnny Carson, so Rob Petrie was always going to be an actual character. Albeit one that capitalized on the television culture itself.
PETE: I'm just glad the fact he had the worst English accent in movie history this side of Kevin Costner didn't ruin his legacy.
ABBY: Richie was a ridiculously good baby. That's not real... right?
JEF: Richie was probably a paper towel roll in a blanket. Watching Van Dyke carry out the bassinet without waking anyone was the most unrealistic thing I've ever seen on television period. Some babies are calmer than others, sure, but they all feed on sleep deprivation as readily as breast milk and are in general full of the same temperament as Adolf Hitler. That's why I have one... I never want to be surrounded.
PETE: Of course it's real, Abby. Babies are remarkably easy to deal with, especially in the first year. You should go get pregnant right now.
Next week join us as we venture into the unknown world of the original Star Trek for the infamous Tribble episode, "The Trouble With Tribbles," episode 15 from Season Two. Remember all of the shows we watch are available on Netflix streaming, so you can watch along and hate us for ruining the episode for you.
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