The increasing availability of old TV shows on DVD has made the usefulness of a nostalgia-fest plus clip job like CBS’ latest, The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, even more pointless. Why sit through an hour of some of our most cherished television personalities valiantly attempting to triumph over the inevitabilities of age and an even creakier script, when you can buy or rent the sparkling original version of ”The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66)?
The premise for the special is oddly bleak: Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie and Rose Marie’s Sally are asked by their old employer Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) to become his comedy writers again…and compose a punchy eulogy for him before he dies. Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura notes that Rob and Sally haven’t worked for Alan in 40 years, and never much liked the tyrannical boss to begin with. So why do it? Money: Alan’s offering a lot of it, and Rob wants Laura to have the dance studio in Manhattan she’s been dreaming of owning. Sally observes, ”We don’t have any integrity…remember, we’re television writers.”
Well, once upon a time, Rob and Sally and their now-dead partner, Buddy (Morey Amsterdam, who passed away in 1996), did have integrity; they fought for their jokes with the usually unseen Alan and more often with his stooge-henchman, the also deceased Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon died in 1984). The script, written by Reiner — the original show’s creator — turns what amounts to another episode of ”The Dick Van Dyke Show” into a cynical reinterpretation of the entire series. The tone is sometimes inadvertently brutal: ”I went to Gregory Peck’s funeral,” snarls Alan, ”and that’s the kind of funeral I want!” Sheesh: poor Peck, reduced to a punchline.
Also making appearances are Rob and Laura’s neighbor Millie (Ann Guilbert, last seen on TV on ”The Nanny” and looking so much older than Moore that a Botox joke and a line about Laura’s younger age had to be added) and Jerry Van Dyke as Rob’s brother Stacy. There’s also an exceedingly odd solo appearance by Larry Mathews, who played the Petries’ son, Richie; he talks into a phone for a few minutes at the top of the show and is never seen again.
The last half of ”Revisited” is dominated by snippets of classic ”Van Dyke Show” moments, including a terrific montage of Buddy’s bald jokes aimed at Mel. Seeing these glowing black-and-white segments just makes you want to catch a rerun or snag a DVD for some good times, rather than these ambivalent ones. ”Dick Van Dyke Show”: A+; ”Revisited”: C-