Reunions are a tricky thing. Sometimes they’re something to look forward to; sometimes they’re dreaded. It all seems to hinge on how long it’s been since the viewer has seen whoever they’re being reunited with. When the surviving cast of The Dick Van Dyke Show reunited in 2004, it had been 38 years since the show ended in 1966, so it’s safe to say the cast was allowed a bit of a victory lap.
The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited is a strange production that melds the fictional lives of Alan Brady and Rob and Laura Petrie; the real lives of Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Mary Tyler Moore; classic clips; and Ray Romano. It all came about from a fluke comment in 2003 when the surviving core members of the show were presented with an award at the first TV Land Awards. Reiner joked from the stage, “Hey, we could do a show with these people,” and according to an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Reiner says that’s all it took to put the ball in motion. “The next day I got a call from CBS. It was an offhand remark, but offhand remarks are sometimes the best remarks you make.”
There is a plot to the reunion, though not much. The fact of the matter is, this special was most likely an attempt by the network to cash in on a little nostalgia during May sweeps, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there are certainly some far less pleasant ways to spend an hour in front of the television (or YouTube, where it now lives).
When Carl Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of his greatest contributions to the sitcom genre was perfecting a show that married a workplace comedy with a family comedy. Without it, there’d be no 30 Rock, Home Improvement, or Mary Tyler Moore Show. This concept for the show worked so well in the 1960s, but when the show revisits this work-home life balance 40 years later, long after all of the main characters should have retired from the business, how does it maintain that spirit of the original?
The answer is surprisingly simple: The characters’ boss, Alan Brady (Reiner), brings the group back together again. Alan so enjoyed Rob’s eulogies at the funerals for Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) and wants what remains of his old writing staff, Rob and Sally (Rose Marie), to write his now, while he’s still alive. Everyone, including Rob and Laura’s old neighbor Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert), brother Stacey Petrie (Jerry Van Dyke), and Sally’s new husband Herman Glimscher (Bill Idelson) head to Alan’s to reminisce and ultimately reject the proposal of writing Brady’s eulogy for pay as ghoulish.
While a major portion of the show is based on looking backward (a number of classic clips are showcased as the cast remembers various events from their lives), a few steps were taken to show where the characters were present-day. Rob and Laura sold their New Rochelle house to their son, Ritchie (Larry Mathews), and moved to New York City, where Laura has left the role of housewife and now operates a dance studio. Rob has become obsessed with the world of 3-D animation, just like the real-life Dick Van Dyke, and has created an animated version of himself to dance with. (Van Dyke himself did the animation we see onscreen.)
Millie’s husband Jerry (Jerry Paris) has passed away, but she met a new guy, Stacey Petrie, at the grocery store, and they’re head over heels. Sally has married her longtime boyfriend Herman. And Rob occasionally says words like “hell” and “damn.” When his former co-worker Sally asks, “When did you start talkin’ dirty?” Laura responds, “Soon after we got cable.”
But even as the actors had aged, much of the show stayed the same. Laura still responds with a resigned “Oh, Rob …” when needed. Sally is still basically a quip machine. Alan is still vain, pompous, and terrible. And there’s still a genuine warmth and gentleness one feels when watching. The actors certainly seem comfortable in their roles, and there is a genuine love for one another that comes through the screen. This element is much of what made the show’s original incarnation work, and it continues to permeate the reunion as well.
The final act of the show features Van Dyke and Moore out of character, walking across their old living room set in cocktail attire, marveling at the fact that they’re now in color, and that Rob and Laura now sleep in one king-sized bed, rather than two twin beds. As the credits roll, the two elegantly dance around the set until it’s all capped off with a strange, off-camera joke involving Ray Romano and Mary Tyler Moore coupling.
Though it concerns the mortality the show’s central cast, The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited is still significantly cheerier than the strange show-within-a-show dreamed reunion that aired in 1979 on The Mary Tyler Moore Hour (that killed off Alan Brady early) and showed that, nearly 40 years later, if someone has talent, they don’t just lose it with age. With Van Dyke recently tapping his toes in Mary Poppins Returns at 93 without the aid of a CG double and Reiner still writing at age 97, it would appear that theirs isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, either.