By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 27: “The Sleeping Brother”
Original airdate: Mar. 28, 1962
Upon rewatching “The Sleeping Brother,” I was kind of shocked to find out just how little Stacey there actually is in the episode. It is, after, all the conclusion to his story (for now). As a result, I guess I remembered him being on screen a lot more than he is. And perhaps due to Jerry Van Dyke’s tremendous performance in last week’s episode, I also remembered him being hilarious here. As it turns out, he’s not, although he’s still funny enough. But the fun to be had in this episode mostly revolves around many of the show’s other characters, who largely took a back seat to Stacey in “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.” Here they get plenty to do: ostensibly in the service of helping Stacey achieve his dreams, but more just to entertain us.
First, though, the episode decides to have Laura and Rob explain to Jerry what’s going on, in an attempt to mask what amounts to little more than a “previously on Dick Van Dyke” segment designed to help catch up new viewers (or people who missed the previous episode) on the events of “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.” With that out of the way, the episode proceeds to lay out its story for us. After a failed attempt to help Stacey’s confidence by having him listen to himself perform while he’s asleep, Rob comes up with another idea: to have Stacey’s audition take place at a party at the house. That way, he reasons, Stacey won’t feel too much pressure. Rob just needs to ensure that Alan will be there, even though it’s his poker night.
Long story short: he gets Alan to show up, with the help of Mel. From there, “The Sleeping Brother” wastes no time in getting to the next scene: a party featuring performances from almost everyone in the main cast. As you may know from reading these reviews, I love it when the show does these kinds of scenes, and here it delivers one for the ages. The cut from Sally beginning her song in the office to her singing it at the party never fails to delight me in the way it swiftly bypasses all of the less interesting stuff that happens in between and gets straight to Sally’s glorious rendition of ”Crying My Heart Out for You.” I rarely say much about the camerawork or editing on this show (it’s pretty standard stuff most of the time), but that cut is a thing of beauty.
From there, the scene moves swiftly into an equally delightful performance from Buddy: most of which is spent on a hilarious bit in which he plays a guy who goes to a tailor and buys a suit and pants that don’t fit. It doesn’t sound all that funny, but in the hands of Morey Amsterdam it’s a virtually perfect self-contained piece of physical comedy. After this, we get a brief scene between Rob and Stacey, in which the latter says he’s not ready to perform awake yet. He heads off to his room, and we head back for the conclusion of Buddy’s performance. This is followed by a terrific duet of “Mountain Greenery” from Laura and Rob.
All of this puts “The Sleeping Brother” firmly in the ranks of the all-time great Dick Van Dyke episodes, which is fortunate, because the resolution to Stacey’s story is easily the weakest part of the episode. Predictably, he bursts out of his room (seemingly still asleep, but in reality awake) just after Laura and Rob finish their song and proceeds to leave the partygoers in stitches.
However, I for one found his act in this episode considerably weaker than the one he did in “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.” He pretends to be a new rock star named Skid Row, but doesn’t do much beyond acting stupid and being inarticulate. The bit simply isn’t all that funny, and I’m also not sure what the point of it is: other than poking fun at rock music (and by association, its fans) in a way that is exceedingly lazy, stupid, and offensive. Indeed, if I’m reading it right (I may not be, but I think I am), the act is basically saying that only idiots enjoy this type of music, which is of course exceedingly ignorant and untrue. In any case, very little about it works, aside from one or two funny lines. This makes the reactions of the partygoers feel rather false, and prevents Stacey’s moment of triumph from feeling completely earned.
But again, the episode often seems to be barely about Stacey. While he was integral to the success of last week’s episode, here his presence is used mostly as an excuse to allow the main members of this talented cast to show off their performing skills. So while “The Sleeping Brother” is only moderately successful at crafting a satisfying ending to Stacey’s first two-episode arc, it is extremely successful as an episode of Dick Van Dyke, and that’s what ultimately matters.
- After he gets done playing a cello piece, Buddy is of course ready with a great self-deprecating one-liner: “And folks, to think I only studied for five years in London, 10 years in Paris, and 15 years in vain.”
Next Week: Season one concludes with “The Return of Happy Spangler.”