Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?”

By Greg Boyd

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 14: “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?”
Original airdate: Dec. 26, 1961

“Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” is one of the funniest and most memorable episodes of Dick Van Dyke’s first season, and not just because of the “this is an arm, this is a rib” scene. True, this scene never fails to elicit huge amounts of laughter from me, but the episode as a whole is almost as great. From the moment Rob begins to do his impression of a “nervous, doddering old man”, the humor pretty much never lets up. I’ve been waiting to get to this installment ever since beginning these reviews, to the point where I started to get concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my memories of it (particularly since a number of the early episodes have been a bit underwhelming). As it turns out, there was no reason to worry. It’s still a brilliant episode of comedy television.

The “doddering old man” impression is Rob’s way of telling Laura that he was offered the head writer job on The Dan Howard Show, but that he turned it down because of what he believes it—and star Dan Howard—would do to his health. It’s a terrific bit on its own, and one that also serves to set up the rest of the episode’s plot. Because when Rob turned down the job, it was offered to Buddy, who actually wants it in spite of the rumors about Howard. But he can’t accept the offer because of his current contract with The Alan Brady Show. After a few brief attempts by Sally and Rob to talk him out of it, Rob calls in Mel to ask for Buddy’s release.

Screen Shot 2012-08-07 at 11.46.11 AM

What’s so great about the ensuing scene is how it relies on our knowledge of the mutual disdain Mel and Buddy have for one another, as well as Buddy’s habit of making jokes about Mel’s baldness. One of the funniest moments in the episode is the close-up shot of Mel’s face as he contemplates being “able to walk into this office without the fear of being verbally assaulted.” He says all of this as though in a trance, clearly excited by the proposition. And we all know why, having seen over a dozen episodes’ worth of Buddy/Mel interactions at this point. But when Rob asks if that means it’s okay, Mel’s calmer and more businesslike side kicks back in and says no. You see, Alan thinks very highly of Buddy. So unless he isn’t contributing in the office, there’s no way Mel can fire him.

Buddy’s solution to this dilemma, of course, is to have Rob lie about the quality of his work. Rob’s of course opposed to the idea on ethical grounds, but also because he doesn’t think Mel will believe it. At this point, Mel walks back in, reveals that he’d been listening at the door the entire time, and says that he’s more than willing to go along with the plan. He even dictates the memo after Rob proves incapable of providing the necessary amount of meanness necessary to get Buddy fired. After a little pressure from Buddy, Rob signs it. Mel’s delighted, and Buddy’s happy. The two exchange one final insult and “yuck”, and all appears to be well.

But what Buddy forgot was that the contents of the memo could find their way to Dan Howard before he’s signed his new contract, which of course they do (as it turns out, Howard is friends with Alan). So now he’s out of work, and it’s left to Sally and Rob to find a way to get him his job back. They first decide to pretend they’re so overwhelmed with work, and upon seeing this Mel agrees to let them hire a third writer, as long as it’s not Buddy. Rob speculates that Mel’s refusal to let Buddy back on the staff is because Buddy was too nasty to him during their final encounter. Sally responds that he “couldn’t have been nastier if he made a living at it.” This in turn gives Rob the idea to hire someone who does make a living at it: a nightclub comedian named Jackie Brewster (guest star Lennie Weinrib).

Screen Shot 2012-08-07 at 11.50.41 AM

What follows is one of the single funniest scenes in Dick Van Dyke’s debut season, and maybe in its entire run. Sally and Rob’s plan is to introduce Jackie as the new writer, then have him insult Mel until he’s begging for Buddy to come back. And that’s exactly what happens, in an extended comic sequence that can’t really be described very well, other than saying that it contains one great line after another. Jackie begins by comparing Mel’s hand to “five fat worms”, then proceeds to top that initial joke with even funnier ones over the next few minutes. It’s really pretty cruel when you think about it (even if it is “for a good cause”, as Sally puts it), but it’s also ridiculously hilarious. I’ve seen this scene a number of times, and I still laugh every time Jackie shows Mel the difference between an arm and a rib, and at numerous other moments in it. If that’s not great comedy, what is?

In addition to the hilarity (or perhaps one of the main reasons for it), “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” is one of the most well-constructed episodes the series has done so far. Some of the show’s early episodes have been a bit predictable, but this one—much like “My Blonde-Haired Brunette”, which not coincidentally is the only other true masterpiece we’ve seen to this point—never goes quite where you expect it to go, preferring to keep us slightly off-balance throughout. This adds an element of surprise to some of the scenes that makes them even more effective. So many current comedies do this brilliantly on a weekly basis, but Dick Van Dyke at its best did it better than any of them. This episode is an example of Dick Van Dyke at its best. There will be plenty more of them in the weeks to come.

Other Thoughts

– Mel really used his “good old-fashioned hatred” in that memo, didn’t he? Loved Buddy’s reaction to it: “Curly, if I ever want to get sent to the chair, you’re gonna be my lawyer.”

– “Well, it’s just like my mother always says: the sun isn’t always shining just because there are sparrows.” Sally quoting her relatives’ bizarre sayings is an ongoing joke, although I’m not sure how many other episodes it appears in. At least a couple, I think.

– Praise Weinrib’s performance and Walter Kempley’s script all you want (and they both certainly deserve it), but the reactions of Richard Deacon—as Mel’s initial confusion at Jackie’s behavior quickly turns to outrage—are equally important to the success of that scene. The way he screams “Get me Buddy!” before running out of the room is just priceless.

– I’m taking the next week off, but I’ll be back in two weeks to talk about “Who Owes Who What?”

8 Responses to “Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?””

  1. Robby

    This is one of my favorites too, but I’d never thought about how much it relies on previously-established characterization, nor how relatively early it comes in show’s run. Everyone feels so well-realized by now that it might as well be a much later episode. It plays on Mel’s reputation as a dour sourpuss and Buddy’s reputation as a jerk very well, and it both relies on the audience’s understanding of those characters and deepens that understanding.

    As The Dick Van Dyke Show often does, it also establishes little character bits just incidentally. Buddy is more ambitious than Rob, for example, and more likely to leap before he looks. One presumes that even if he had landed the job with Dan Howard, he might have ended up hating it. Keep in mind that Dan Howard was described as a tyrant relative to Alan Brady.

    Reply
    • gregboyd123

      Thanks for your comment!

      Very good points. I think “incidental” is the perfect word for these types of character bits, as they’re clearly not the show’s main focus (making us laugh is). But for a series that’s very much a “jokes first” type of sitcom, it’s remarkable how consistent the characterizations are, and how much this adds to the quality of the comedy.

      Reply
  2. rak1954

    Reblogged this on My Favorite A-Team Hulk and commented:
    Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Sally Anne Howes, Ben Stiller, and Curious George all have one thing in common. Can you guess what it is? Or should I say who he is? That’s right! Dick van Dyke. This great comedian starred with Julie Andrews in Marry Poppins, worked for five seasons with Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show. He also captured many people’s hearts through the role of Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Sally Anne Howes. But where do Curious George and Ben Stiller come in? One word: museums. Dick van Dyke was featured in both Night at the Museum and the movie Curious George (as a museum curator).

    Dick van Dyke is, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors and comedians throughout old TV shows and movies. His physical expressions, his ability to interpret different characters, and his wonderful gentlemanly charm all work together to captive audiences everywhere. His acting and influence crosses through generations, as his part of Robert Petrie in The Dick van Dyke Show, among many other roles, captures my heart today.

    For those of you who have not seen this TV series yet, I highly encourage you to look into it. The Dick van Dyke Show is one of the must-sees of classic TV. Currently this series is available on Netflix and Hulu. The show follows the life of Robert Petrie, or Rob as most people call him, and his wife Laura, played by Mary Tyler Moore. Rob works for the TV star, Alan Brady, as the head writer for his show. His two co-workers and close friends, Buddy and Sally, also have prominent parts in the show. Mel Cooly, the Alan Brady Show producer, also has many interactions with the others. I could go into more detail, but that would take up many posts.

    In fact, one person named Greg Boyd is currently going throw each episode of The Dick van Dyke Show and posting a review about it weekly. Although I have not read every post he has written, I have enjoyed what I have seen from him. One of the posts I really love is about the episode “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” which is the post I am re-blogging now. I found this review very well written, and it has excellent points. I definitely agree that the “arm/rib” scene was hilarious! The way that the character Jackie Brewster interacted with Mel and how the rising action comes to a wonderfully funny climax creates a hilariously beautiful installment the series.

    Before I say any more, if you have not seen this episode (or the show in general) you can find it on Netflix: http://movies.netflix.com/WiPlayer?movi … id=3326878 and on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/14760#iundefined,p15,d0. Please watch it first, and then continue reading! Or simply keep in mind that it may not be as meaningful if you do read the review first.

    One thing I do want to point out personally is that I did not like the dishonesty in the episode. Although it was quite hilarious, I still cannot help but think that there might have been a better way to handle the situation. But if the writers had gone with the more moral route, there would not have been such a hilarious episode. Take a look at Greg Boyd’s post below and share your thoughts about the episode. What do you think about the moral dilemma? Do you think the episode could have been handled any different?

    Reply

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