By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 29: “Sol and the Sponsor”
Original airdate: Apr. 11, 1962
Early on in “Sol and the Sponsor,” Laura says the following words to Rob: “It’ll go all right.” She’s referring to the dinner party they’re throwing for the sponsor of Rob’s show. Taken together, both of these facts should be a serious warning to them, since the laws of situation comedy dictate that dinner parties (and parties in general, for that matter) must never be allowed to go as planned. This is especially true when the characters believe they will. So the two of them should be running for the hills right now. Or at least they should be canceling the party, which is sure to go off the rails minutes after it begins. Of course, there’s the little fact that television characters are generally not self-aware, but you get the general point. This is going to be an eventful evening. So it’s all the more disappointing that the episode which chronicles that evening is decidedly uneventful, and merely slightly above average at best.
That’s perhaps a bit harsh when you consider the fact that some parts of “Sol and the Sponsor” are actually moderately entertaining—if not especially hilarious—while you’re watching them unfold. But it also feels very much like a blip on the radar between the greatness of the last few installments and next week’s justly iconic episode. It doesn’t help matters that the episode starts incredibly slowly, with the initial scenes serving to establish the plot but doing little else. This is obviously problematic, because set-up material shouldn’t equal virtually zero laughs. And it doesn’t get substantially better (at least not immediately) when Sol shows up, which is surprising given how memorable his first appearance in “Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced” was. He livens the episode up a little bit, yes, but for the most part it continues to be fairly lifeless: introducing the central conflict without making us care much about it. There’s just not a lot of energy to the storytelling.
The conflict results from the fact that Sol has a personality that is quite exuberant, as anyone who’s seen the earlier episode knows full well. This doesn’t really fit into the plans Laura and Rob have made. They’ve got a rather fancy dinner planned, and are worried about Sol ruining it. But they also don’t want to hurt his feelings. Much of the initial dilemma faced by the couple is finding a way to tell him gently. This is pretty much the only thing of interest going on at this point, and it’s not even all that humorous. It’s not Dick Van Dyke’s fault that we now recognize this as a fairly common sitcom plot. But it is the show’s fault that it fails to do anything entertaining with it for much of the episode. There’s not much in the way of good dialogue—or very many good jokes of any kind, really—as the episode builds to its centerpiece scene. Compared to the heights this type of episode would reach just a decade later (Mary Tyler Moore) and beyond (The Office’s “Dinner Party”), “Sol and the Sponsor” just doesn’t look very good.
That said, the dinner party sequence itself is pretty enjoyable, once we finally get to it. Inevitably, Sol misreads what Rob’s trying to tell him, and winds up not only coming to the party but also bringing a date. The Bermonts of course arrive first, so as to heighten the comedic impact when Sol and Arlene arrive. And they’re about what you’d expect: pleasant but somewhat pompous. This leads to a fair number of strong comedic moments once the other couple (who is just the opposite) shows up, as their differing natures clash. At one point, Sol and Henry seem like they’re about to get into a fight after the former insults the latter’s car. But “let’s step outside” in this case means that they’re going to go look at each other’s automobiles. Sol then proceeds to improve Henry’s car, which leads to the two becoming friends. It’s a good scene, and the high point of the episode, even if it isn’t anywhere near the level of the best scenes from the show’s last two efforts.
“Sol and the Sponsor” is very much second-tier Dick Van Dyke. There’s not a lot of depth to it, and it’s also not particularly hilarious. But it has some solid laughs here and there. In other words, it’s better than some of the episodes we’ve seen (“To Tell or Not to Tell”, for one), but far worse than many others. The occasional episode of this quality doesn’t really bother me, because it’s something the show has in common with almost every other TV comedy in existence. Not every episode can be a “Who Owes Who What?”, unfortunately. That being the case, I for one am glad to get episodes like this instead of some of the decidedly terrible installments we saw earlier in the season. As a short breather between far superior episodes, you could definitely do a lot worse than this forgettable but fairly decent take on the dinner party episode.
– As I’ve said before, Dick Van Dyke is not big on ongoing story elements, but this is the third time they’ve used “You Wonderful You” (the song Laura and Rob danced to when they met). I like that the show will occasionally give us these little bits of continuity.
Next Week: “The Curious Thing About Women”