By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 19: “The Talented Neighborhood”
Original airdate: Jan. 31, 1962
Rob Petrie’s status as sort of a local celebrity is something that Dick Van Dyke has established in the background of a few episodes this season. Little details like a police officer asking for tickets and Mrs. Billings telling him her problems with certain aspects of The Alan Brady Show have shown us that he’s probably the most well-known person in his community. And at times, we’ve seen the issues such fame—moderate though it may be—can cause for both him and Laura, in the form of Jerry’s teasing and the phone calls they received about the sketch Rob wrote about Laura. But the headache he endures in “The Talented Neighborhood” is probably the most annoying to date. One would hope that some excellent comedy would accompany such a major headache, but the irritation Rob experiences in this episode proves to be largely in vain as far as laughs are concerned. While not bad, it’s very much a missed opportunity for the series, especially given a premise that seemingly can’t fail.
Although I must admit, I don’t entirely get why this hasn’t come up before. If The Alan Brady Show runs an annual contest to find talented children (and Rob implies they’ve been doing so for at least a few years), why haven’t Rob’s neighbors attempted to use his influence before? His reactions indicate that they haven’t, but this doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Really, the only possible reason they haven’t done this before is because the episode needs this to be a new situation for Rob. Otherwise, he’d be a lot calmer, and calmness doesn’t generally lead to a lot of laughs.
Okay, fine. This being a sitcom, I was willing to go with it, as long as it wound up working as comedy. And how could it not? Parents pressuring Rob to give their supposedly extraordinary children preferential treatment seems like it wouldn’t be able to miss, particularly since it’s obvious from the get-go that most of them are going to end up being decidedly unextraordinary in terms of performing arts talent.
But somehow it winds up missing, partly because we rarely get to observe how truly untalented the kids are. At one point, Mrs. Kendall (the mayor’s sister, and someone Rob doesn’t even remember meeting) brings her son to sing an entire opera. We see the first few moments of his performance, but then we skip ahead to them leaving some two hours later. While the fact that Rob’s just spent two hours of his life listening to a kid sing an opera is funny in and of itself, the time jump prevents us from feeling the full comedic impact of it. The little snippet Kenneth sings (though tedious) isn’t enough to really establish the extent of Rob’s suffering, and as a result the scene is not nearly as hilarious as it sets out to be, in spite of a few very funny moments like Laura attempting to save both of them by lying to Mrs. Kendall. I wasn’t quite as bothered by this during the office scene, where there are enough good Sally, Buddy, and Mel moments to make up for the lack of laughs provided by the actual situation. It’s an issue throughout, though. Simply put, the episode seems to be more interested in moving the story forward than in taking the time to examine the inherent humor in it.
That would be less of a concern had the story itself gone in any sort of interesting direction. But alas, it doesn’t. Indeed, the material involving George Mathias and his kids is arguably the weakest part of the entire episode. It’s just so predictable that Rob would jump to the wrong conclusion about Matthias’s motives, and the rest of the episode is basically a boring series of misunderstandings that contains maybe one or two good jokes at best. Again, it’s hard to believe this is the best idea the episode could come up with, especially given how the show has made better episodes out of much less interesting concepts. The only explanation I can offer is that it’s just one of those off weeks most sitcoms have every now and then.
So, what’s good? Well, as usual, there are a few entertaining moments scattered between the mediocre ones, although that number declines if you remove the office scene from the equation. But there aren’t nearly enough of them for an entire episode. I like “The Talented Neighborhood” in theory, but the end product simply isn’t all that great.
- I felt so bad for Kenneth. He clearly didn’t want to be there. Neither did a lot of the kids, I suspect.
- A classic Sally response to Mel asking about the children she’s brought into the office: “What do they do? Well, this one’s a brain surgeon.”
- Also several equally classic Buddy insults, the best of which is his comment directed at Mel after Sally makes a remark about “a room full of talented children”: “What does the big one do?”
Next Week: “Father of the Week”