By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 24: “One Angry Man”
Original airdate: Mar. 7, 1962
Although it starts stronger than it finishes, “One Angry Man” is a much funnier episode than I remember it being. I recalled it being fairly terrible actually: a lame 12 Angry Men parody that moves much of the action from its usual two environments, with rather terrible results. Some of that is still true; the scene in the jury room is fairly awful. But the rest of the episode is often very entertaining, though certainly not brilliant.
One could argue that the characterization of Marla Hendrix—the defendant in the case Rob is serving as a juror on—as a complete fool is troubling from a feminist perspective, but speaking as someone who’s criticized the show for its sexism in the past, I don’t see it as an issue here. On the whole, Dick Van Dyke has proven itself to be fairly egalitarian in terms of which characters it portrays as idiots from week to week, so while I think this is bad writing (Marla’s extreme stupidity just isn’t very funny), I for one don’t view it as anything more egregious than that.
Rob is a case in point, actually, as he too behaves like a complete idiot throughout this episode: becoming so struck by Marla’s beauty that he winds up making a complete fool of himself in the courtroom. I’m on record as stating that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cringe humor, but the courtroom scene is this style of comedy at its absolute finest: deeply uncomfortable but also frequently hysterical. Dick Van Dyke does great work in this scene; his expressions as he realizes that everyone’s looking at him are almost painful to watch, but also so funny. Then of course there’s the moment where he falls out of the jury box, which got the biggest laugh of the entire episode from me. The scene concludes shortly after that, which is wise, as you can’t really top Rob falling out of a jury box in terms of comedic impact.
That moment (and the whole scene) is easily the comic high point of “One Angry Man”, but it’s not the only one. There’s also the scene where Rob comes home and tries to explain himself to Laura, who witnessed the whole pathetic display. We’ve seen this sort of scene before, of course: in which every word out of Rob’s mouth just deepens his grave. But who cares? It’s still funny to watch him say something like “I didn’t look at her any differently than I look at a hundred other women,” then immediately realize that this was definitely not the right thing to say. Hilarious stuff. And of course, there are the usual great contributions from Sally and Buddy.
Less hilarious is the jury room scene, in which Rob finds himself the lone holdout on a jury that’s ready to convict Marla. Basically, it’s dreadful, although I enjoyed the direct reference to 12 Angry Men made by one of the other jurors at one point. But it ends fairly abruptly without any sort of comic payoff, and none of Rob’s attempts to sway the other members of the jury (or their attempts to do the same to him) are particularly funny. Everyone basically just argues for a while, and then it simply ends. That’s too bad, because it seems like it could have been so much funnier, given the subject matter’s potential for humor.
This one scene aside, I really enjoyed “One Angry Man”—far more than I expected to, given my memories of it. The courtroom scene is a masterpiece of cringe comedy, and there are laughs aplenty in a number of other spots throughout the episode. Consider me pleasantly surprised.
In Two Weeks: “Where You Been, Fassbinder?”