By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 26: “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”
Original airdate: Mar. 21, 1962
Now here’s the Dick Van Dyke I know and love. After last week’s abysmal outing, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” finds the show in top form. It’s pretty much perfect, actually, and begins the show’s first ever two-parter—there will be a number of others in later seasons, although this one might just be the best of all of them—in delightful fashion, thanks largely to the work of Jerry Van Dyke as Rob’s brother Stacey. If you ask me, the show missed an opportunity here by limiting his appearances to a pair of two-parters (the other one isn’t until season four), as he gives one of the best guest performances on any TV comedy ever. But we’ll have to take what we can get, which in this case is a tremendously enjoyable episode of television.
The episode opens in the office, where the three writers are going about their business, which in this case is doing pretty much nothing. Their monotony is interrupted by a phone call from Laura, during which she reads him a telegram—which she pretends to have not opened yet, in a nice callback to the season’s most famous (and best) installment—sent by his brother Stacey, which states that he’s coming to visit. Now, I’m pretty sure Rob’s brother has only been mentioned once before, and that Rob said he was married (which Stacey isn’t). So unless I’m missing something, this is a pretty obvious lapse in continuity.
This is a minor flaw, of course, and one that’s also pretty easy to forgive once Stacey Petrie enters the picture. Rob has told Laura that Stacey will want to stay at a hotel, because his brother is a rather quiet and shy individual. So naturally, Stacey shows up at the door, shouts “Burford!” upon seeing Rob, and proceeds to greet him and Laura with a great amount of enthusiasm. It’s a hysterical scene, mostly due to the way the episode sets us up to expect something vastly different. Soon we get an explanation for this strange turn of events, and for Stacey’s use of the name Burford: Stacey is a sleepwalker. In the words of Rob: “The best in the world.”
Rob informs Laura that when Stacey is asleep, his personality is far more outgoing than when he’s awake. After one further example of “Sleeping Stacey” trying to go out and play golf, we finally meet the awake version of Rob’s brother, who’s every bit as funny in his shyness as Sleeping Stacey is in his gregariousness. I can’t really explain just how good Jerry Van Dyke is in this role, but he flat-out owns every scene he’s in (which is most of them). And that’s before “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” even introduces its major storyline: Stacey’s desire to be a comedian. Once that happens, the episode becomes even better, as Awake Stacey attempts to show Rob his act. The results are expectedly and hilariously awful. causing Rob to wonder aloud if there’s “some other career my brother can go into.”
Cut to a party Laura and Rob are throwing later that day. It’s pretty obvious where all of this is going at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful when Sleeping Stacey bursts out of his room and offers to entertain, or when Rob tries to stop him before eventually giving in. The asleep version of his act, of course, is a smash. The jokes land, his banjo playing is superb, and everything goes perfectly: except for the fact that he falls asleep directly afterwards. Mel is so impressed that he wants Stacey to audition for The Alan Brady Show. So the question now becomes whether or not Stacey can perform his act awake as well as asleep: a situation that will of course be resolved in next week’s episode (which is almost as good).
Appropriately for the opening half of a two-parter, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” is devoted mostly to introducing Stacey and establishing the central conflict of the story. The episode thus spends most of its time with him, and relies on Jerry Van Dyke’s phenomenal work for most of its laughs, which proves to be the best decision it could have made. Whether he’s flubbing all the jokes when he’s awake or hitting them out of the park when he’s asleep, he’s never less than superb. He’s also just extremely likable, and you (along with Laura and Rob) want him to succeed in his goal, which will help to fuel the action that occurs in “The Sleeping Brother”.
- Sleepwalking can apparently be a bit of an issue in the Army, as it can lead to things like “strumming ‘Reveille’ over the loudspeaker at 3 a.m. Boy, they didn’t like that.”
- Loved the calm, matter-of-fact way Dick Van Dyke says the line “He’s gonna play golf if I don’t stop him”.
Next Week: “The Sleeping Brother”