By Greg Boyd
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 2, Episode 6: “My Husband is Not a Drunk”
Original Airdate: Oct. 31, 1962
I just love it when Dick Van Dyke gets to play Rob Petrie in a bit more of an out-of-control fashion than he usually does. A big part of why many of the show’s flashback episodes are so great is that they frequently feature some variation on Rob making a complete fool out of himself, either through his own actions or some other outside force. It happens in the present day at a far lower percentage, although episodes like this season’s “The Two Faces of Rob” or last year’s “Harrison B. Harding of Camp Crowder, MO” have to some degree allowed Van Dyke to show off his wide range of skills as a comic actor, proving that he can play Rob as both a fairly grounded individual and a completely ridiculous cartoon character with equal amounts of effectiveness. Still, nothing we’ve seen from the character so far is quite as ridiculously and delightfully over-the-top as what he does in “My Husband is Not a Drunk”: an episode that finds him inadvertently get hypnotized to become drunk any time he hears a bell ring.
The idea is an inspired one, and it’s flat-out amazing to watch, starting with a splendidly funny opening scene in which Laura and Rob’s friend Glen comes to a party. He’s a hypnotist, and before long he’s good-naturedly agreeing to hypnotize the guests. First up is Millie, who is hypnotized to believe Jerry is Rock Hudson. Then comes Laura, who imitates Abraham Lincoln. All very funny stuff, but nothing quite beats Jerry, who (like Laura) is asked to imitate the person he most admires, and proceeds to imitate… himself. (After he wakes up he tells Millie how great he feels, to which she remarks, “Well, that’s good, the rest of us are a little ill”.) Last is Buddy, who Glen elects to hypnotize using a different technique: the bell ringing concept discussed above. Long story short: it doesn’t work on Buddy, who merely pretends to be drunk. But it does on Rob, who’s busy getting Richie a glass of water in the kitchen.
As strong as all of this early material is, “My Husband is Not a Drunk” really starts getting hilarious when this happens, starting with a brilliantly timed moment in which the second bell ring designed to snap the subject out of his trance occurs just as Rob is staggering through the door, thus keeping his hypnosis from being immediately revealed to anyone. The rest of the episode is mostly just Rob becoming drunk any time he hears a bell: something that might not seem all that interesting, but is made so because of two main factors. First is of course Dick Van Dyke, who (as I’ve mentioned) always tends to excel at this kind of broad comedy. He certainly does here, navigating frequent transitions between drunk and sober with stunning fluidity and flawless comic timing.
Furthermore, “My Husband is Not a Drunk” displays note-perfect comedic escalation. Once we’ve seen what the bell ringing does to Rob, every following moment (up until the scene with the sponsor) is slightly broader and more ridiculous than the last. His stumbling around the house as the phone rings is followed by his arrival at work the next day, where he tells Marge to have Mel “ring me” (the studio audience’s quiet laughter at that line anticipates the comedy to come). She does this a moment later, just as Rob is putting on his jacket. A second phone ring a few moments later causes him to snap out of his hypnotized state just as Mel walks in, although the producer does notice the jacket’s disheveled state.
He hastens to fix it, as the sponsor is due to arrive any moment. But then the phone rings once again. This time, however, it’s for a much lengthier piece of comedy, largely consisting of Rob losing the phone inside his jacket and trying to find it, while the sponsor and a horrified Mel watch. It quickly becomes clear that he believes Marge is inside his jacket, and he eventually begins cutting away at it, claiming to be a doctor and indicating that he also believes he’s on television. Just as you’re not sure the bit can go on any longer, it continues, with Rob slapping the phone, moving his hands in a manner that suggests he believes he’s washing them prior to performing an operation, telling Marge not to rip her stitches, and (in the absolute funniest moment here) tearfully addresses Mel as “Dr. Zorba” and tells him: “Just because I disobeyed you, you didn’t have to cut off all your hair.” He then falls backwards on the piano just as another phone call snaps him out of it once again. Absolute genius, both from a writing and acting perspective.
But wait, there’s more, as this phenomenal sequence is followed by the hilarity of Rob gradually deducing what’s happened. The sponsor is thrilled, believing he’s witnessed a great comedy routine. Mel of course has no clue what to think, while Marge can’t stop laughing. After telling her to call Glen, he proceeds to attempt to explain himself to Mel (Richard Deacon’s reactions to all of this are just priceless facial comedy), when the phone rings again, causing him to briefly start crying before he’s once again sobered up by a second ring. Finally Mel explodes in frustration, before deciding to just leave before he can be driven any more insane than he already has been. Rob finally gets hold of Glen, but that’s still not quite the end of it. There’s one final bit of brilliance left, even after Rob instructs Marge not to let any calls through. It’s one that’s easy to anticipate the moment he turns to his typewriter (a machine that of course contains a bell), but it still leads to several more laugh out loud funny bits, such as Rob typing nonsense and then sobering up and reading it back to himself afterwards.
The tag scene—featuring Rob pretending to still be hypnotized much in the same way Buddy did at the party—is not one of the show’s best. It’s just not particularly funny, mainly because it’s pretty much the exact same joke we saw earlier. But after an episode that delivers huge laughs throughout (and at an exceedingly rapid pace once Rob arrives at the office), that’s not a huge concern, and it does little to change the episode’s status as the finest installment of season two so far. In fact, let’s just go ahead and call it one of the best Dick Van Dyke episodes of all time.
Next Week: “What’s in a Middle Name?”