The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 2, Episode 13: “A Man’s Teeth Are Not His Own”
Original Airdate: Dec. 19, 1962
At this point in the second season, The Van Show has settled into a steady rhythm.
Except for the awful “Like a Sister,” every episode since “Hustling the Hustler” has been, at the very least, good (with quite a few during this stretch qualifying as absolute classics).
While I suspect we might encounter a misstep at some point later in the season, a glance at the upcoming episode list suggests there might still be a clunker or two, based on my recollection from childhood (which, as always, remains to be confirmed).
However, “A Man’s Teeth Are Not His Own” doesn’t fall into that category; it’s a consistently solid installment from beginning to end, although it might not be as jam-packed with laugh-out-loud moments as the previous episode.
Nonetheless, it offers several such moments, starting with an early scene where Rob and his staff discuss comedy related to pain.
Rob becomes the unwitting subject of such humor when he breaks his tooth on a chicken bone.
The individual elements in this scene work seamlessly to achieve their intended comedic effect.
After Rob initially dismisses a toothache-related bit, he comes up with a sketch idea involving a pianist with an itch.
The Dick Van Dyke, the physical comedian, rarely disappoints, and this bit is no exception. He struggles to scratch himself without disrupting the sketch’s flow.
Rose Marie’s Sally eventually joins in as a conductor trying to assist him, resulting in one of the funniest scenes featuring the writers at work since season one’s “The Curious Thing About Women.”
What makes this scene brilliant is how it smoothly transitions to the next bit, in which Rob accidentally breaks his tooth.
There’s a hilarious moment when everyone initially believes he’s merely acting out a version of the idea he had previously rejected.
Subsequently, the show, as it often does, escalates the comedic situation further.
First, Mel mistakenly gives Rob ice water instead of pain relievers, and then Buddy places a chair on Rob’s foot.
Essentially, it’s The Dick Van Dyke show disproving Rob’s earlier assertion that a person with a toothache can’t be funny, particularly if Van portrays that person. It’s brilliant.
The subsequent developments are equally inspired, for the most part.
Rob urgently needs a dentist appointment, but Jerry is out of town.
So he seeks another dentist’s help and allows him to work on another tooth.
The rest of the episode sees Rob agonizing over his decision and worrying about how Jerry will react.
His exaggerated self-loathing is somewhat irksome, as it seems absurd and somewhat self-absorbed.
However, his concerns about Jerry’s response are valid, especially considering what we know about Jerry’s ego.
Rob’s attempts to conceal the work of the other dentist strike a perfect balance between absurdity and believable character-based humor.
I particularly enjoy his efforts to steer their conversation towards topics like “famine and drought and pestilence” as a way to avoid smiling.
Unfortunately, the episode’s resolution leans more towards Rob’s self-loathing than his amusingly out-of-control panic.
Rob berates himself in Jerry’s dentist chair in Long Beach, CA.
While this self-flagellation aspect is unattractive, some of his over-the-top antics, which are mostly unfunny, provide comic relief when he talks while sticking his fingers inside his mouth, rendering his speech incomprehensible.
It’s also enjoyable to see Jerry assume the role of the voice of reason for a change, considering that Rob usually plays that part.
Nevertheless, self-flagellation is not one of the appealing aspects of Rob Petrie’s character, and it somewhat detracts from “A Man’s Teeth Are Not His Own” as one of Van’s all-time best episodes.
Nonetheless, it remains a winner overall.