The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 16: ‘The Curious Thing About Women’
Original airdate: Jan. 10, 1962
The sheer hilarity of “The Curious Thing About Women” is nothing short of mind-blowing.
While I’ve previously lauded episodes like “Who Owes Who What?” and “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” with well-deserved praise for their brilliance, this episode surpasses them by a significant margin.
It stands as the defining moment of this season and is likely one of the few episodes that even people unfamiliar with Dick Van Dyke are likely to know about.
The unforgettable scene where Laura struggles to resist the temptation of opening Rob’s package, and the uproarious consequences when she finally succumbs, ranks among the series’ most memorable moments.
Additionally, this episode treats us to the delightful spectacle of Millie and Jerry succumbing to fits of uncontrollable laughter twice, showcases the exhilarating scene where the three writers craft a sketch idea based on Laura and Rob’s earlier argument, and delivers the timeless line, “I hate condensed mail for breakfast!” It’s a true masterpiece, a rarity even on an esteemed show like this.
This episode is such a comedic tour de force that I find myself somewhat at a loss for words when it comes to reviewing it.
Therefore, I’m going to take a slightly different approach this week. I’ll outline the episode’s four major scenes and provide brief explanations of why they are so incredible.
Afterward, I’ll return to the usual format to conclude the review. Here we go:
Scene #1: The Initial Argument
Why It’s So Incredible: In this instance, it’s primarily about the dialogue.
The scene’s primary purpose is to establish the groundwork for the events that will unfold throughout the episode.
However, in contrast to similar scenes in the previous week’s episode, it doesn’t compromise on humor.
The banter between Laura and Rob as they dispute her habit of opening and “condensing” his mail is simply flawless.
Richie contributes to the scene’s hilarity by inquiring whether they are fighting.
When Rob confirms, Richie humorously remarks “Freddy’s Mommy and Daddy fight a lot better than you and Mommy.”
Both participants exchange some genuinely witty and sarcastic remarks. Still, they reconcile after Laura concedes that Rob has a point.
I believe this is another key factor contributing to the success of these initial moments. While explosive arguments can be entertaining, observing two intelligent individuals (who hold great respect for each other) engage in a battle of words has always struck me as far more satisfying to watch.
With that, you might think the matter is resolved, correct? But then comes…
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Scene #2: Creating the Sketch
Why It’s So Incredible: This is arguably the most vivid and convincing example I’ve ever encountered of a TV show or movie capturing the exhilaration that artists, especially writers, must feel when they generate a fresh idea after days or weeks of creative drought.
I highly doubt it accurately represents the way the majority of ideas develop into longer comedic routines, but that’s not the primary concern.
What truly matters is that it feels entirely natural and spontaneous, and you can almost sense the vitality emanating from Sally, Buddy, and Rob as they expand Buddy’s initial concept into an actual sketch.
Furthermore, there’s a physicality to the sequence that further immerses you in the moment, and much of the credit goes to the actors.
Observe how Sally immediately shifts into an animated state once she hears Buddy’s glimmer of an idea: she stands up and gesticulates with her arms.
The other two characters appear to draw inspiration from her initial enthusiasm, and in turn, she does the same with theirs.
There’s a constant sense of motion, with the trio continually playing off one another and embodying various aspects of the sketch with confidence and determination, almost as if they inhabit their own distinct world.
While the individual bits are undeniably hilarious, it’s the frenetic atmosphere (once again, an atmosphere primarily crafted by the performances, although David Adler’s exceptional script sets the stage for it) that genuinely elevates this sequence to sheer delight.
Scene #3: Laura Watches the Sketch (and Doesn’t Like It)
Why It’s So Incredible: The primary aim of scene #2, of course, is to elicit as much laughter as possible, but it also significantly impacts the subsequent scene.
In typical fashion for The Van (with a few potential exceptions that don’t readily come to mind), the screen isn’t shown when the characters watch television.
Therefore, when Laura, Millie, Jerry, and Richie convene to view the sketch that Laura “inspired,” the emphasis isn’t on the sketch itself but rather on the characters’ reactions to it.
Witnessing a portion of the creative process behind the sketch lends a deeper appreciation for what they’re witnessing, and the knowledge of its brilliance amplifies the humor in Millie’s and Jerry’s responses.
This is further amplified by the phone calls Laura receives, which invariably lead to uproarious laughter from the individuals on the other end of the line.
The genuine amusement commences when Rob returns home, eagerly anticipating Laura’s reaction, only to discover that it doesn’t align with his expectations.
She’s rightfully indignant, especially after receiving those calls from people who suddenly recognized her as a “wildly funny, eccentric person.”
She vividly expresses her feelings, delivering a scathing rebuke with a combination of righteous anger and witty sarcasm in an incredibly comical sequence.
Rob’s feeble attempts to counter her arguments, such as disputing her claim that she was portrayed as a “wild-eyed maniac” by saying, “oh, now come on, she wasn’t wild-eyed,” are wonderfully ineffective.
Every line is sharp and humorous, and both Van and Mary Tyler Moore exhibit exemplary comic timing.
Scene #4: Laura and the Package
Why It’s So Incredible: It’s essentially impossible to articulate why this scene is so comical.
Witnessing Laura’s frantic efforts to control a rapidly inflating boat is one of those classic comedy moments—akin to the funeral in “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” to mention the most famous example—that generates laughter for reasons that elude explanation.
We can certainly detail what the scene portrays and the overall impact it has.
However, such descriptions do not truly grasp the fundamental reason it continues to amuse us, even after the element of surprise has long dissipated.
All we know (and likely all we ever will know) is that it stimulates the part of the brain responsible for laughter.
Nonetheless, I can discuss the superb setup of this scene. Much like “Who Owes Who What?” does, “The Curious Thing About Women” introduces an element—the boat Rob mentioned ordering—for a specific purpose (it serves as inspiration for concluding the sketch).
This purpose is what allows the scene to work so seamlessly. The boat isn’t present without reason.
Were it otherwise, none of this would make any sense. However, if you’re like me the first time I watched it, you probably didn’t recall the boat until this very moment because you were engrossed in everything else happening in the episode.
Once again, this doesn’t elucidate why it remains amusing after several viewings (which I’m fairly certain I’ve done by now), but it does underscore how meticulously planned the entire episode is.
“The Curious Thing About Women” genuinely lacks weak moments.
These four scenes are all timeless, constituting the majority of the episode’s runtime. Even the few segments outside of these four, such as the tag with Millie and Jerry, are absolutely delightful.
This episode stands as one of the funniest in the history of television comedy.
Concluding this review, I’m faced with another dilemma: how to encapsulate its sheer brilliance in a closing sentence. Upon reflection, I don’t think it’s possible.
Instead, I’ll simply say that you must watch it if you have any interest in exceptional television comedy. While there are episodes that rival it, there aren’t many.
– Scene #3 technically consists of two scenes (Laura watching the sketch followed by the fight with Rob), but they occur so closely together, and the second one is essentially an extension of the first, so I grouped them together.
– Rob’s “condensed” version of Romeo and Juliet serves as a fairly accurate summary of the play: “A couple of mixed-up teenagers run away from home and end up dead.”
– Once again, Sally is quoting her relatives (this time it’s her Aunt Agnes): “If your heart is where the sky is bluest, then the sound of winter’s twilight will be your friend.”
She mentions that recalling this saying makes her “want to cry.” When Buddy questions her about it, she responds, “Because I think my Aunt Agnes is a nut.”