The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 15: “Where Did I Come From?”
Original airdate: Jan. 3, 1962
Dick Van Dyke’s flashback episodes are amazing. I’ve talked about this before, but if you’re new to my reviews, you should know that I think these episodes are almost universally extraordinary.
There are a few exceptions, but in general, the series raises its game whenever it does a flashback episode.
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because Carl Reiner, the show’s creator, and primary writer in the first two seasons, knew the characters’ history so well and had ambitions for the series that he couldn’t fulfill due to the constraints of television storytelling at the time.
I’m just speculating, but I get the feeling that Reiner (and other writers who ventured into the Petries’ past over the years) relished the chance to add more depth to the show’s two main characters than was possible in most episodes.
Episodes like “Where Did I Come From?” are as close as The Dick Van Dyke Show could get to developing any history for its characters.
The Dick Van Dyke Show’s flashback episodes are different from the kinds of flashback episodes we see today.
In today’s TV shows, what happens in one episode often plays an important role in future episodes or at least subtly affects how we see the characters and the world of the show.
But in The Dick Van Dyke Show, the events of “Where Did I Come From?” may be mentioned a few times in passing, like the “You Wonderful You” scene in “Oh How We Met the Night That We Danced,” but the show never does anything more with them.
Even though these flashback episodes don’t have a big impact on the series, they are still wonderful.
They are also often hilarious because Dick Van Dyke’s writers saw these episodes as an excuse to come up with some of their most inspired work.
After all, these episodes weren’t going to have a huge impact on the series, so why not go for broke? And that’s what they usually did.
The season’s first flashback episode, “Where Did I Come From?” begins with Laura and Rob telling Richie a story about the days leading up to his birth.
This episode is also known as “the time Rob Petrie acted like a complete idiot.”
The episode starts with a flashback to the time when Laura was trying to relax and get some sleep, but Rob was terrified that the baby was coming. He kept interpreting everything she did as a sign of labor.
At one point, Laura sighed, and Rob immediately asked her what the sigh meant. Dick Van Dyke is hilariously on edge throughout the scene, and the design of the scene itself provides even more laughs when Laura knocks over the alarm clock.
The noise causes Rob to shout, “it’s time!”, spring out of bed, and reveal that he has gone to bed with his clothes on. It takes a few moments for Laura to calm him down and for us to stop laughing at how ridiculously Rob is behaving.
Dick Van Dyke’s best scenes tend to operate on the assumption that more is better. The scene in “Where Did I Come From?” where Rob goes to the office the next day wearing his wrinkled clothes is a perfect example of this.
In the scene, Rob is already a mess, having barely slept the night before. He’s also forgotten there’s a conference today, which he obviously can’t attend in his current attire.
So Sally calls and asks someone to come pick up his clothes and press them. Then Willie shows up with his lunch cart, which takes up half the room.
The scene is hilarious because of its constant escalation of the level of jokes. Rob is already in a chaotic situation, and then more and more elements are added to the mix, making it even more chaotic.
The scene also features some hysterical physical comedy and the show’s usual brilliant verbal humor.
It’s like the classic stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera, but this episode doesn’t go as far as that film did.
The scene in “Where Did I Come From?” where Rob goes to the office the next day wearing his wrinkled clothes doesn’t need to carry the concept of physical comedy to the same absurd (and hilarious) extremes of A Night at the Opera.
Instead, the scene uses the concept of physical comedy to impact the jokes and contribute to the farcical nature of the scene.
Willie also adds a great deal to the scene in the way he interacts with the other characters, and he has a couple of brilliant individual lines.
Add in Sally and Buddy being their usual hilarious selves (as well as Rob and Mel’s growing agitation), and you’ve got a scene where almost every line and physical gag lands and where almost everyone manages to top the previous one with astounding frequency.
Rob eventually gets the phone call we know is coming, and he almost rushes out of the office without his pants on.
The episode’s tone and rapid pace continue into its equally brilliant conclusion. Rob is still in panic mode as he races home so quickly that he collides with two other cars, including the taxi he asked Sally to call.
He then asks the police to come over, but in his haste, he neglects to provide an address. Charlie shows up with his laundry truck, something that was mentioned briefly in the very first scene.
The episode then returns to Laura and Rob telling the story for one final scene designed to wrap things up, which it does quite well.
This episode is not the best of Dick Van Dyke’s first season, but it is close. It also continues a trend of brilliant flashback episodes that will last throughout the show’s entire run.
Any time the show uses one of those dissolve transitions to head back in time, you can usually be sure that you are about to see some amazing comedy.
Unsanitary food preparation and handling:
- Rob helped prepare dinner without washing his hands in an earlier episode.
- Willie picks up a pastry off the floor, wipes it with Rob’s clothes, and throws it back on the cart.
Outstanding lines from the office scene:
- Sally asks Willie if he’s “seen a doctor” after he mentions having “three bear claws.”
- Willie’s response to Mel’s statement about having work to do: “What do you think this is, a hobby or something?”