Favorite single episode of a sitcom?

a shammy

Greg Burgas, the scoundrel, asked: What’s your favorite single episode of a sitcom?

I find this exercise difficult. There may be bits of a story that I remember. Think of the turkey episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. It may be that Les Nessman’s reportage is enough. But I don’t specifically recall the rest of the show. Ditto the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the mass movement to the tissues. Or Jim taking a driving test on Taxi. Or the last few minutes of the Newhart finale.

Lots of shows may have a great A story, but the B story, not so much. I’ll admit there are certain elements I’m always a sucker for. One is the inclusion of game shows that I like. JEOPARDY on Cheers. Password on The Odd Couple.

But I don’t rewatch enough sitcoms to be sure, with two exceptions. That said, I picked these.

Sammy’s visit episode of All In The Family, with Sammy Davis, Jr. Sammy sits in Archie’s chair, and Arch says nothing.

The Tuttle episode of MASH (1973). “Throughout his childhood, Hawkeye had an imaginary friend, Tuttle, who knocked over garbage, broke windows, and wet the bed. When Hawkeye resurrects ‘Captain Tuttle’ to requisition food and supplies for Sister Theresa and the orphanage, he stirs up a mare’s nest.”

The Car episode of Barney Miller (1981). “A car thief’s conscience haunts him twenty-five years after the fact.” Two things stand out forty years later. When the original owner saw the vehicle, she complained, “It’s so PINK.” And the thief said that he wiped the car clean regularly with a shammy.

Three Valentines episode of Frasier (1999). “Three different stories following Frasier, Daphne, Niles, and Martin on Valentine’s Day.” Specifically Niles ironing. Valentine’s Day can suck.

The exceptions

I watched I Love Lucy. A lot. I’ve picked the Harpo Marx episode of I Love Lucy (1955). I could have selected Vitameatavegamin or the one with the stomping grapes. Now we have a boxed set, though my daughter had commandeered it after we bought it at the Lucy-Desi Museum.

The other is The Dick Van Dyke Show. Even before getting the DVDS DVD, there were lots of bits (walnuts, a Christmas show, and anything involving Laura in capri pants) I recall. But I’ll pick three episodes that have stuck in my mind since I was a kid.

One was probably BECAUSE I was a child when I saw it. What’s In A Middle Name? (1962) “Ritchie finds his birth certificate and wants an explanation for his middle name being Rosebud.” And I remembered all of the components. There’s something fundamental about the kid’s identity crisis.

Coast To Coast Big Mouth (1965) “Laura accidentally spills the beans on a nationally televised talk show that Alan Brady is bald.” Carl Reiner talking to toupees was classic.

But the #1 episode has to be That’s My Boy?? (1963) “During a flashback about his early days as a parent, Rob recounts why he believed Laura and he brought home a baby belonging to someone else.” When the punchline came, I laughed hysterically, as did the audience.

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h/t to Dan VR

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 April 5, 2022, at 12pm
The Kitchen Table | 300 Delaware Ave | Albany, NY

Join us on Tuesday, April 5th to gather with friends old and new. 
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And we will remember our dear Friends, Paul Hacker and David Colchamiro, who passed away last year.

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FFAPL

2021 Literary Legends Tickets on sale NOW. The program is on Saturday, October 16, 2021, at the Pine Hills branch of the APL. Support the Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library and join us as we celebrate this year’s honorees, Lydia Davis and Eugene Mirabelli. General tickets

The Friends and Foundation were very sad to learn that former Friends president Paul Hacker passed away in July. This follows the news about David Colchamiro, who passed away in June.

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The “good death” of Carl Reiner

Denny O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, and me

It appears that Carl Reiner had a good death on June 29. The 98-year-old was productive and vital until the very end.

This is very clear as I was watching If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast, the 2017 documentary for which Reiner was nominated for an Emmy. I caught it on July 3.

He “tracks down several nonagenarians [and older] to show how the twilight years can be rewarding.” The participants included Fyvush Finkel, who died before the release; the recently deceased Kirk Douglas; Betty White; Dick Van Dyke, with his much younger wife Arlene; Norman Lear; and naturally, his friend of 70 years, Mel Brooks. Here’s the preview.

I’m pleased to note that my daughter has watched all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Carl Reiner created, and which I love. Of course, he played the irritable TV star, Alan Brady, as well as the budding English anti-existentialist Yale Sampson, and several other annoying characters.

Not like his characters

But as Mark Evanier noted: “Carl Reiner was the friendliest, most talented person in show business… He was a guy I admired not just for his fine work as a writer, producer, director, and performer but for just the way he was as a person. Every time I was around him, he was an absolute delight – funny, engaging, willing to talk with anyone about anything. He was just what you’d want an idol to be. He was a role model for how to be truly successful and sane in show business.”

Yes, Carl Reiner was an actor (Ocean’s 11 franchise, Hot in Cleveland) and director (Oh, God; The Jerk; All of Me). But mostly he was a writer, going back to 1950s television, with Sid Caesar and Dinah Shore. He co-wrote and directed Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and The Man with Two Brains (1983).

I had wished he would have been selected for the Kennedy Center Honors, like his friends Mel Brooks had been in 2009 and Norman Lear in 2017. It may be that he was underappreciated as the straight man, such as the interviewer of Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man.

Other recent deaths of note

Dennis O’Neil, who died June 11, was a comic writer who I admired greatly. His Green Lantern/Green Arrow with Neal Adams made the book relevant. He also did work on Iron Man and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Somewhere in my possession is a photo of O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, Augustus Manly (Matt at the time), me, and a fifth person at the comic book store FantaCo in Albany. Denny and David were working on Daredevil at the time, so this had to be 1984 or 1985. He was quite pleasant, but I might have been a bit awestruck.

Hugh Downs, who passed away on July 1, was a constant presence in my television watching the last third of the 20th century. He hosted the game show Concentration (1958-1968), which BTW I was very bad at. Downs also co-hosted The Today Show (1962-1971).

With Barbara Walters, he co-hosted the news show 20/20 from 1978 until his retirement in 1999. In 1984, “he was certified by the Guinness World Records as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours).”

The reference to the “good death”, incidentally, comes from Paul McCartney explaining the song The End of the End from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full.

Mary Tyler Moore: “girl with the three names”

Danny Thomas thought Mary Tyler Moore had too small a nose to play HIS daughter on his sitcom

When I went to see the movie Ordinary People in 1980, I knew that, like the character Beth, Mary Tyler Moore, who died this week, had a son die tragically, and during the filming period. It’s impossible to ascertain how that event affected her acting. But it was a ferocious performance; one of my friends said, painfully, it reminded him of his growing up.

Mary was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, though she lost to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter. But it was clear, Beth was NOT “Our Mare!” that we knew from the show named after her, one of the most popular TV shows ever, which “helped define a new vision of womanhood.” Mary Richards is the cultural ancestor of Murphy Brown, Liz Lemon, Carrie Bradshaw, and so many others. There was initial talk of having Mary Richards be divorced, but that was nixed.

That theme, written and sung by Sonny Curtis, who wrote “I Fought the Law”, was changed after season 1. The iconic first line, “Who could turn the world on with her smile?” started in the second season after she actually moved, got her job, and made new friends after a romantic breakup. The theme song’s original first line was “How will you make it on your own?” The last line was also changed from “You just might make it after all,” to “You’re gonna make it after all.”

It’s well-repeated that shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, produced by MTM Enterprises, Mary’s company with second husband Grant Tinker, had people staying home on Saturday nights, and it was true. Here’s the fall CBS Saturday night schedule, with # indicating an MTM show:
1970: Mission: impossible (hr), My Three Sons, Arnie [no, I don’t remember it either], MTM#, Mannix (hr0 -[Mike Connors just died, too – watched that show regularly as well]
1971: All in the Family, Funny Face, New Dick Van Dyke Show, MTM#, M:I (hr)
1972: AITF, Bridget Loves Bernie, MTM#, Bob Newhart Show#, M:I (hr)
1973: AITF, MAS*H, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Carol Burnett Show (hr) – THE classic lineup
1974: AITF, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers#, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Burnett (hr)
1975 and 1976: The Jeffersons, Doc#, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Burnett (hr)

Watch
alt MTM opening
Love Is All Around – Joan Jett
Chuckles the Clown’s funeral

Read
John Amos on being on the MTM show

I watched all the spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and especially the hour-long drama Lou Grant. And those other MTM Enterprises shows were among my favorites: The Tony Randall Show (1976-1978), The White Shadow (1978-1981), WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982), Paris (1979-1980), Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), St. Elsewhere (1982-1988), and Newhart (1982-1990)


But it’s the original Dick Van Dyke Show where I learned about Mary Tyler Moore, the “girl with three names” who Danny Thomas thought had too small a nose to play HIS daughter on his sitcom, but who he recommended to play Laura Petrie to Dick’s Rob. And when I was eight and a half when the show started, I noted that she was pretty.

But there was something about the episode It May Look Like a Walnut, featuring Danny Thomas, a month shy of my 10th birthday. I couldn’t have identified it at the moment, but I later realized that Laura Petrie rolling out of a closet on a wave of walnuts was sexy as all get out.

Watch
DVD show opening
DVD/MTM song and dance
another DVD song and dance
I Am a Fine Musician
It May Look Like a Walnut – 5 minutes

Read
Growing Up with Mary Tyler Moore: The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Larry Mathews Shares Memories of His TV Mom
Mary Tyler Moore’s Greatest Quotes

I’ve watched Mary Tyler Moore in all sorts of projects, from Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Special, to at least four other series she starred in, to that not very good Mary Richards/Rhoda Morganstern reunion in 2000, to a 2013 appearance in Hot in Cleveland with Betty White and Georgia Engel. Before the Dick Van Dyke Show, I probably saw her in a bunch of shows, but I never watched a show hosted by Boris Karloff called Thriller

The Fatal Impulse (1960) – small role for MTM
Man of Mystery (1962) – a substantial role for MTM, though she doesn’t appear until 10 minutes in

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