Elisabeth Olson and Paul Bettany in WandaVision
Rob and Laura in Dick Van Dyke Show
(L-R): Fred Melamed as Mr. Hart, Paul Bettany as Vision and Debra Jo Rupp as Mrs. Hart in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION.

Like millions of other people, I binge-watched WandaVision this spring. But while most were likely working out how the series fits within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was much more intrigued with the various homages to classic television. Sets, costumes, camerawork, and dialogue were all adjusted to mimic episodes of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, Family Ties, and more. My favorite was the send up of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Everything—down to the geometric couch pillows—was spot on.

The show centers on Rob and Laura Petrie, living the quintessential suburban life. Rob is the head writer for the popular variety program. Rob and his writing team area tasked with coming up with original material for an exacting boss. Meanwhile, Laura gets into the usual domestic scrapes. Reiner based the premise on his own experience as a writer for Sid Cesear’s Your Show of Shows.

When Reiner’s screen test to play the lead fell flat, they looked for a better lead. Dick Van Dyke was plucked from a short but popular stint on Broadway. Reiner tapped Mary Tyler Moore to play opposite Van Dyke. The two had strong onscreen chemistry, matching one another note for note, step for tip tapping step.

Even with its mod 1960s sensibility, its comedy is timeless. The Petrie family remains relatable six decades later. This immutability is due largely to its creator Carl Reiner.

“When I wrote the show, I knew the one thing that was absolutely necessary was to not use slang of the day. Because I knew this would have lasting value.” — Carl Reiner

Reiner passed away in 2020 at age 98. Throughout his long, successful career in entertainment, he always maintained The Dick Van Dyke Show was what he was most proud of.

Reiner hired Bill Persky and Sam Denoff as writers and for five seasons the team turned out some of the funniest, cleverest, and silliest moments on television. The show won 15 primetime Emmy awards (and it was nominated for 25 more).

The Dick Van Dyke Show holds a special place for me. When I was home sick as a kid, it was the best part of the late morning reruns. And I was always envious of my mom, who as a kid, got to meet Van Dyke’s parents. In real life, they were from the tiny town of Greenup, Illinois, where one branch of my family lives. The show is such a comfort watch. It’s a joy every time. Here are some of my favorite episodes.

Season 1, Episode 16: The Curious Thing About Women

Rob and the writers come up with a sketch for Alan Brady that centers around a snooping wife that always reads his mail. When Laura finds out that she inspired the sketch, she is less than flattered. Then a large mysterious package arrives at the Petrie’s home and she has to resist the urge to open it.

Season 1, Episode 21: The Boarder Incident

Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) gets lonely when his wife goes out of town for three weeks, so he decides to stay with Rob and Laura. Their slumber party also includes a talkative German Shepherd and an anxious cello player. The breakfast-making scene is comedy gold.

Season 1, Episode 26: I Am My Brother’s Keeper

Jerry Van Dyke plays Rob’s brother Stacey in this two-parter. Stacey is incredibly shy but becomes the life of the party when he’s sleepwalking. When he gets a chance to audition for Alan Brady, the crew have to figure out a way to bring the fun version of Stacey. These episodes also allow the supremely talented cast to showcase their singing and dancing skills as well.

Season 2, Episode 20: It May Look Like A Walnut

This episode figures heavily in WandaVision and is one of the most memorable. Rob is afraid that everyone he knows has been replaced by an alien look alike. These creatures from the planet Twilo breathe by drinking water, eat only walnuts, and don’t have any thumbs.

Season 3, Episode 1: That’s My Boy?? 

Rob and Laura recall the day the first brought Ritchie home from the hospital. The maternity ward made mistakes with flower deliveries and Rob starts to wonder if they swapped their baby too. The episode has a beautiful surprise ending that, at the time, Reiner had to fight for.

Season 4, Episode 6: Romance, Roses, and Rye Bread

Finding a date, or a husband, for Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) is a running joke among the writing staff. Brash, confident, and funny, she is often seen as just one of the guys, but then she catches the eye of the deli delivery guy. The bittersweet episode ends with Sally talking to her orange tabby cat, Mr. Henderson.

Season 5, Episode 1: Coast to Coast Big Mouth

Laura appears on a live game show and lets it slip that Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) is actually bald in real life. The episode won the primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing and it was named #8 in the Top 100 television episodes of all time by TV Guide. It was also one of Reiner’s favorites. He chose for it to be colorized and broadcast in 2016. It was shown again in his honor after he died in 2020.

Season 5, Episode 2: Uhny Uftz

A sleep-deprived Rob is working alone in the office one night when he hears strange noises and sees a UFO. Everyone else thinks he needs to get some rest, but he convinces Buddy to investigate with him. As always, there is an unlikely explanation with heart.

Season 5, Episode 4: The Ugliest Dog in the World

Having written a sketch for Alan Brady that involves a dog show, the team decides they need to cast an ugly dog to fulfill the rags-to-riches role for the show. They adopt ‘Horrible’ and find you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

In a 2000 interview Dick Van Dyke was asked why the show was so successful. He said: “Carl Reiner, who was just a genius, a comedy genius. He wrote—he didn’t care how silly people got, as long as it was believable, as long as there was a reason. And they acted like human beings. And he could write. He heard our speech patterns, and could write to it. Nobody ever had to change the line.”

Originally written for DVD Netflix