Unexpected as it is for a fluffy bit of sweeps-timed nostalgia to actually provoke hunger for more, that’s the case with this warm and breezy tribute, an almost casual cast reunion augmented by classic clips. Cleverly conceived by Carl Reiner, who is among those to reprise roles from the original series, what’s billed as the “159th episode” provides a solid reminder as to why this deservedly remains one of TV’s most-beloved comedies.
Nostalgia became big business after a Carol Burnett spec made a surprising sweeps splash in 2001, and “Dick Van Dyke Revisited” represents a pleasant addition to what has too often been a slapdash genre.
The show’s namesake and his co-star Mary Tyler Moore look especially dapper four decades later, even gratuitously showing off the dancing prowess and gams, respectively, that helped propel their careers. (Moore was legendarily the unseen secretary, except for her legs, of “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” before landing the part of Laura.)
The wispy excuse for the retrospective, beyond a desire to draw a bigger audience than “Century City” did, has Alan Brady (Reiner) deciding he needs a worthy eulogy and soliciting former writers Rob (Van Dyke) and Sally (Rose Marie) to write it — for a handsome fee, of course.
Having given up New Rochelle for New York, both Rob and Laura (Moore) would like the money, but not surprisingly feel there’s something ghoulish about collaborating on, and profiting from, an obit with the dead-guy-to-be. Besides, as Rob asks, how do you write “a heartfelt eulogy for someone with no heart.”
The setup brings everyone to Brady’s house, including neighbor Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert) and Rob’s brother Stacey (Jerry Van Dyke), where, through clips, they reminisce about characters such as Buddy and Mel, played by the late Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon.
Despite a brief intro on the black-and-white living room set (later shown in color) and funny capper involving Ray Romano, this is little more than a chance to see Van Dyke and Moore, especially, don old clothes that still fit remarkably well. Laura even exhibits a bit of an edge, informing the famously chrome-domed Brady that Rob “still has all his hair, every last strand of it.”
Never mind that the cast is well beyond anybody’s target demo, this is a helluva lot funnier than “Still Standing.” Rob even uses minor epithets like “hell” and “damn” — a development Laura attributes to getting cable, in one of Reiner’s more wry asides.
(A small disclaimer here: Van Dyke wrote my former newspaper a few years ago to say I must have something against the elderly, citing old-fogey references to his last series, “Diagnosis Murder.” His 70-plus years notwithstanding, he expressed confidence that he could still kick my butt. We subsequently made peace, though discretion being the better part of valor, I’m reluctant to rile him again unless there is an ottoman nearby that I might push him over.)
“Van Dyke Revisited” is clearly modest in execution and aspirations, yet when it comes to these characters, like Rob, I’m still a bit of a pushover.