'The Dick Van Dyke Show' has a lot in common with another popular TV program that began its final season around the same time this review was being written. Both programs signed off (or will sign off) after five illustrious, critically acclaimed seasons on the air – though Van Dyke's program would amass 96 more episodes in that amount of time. Both had similar protagonists; namely, intelligent, middle-aged men with sharp wives and sons only slightly less oblivious to the familial goings-on than those not actually on the show. These central characters also struggled to find the appropriate work-life balance, as the irrepressible pull of success was often just as strong as the call of domestic bliss. Which is to say that 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' is clearly the precursor to 'Breaking Bad' and, everything that helped make TV's Golden Age so remarkable!
Of course, that's just my TV-addled mind making up connections and associations that don't remotely exist, but it does go to show you that for all the ways in which television has changed in the 47 years since 'The Dick Van Dyke' show has been off the air (re-runs, reunions, and revisitings notwithstanding) there are many, many aspects of the basic narrative construct that remain the same – even in wildly different concepts like that of hilarious 1960s domestic/workplace sitcoms or ultra-dark science-teacher-cum-meth-kingpin tales of the 2000s.
One of the major aspects of change that's become more noticeable with the advent of home video and the proliferation of complete seasons/series of television programs being made available to audiences who both readily remember tuning in many years ago – either when the program initially aired, or, like me, during lazy summer afternoons, hoping the TV antenna would cooperate long enough to finish an episode without Morey Amsterdam and the rest of the Alan Brady Show's writer's room being twisted and distorted as though viewed through a funhouse mirror – is our appreciation and near-constant discussion of the medium and its merits. As the Golden Age of television winds down, as the last two programs of the era – 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad' – prepare to end their storied runs and pass the torch to a batch of programs that have yet to match the lyrical beauty or narrative precision of the game-changing series that paved the way for their existence, it's important to look back and appreciate the programs that were partially responsible for the medium of television to flourish decades earlier.
It's interesting, looking back at a series such as this – especially in what would be its final season – with the same approach used to review a more contemporary program. Some may say that viewing 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' with a modern critical eye may not be necessary, but then again, neither is releasing the series in its completion on Blu-ray, if you really think about it. At any rate, the series is remarkable for many reasons; the least of which is the fact that, as a sitcom, and, more specifically, a sitcom of the '60s, there was no overarching narrative, no story waiting to be resolved. There was no Ross-and-Rachel-style romance simmering beneath all the jokes and endless wise cracking or tormenting of poor Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon). Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) wasn't thirsting for relevance in an increasingly cynical world. Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) wasn't some disapproving, put-upon wife of a callous, anti-hero husband. No one character had an arc waiting to be resolved; there were no loose ends that needed tying up. And yet, even at episode 158, it still felt like a complete and fulfilling story had been told. The characters could have easily gone on for another 100 or more episodes, but this was the point at which it was all wrapped up and left for the audience to revisit, or future audiences to discover over and over again, and gain new appreciation for something decades older than themselves.
And while the end is always bittersweet, having been successful enough in the first place to have an official final season is likely what every successful television creator longs for (along with royalties and a future first-look option from HBO). Here in the season 5 premiere, 'Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth,' you can sense the end is coming in Alan Brady's retirement of his toupees and, by extension, his vanity and youth. It's a common theme, but it's a great one, which, I guess is why it persists in our entertainment – the progression of time and the ease in which truths about ourselves are accepted, as we grow older. Sure, that may seem a little too abstract for a simple sitcom, let alone 'The Dick Van Dyke Show,' but the signs are there, and Carl Reiner's talent as a writer, producer, and performer (along with credited writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff) is considerable enough that sliding in such a weighty thematic element, while conversing with a gaggle of toupee covered Styrofoam heads, was likely no big deal at all; it was just funny.
But the series ends on a fantastic (and fantastical) note with 'The Gunslinger,' an episode that once again utilizes the power of dreams to demonstrate the relationships of all the characters and the world in which they live. And even though 'The Gunslinger' is followed up by the heartwarming clip show episode 'The Last Chapter' – which technically stands as the series' final episode – the western-themed fantasy is really the swansong this tremendous series deserves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Dick Van Dyke Show' season 5 comes from Image Entertainment and consists of three 50GB Blu-ray discs in an oversized keepcase that is in keeping with the rest in the series. Similarly, the insert also doubles as episode and chapter list for each disc with an explanation of all the supplemental features included therein.
For anyone who's viewed any of the other seasons in 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' collection, season 5 will be another pleasant surprise, but by now the quality of the image on all 31 episodes presented here will have been expected. As with the other seasons the high-definition image was created from the original 35mm negatives and the result is nothing short of outstanding.
Since this was shot in black and white, it's most important to notice the fantastic contrast levels that present deep, rich black tones and smooth, pristine whites, with a superb level of gradation in between. The contrast levels help to make the image very defined and to exhibit a greater amount of depth than was likely ever before seen. Detail is good and often times approaches great – though there can be occasions where the focus is a little soft, or the transfer or perhaps restoration of the image has resulted in a lower amount of detail, but these instances are generally few and far between.
Overall, the series has likely never looked this good, and the sheer joy of seeing it presented in this condition is reason enough to revisit the entire series, or to give it a shot for the first time if you've never had the pleasure of watching before.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track actually sounds better than some 5.1 tracks I've listened to lately. Granted, this is a rather simple audio mix that has only to focus on the actors' dialogue and the studio (or canned) laughter for the most part, but there are plenty of occasions where sound effects and music are introduced for added effect. As you would expect with the care that's gone into making these discs, all those elements sound terrific.
Sometimes, there is a noticeable dip in the overall clarity and power of the mix – especially during the opening title sequence – but it's only noticeable after watching several episodes in a row and particularly after picking up on the tremendous sound quality and precision with which the individual episodes are presented. Certainly, this isn’t going to fill your living room with sound like a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster, but despite it being a mono track that's over four decades old, 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' is a superb sounding mix that does the show justice on practically every level imaginable.
As far as final seasons go, 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' season 5 came off being a tad unceremonious, while still managing to highlight the show's strongest selling points with it's often wild imagination and ability to be uplifting and emotional without being overly sentimental or saccharine. This was a time when the end of a series wasn't necessarily seen as a ratings goldmine, but more like inevitability in the television circle of life. As with all of the other seasons in the collection, this comes with truly great picture and sound and a whole host of special features that'll keep you busy for hours. Highly recommended.