HomeReviewReview: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?”

Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?”

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 1, Episode 14: “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?”
Original airdate: Dec. 26, 1961

“Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” is one of the funniest and most memorable episodes of Dick Van Dyke’s first season, and not just because of the “this is an arm, this is a rib” scene.

True, this scene never fails to elicit vast amounts of laughter from me, but the episode as a whole is almost as great.

From the moment Rob begins to make his impression of a “nervous, doddering old man,” the humor never lets up.

I’ve been waiting to get to this installment since beginning these reviews, to the point where I started to get concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my memories of it (mainly since many of the early episodes have been a bit underwhelming).

As it turns out, there was no reason to worry. It’s still a brilliant episode of comedy television.

The “doddering old man” impression is Rob’s way of telling Laura that he was offered the head writer job on The Dan Howard Show but that he turned it down because of what he believes it—and star Dan Howard—would do to his health.

It’s a terrific bit on its own and also serves to set up the rest of the episode’s plot.

When Rob turned down the job, it was offered to Buddy, who wants it despite the rumors about Howard.

But he can’t accept the offer because of his current contract with The Alan Brady Show.

After a few brief attempts by Sally and Rob to talk him out of it, Rob calls in Mel to ask for Buddy’s release.

A man excited with a girl by her side
Rob and Laura discover that Buddy secretly takes on a bartender job to make ends meet.

What’s so great about the ensuing scene is how it relies on our knowledge of Mel and Buddy’s mutual disdain for one another and Buddy’s habit of making jokes about Mel’s baldness.

One of the funniest moments in the episode is the close-up shot of Mel’s face as he contemplates being “able to walk into this office without the fear of being verbally assaulted.”

He says all of this as though in a trance, clearly excited by the proposition.

And we all know why, having seen over a dozen episodes’ worth of Buddy/Mel interactions at this point.

But when Rob asks if that means it’s okay, Mel’s calmer and more businesslike side kicks back in and says no. You see, Alan thinks very highly of Buddy.

So unless he isn’t contributing in the office, there’s no way Mel can fire him.

Buddy’s solution to this dilemma is to have Rob lie about the quality of his work.

Rob opposes the idea on ethical grounds and doesn’t think Mel will believe it.

At this point, Mel walks back in, reveals that he’d been listening at the door the entire time, and says he’s more than willing to go along with the plan.

He even dictates the memo after Rob proves incapable of providing enough meanness to get Buddy fired.

After a bit of pressure from Buddy, Rob signs it.

Mel’s delighted, and Buddy’s happy. The two exchange one final insult and “yuck,” and all appears well.

But what Buddy forgot was that the memo’s contents could find their way to Dan Howard before he’s signed his new contract, which, of course, they do (as it turns out, Howard is friends with Alan).

So now he’s out of work, and it’s left to Sally and Rob to find a way to get his job back.

They first pretend they’re so overwhelmed with work, and upon seeing this, Mel agrees to let them hire a third writer, as long as it’s not Buddy.

Rob speculates that Mel refuses to let Buddy back on the staff because Buddy was too nasty to him during their final encounter.

Sally responds that he “couldn’t have been nastier if he made a living at it.”

This, in turn, gives Rob the idea to hire someone who does make a living at it: a nightclub comedian named Jackie Brewster (guest star Lennie Weinrib).

Two man arguing with each other
The episode humorously explores the dynamics of friendship, pride, and financial struggles.

What follows is one of the single funniest scenes in Dick Van Dyke’s debut season, and maybe in its entire run.

Sally and Rob plan to introduce Jackie as the new writer, then have him insult Mel until he begs for Buddy to return.

And that’s precisely what happens in an extended comic sequence that can’t be described well other than saying that it contains one great line after another.

Jackie compares Mel’s hand to “five fat worms” and then proceeds to top that initial joke with even funnier ones over the next few minutes.

It’s pretty cruel when you think about it (even if it is “for a good cause,” as Sally puts it), but it’s also ridiculously hilarious.

I’ve seen this scene many times, and I still laugh every time Jackie shows Mel the difference between an arm and a rib and at numerous other moments.

If that’s not great comedy, what is?

In addition to the hilarity (or perhaps one of the main reasons for it), “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” is one of the most well-constructed episodes the series has done so far.

Some of the show’s early episodes have been a bit predictable, but this one—much like “My Blonde-Haired Brunette,” which not coincidentally is the only other true masterpiece we’ve seen to this point—never goes entirely where you expect it to go, preferring to keep us slightly off-balance throughout.

This adds an element of surprise to some of the scenes, making them even more effective.

So many current comedies do this brilliantly every week, but Dick Van Dyke, at its best, did it better than any of them.

This episode is an example of Dick Van Dyke at its best. There will be plenty more of them in the weeks to come.

Other Thoughts

– Mel used his “good old-fashioned hatred” in that memo, didn’t he? I loved Buddy’s reaction: “Curly, if I ever want to get sent to the chair, you’re gonna be my lawyer.”

– “Well, it’s just like my mother always says: the sun isn’t always shining just because there are sparrows.” Sally quoting her relatives’ bizarre sayings is an ongoing joke, although I’m unsure how many other episodes it appears in. At least a couple, I think.

– Praise Weinrib’s performance and Walter Kempley’s script all you want (and they both certainly deserve it), but the reactions of Richard Deacon—as Mel’s initial confusion at Jackie’s behavior quickly turns to outrage—are equally crucial to the success of that scene. The way he screams, “Get me Buddy!” before running out of the room is just priceless.

– I’m taking the next week off, but I’ll be back in two weeks to talk about “Who Owes Who What?”

Have You Read: Review: Hill Street Blues, “Blood Money” and “The Last White Man on East Ferry Avenue”

Muskan Ghimire
Muskan Ghimire
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