HomeReviewReview: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Night the Roof Fell In”

Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Night the Roof Fell In”

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 2, Episode 9: “The Night the Roof Fell In”
Original Airdate: Nov. 21, 1962

Unfortunately, John Whedon’s script for “The Night the Roof Fell In” finds itself in a tricky predicament. On one hand, it’s largely excellent, utilizing its Rashomon-like structure to deliver frequent and remarkably effective comedic moments.

While it may not quite reach the level of brilliantly escalating humor found in “My Husband is Not a Drunk,” the joke writing in this episode remains some of the wittiest and most amusing we’ve encountered in the series up to this point, which is no small feat.

However, here lies the issue: the ending would always struggle to live up to the preceding content and fall short.

I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to craft a satisfying conclusion for a half-hour comedy episode with this type of narrative structure (there are likely episodes that have successfully accomplished this), but it’s an exceptionally challenging task, and Whedon doesn’t quite nail it.

Why does the ending fall short? Essentially, it boils down to a lack of substantial stakes within the story Whedon chose to narrate. Narratives employing this structure often necessitate some form of framing story.

This explains the unconventional narrative approach and provides a sense of resolution to the various flashbacks.

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Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Night the Roof Fell In”

In the case of “The Night the Roof Fell In,” it doesn’t encounter any issues with the first aspect. The episode presents three distinct versions of a significant argument between Laura and Rob: an objective account relayed by one of the couple’s pet fish to its tank companion (or at least, it’s assumed to be objective since a fish has no reason to lie), and two versions recounted separately by each of the participants to their friends.

This setup is perfectly logical and effectively establishes the episode. Therefore, the problem lies elsewhere.

The Night the Roof Fell In
Episode “The Night the Roof Fell In” stills

The episode encounters difficulties when it’s tasked with returning to the framing story and addressing the issues it has introduced. In this regard, “Rashomon” faces no such problems.

Its stakes are nothing short of probing questions about human nature and the capacity for decency in people.

Without giving away any spoilers for Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece, I can say that his film concludes on a deeply profound and impactful note that elegantly addresses this thematic core.

However, “The Night the Roof Fell In” is a sitcom episode rather than a haunting cinematic drama.

Consequently, its ending is expected to differ significantly in tone. Nevertheless, considering an episode that showcases such delightfully sophisticated and clever humor, is it unreasonable to anticipate something more than just a sentimental and predictable reconciliation scene? I don’t believe so, even though I’m uncertain if a better alternative exists.

Perhaps injecting a few more jokes into the conclusion could have made it feel less cloying. As it stands, the ending simply falls short in comparison to the intelligence and wit displayed throughout the rest of the episode.

While in “Rashomon,” the conclusion is a moment of serene grace that you can’t envision the film without, here, the ending feels like an unsubtle, saccharine dose of sugar that overwhelms you with its sweetness in a rather inelegant manner.

This predicament is an inherent challenge within the format, mainly because comedies, especially those on network television, typically aim to conclude with the status quo largely intact.

However, in an episode with an unusually intricate structure like this one, the straightforward resolution crafted to reaffirm the status quo can’t help but feel underwhelming.

This disappointment is magnified, in a sense, because it contrasts sharply with the episode’s overall unconventional approach, a contrast that might not have been as pronounced had the entire episode followed a more conventional path.

It’s unfortunate because “The Night the Roof Fell In” is an exceptionally funny and clever episode leading up to that point. It cleverly flips the Rashomon narrative structure on its head by presenting the seemingly most objective account of the story first.

Episode "The Night the Roof Fell In" stills
Episode “The Night the Roof Fell In” stills

This initial presentation serves to amplify the comedic impact of Rob and Laura’s subsequent exaggerations. In Rob’s recollection, he envisions himself behaving much like Fred Astaire, while Laura paints herself as a near saint and Rob as “wild.”

Throughout all three retellings, various incidents and lines of dialogue resurface but carry significantly different connotations depending on the storyteller.

For example, in Rob’s version, he gracefully avoids tripping over an ottoman and lovingly expresses his fondness for it to Laura. Conversely, in Laura’s version, he stumbles over the ottoman and launches into a tirade about how she prefers the ottoman over him.

In the objective version, he trips over the ottoman but refrains from ranting to the same extent. This dynamic use of perspective adds depth and humor to the storytelling, making it a highlight of the episode.

The Ending Did Not Justify The Show, Why?

The comedy in “The Night the Roof Fell In” is not as complex as some other shows, but the connections between the three stories are clever and entertaining. The episode may get a bit messy towards the end, but it is still a solid addition to the show’s second season.

The contradictions between the different versions of the story produce some laughs, as do the performances of Moore and Van Dyke, who play their characters in over-the-top fashion. This episode is an early and successful attempt to apply the influential structure of Rashomon to television comedy.

It would not be the last, as many other sitcoms have since followed suit. All of these shows owe a debt to The Dick Van Dyke Show, which has influenced so many aspects of television comedy.

Reesav Niraula
Reesav Niraula
Reesav is a entertainment freak who enjoys spending his time immersed in the arts and entertainment world. In his free time, he is delved into entertainment as well, i.e. playing his guitar and singing songs.

Expertise: Story Arc Analysis Psychological Themes


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