“What is an unlisted banana?” Personally, that line is one of my favorite parts of the episode. After hearing only half of a kid’s joke (the punch-line), Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), becomes horribly frustrated at not knowing the set-up, and won’t stop asking. It’s a small touch, but that’s one of the best parts of Dick Van Dyke. The little touches that show the quality of the writing. Btw, the set-up was “What’s long and yellow and seldom rings?”
The plot of this episode is that TV writer Rob Petrie’s (Dick van Dyke) wife, Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), gets on a game show where the host routinely tries to get the contestants to say embarrassing things. Laura, being somewhat aware of this, manages to make it through most of the show with careful answers. Unfortunately, right at the end of the show Laura accidentally says that Rob’s boss, big-time television personality Alan Brady (Carl Reiner), is secretly bald. She says this live on national television, on the same network as Alan’s show. Alan, naturally, is furious.
Being an understanding man, Rob gets upset with his wife, but doesn’t try to make her feel worse than she already feels. On first viewing, it came off as a little over-protective, but on repeat viewings, it really highlights how much the show respects Laura’s independence. Laura chooses to go to Alan herself and save her husband’s job… in front of Alan’s toupee collection. Being a nervous person, she screws up the apology about as much as she did when she revealed the secret to begin with, all while Alan has a severe breakdown. Alan finally ends up forgiving Rob and Laura, saying that his baldness has only enhanced his fame, but Laura reveals that she knows Alan has had a nose job, almost causing him to fire Rob again.
Carl Reiner, who is a legendary writer by almost any standard, credits this episode as being an example of some of the best written dialogue on television to that point. Apparently, it was used in screenwriting guides for years. Nowadays, some of it comes off as a little hackneyed because of this, but since the cast is filled with comic geniuses, everyone’s timing is spot-on and rapid, allowing the lines to still be full of energy. I can honestly say my life is better for having watched Carl Reiner attempt to wear 4 toupees and play a bust like a bongo. This episode really shows the combination of casting, writing, and directing that brought The Dick van Dyke Show so much attention in its heyday. Attention it rightly earned.
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Here’s Mary Tyler Moore’s apology to Carl Reiner: