55. "The Two Faces of Rob," The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here and an introduction to the project is here.
It was inevitable that The Dick Van Dyke Show would frequently do episodes about jealousy causing a rift between Rob and Laura (I count 14 of them). Producer Carl Reiner wanted a sitcom that appealed to adults, but he couldn't yet get away with scripts about impotence or faked orgasms, so he and the other writers kept using attractive guest stars to bring out the insecurities of their main characters. Except for "The Two Faces of Rob," these are not among the better DVD episodes. In particular, the male writers didn't do a great job with Jealous Laura, defaulting to the tired joke that this intelligent, sophisticated woman would revert to a comic-strip shrew whenever someone flirted with her man.
"The Two Faces of Rob" certainly benefits from having Rob be the jealous party, and it cleverly avoids the need for any guest stars at all. It also builds out from the jealousy trope to explore the question of how well a married couple really know each other. And whether in comedy or drama, the answer to this question is always "not as well as they thought."
He's not reassured when he goes home to find that Laura has cooked an elaborate Italian dinner ("I just felt romantic today"), and when Laura pushes him aside to get to a ringing phone ("But darling, that's the way I always lunge!").
By the next day at work, Rob's imagination has stranded him in a bad place (as in "That's My Boy?").
Sally: Oh, come on Rob, she's teasing you because she thought you were teasing her. She knows it's you.
Rob: (shakes head) She thought it was him.
Buddy: That's what she wants you to think. She knows it was you.
Rob: You gonna tell me about her? You may know you, but you don't know her. She thought it was him.
Sally: Well, I know her, and I know you, and I'm telling you she knows it's you.
Rob: You think you know about us? I am part of us, and I don't know her, but I know her better than you know her, and I tell you that she thought it was him and not me!
Buddy: I like the way your eyes light up when you go crazy.
So he calls Laura again, asking if she's married (which she deflects by asking, "Would it matter?") and arranging a date at an Italian restaurant. That's when their signals really get crossed.
One great thing about this episode is the revelation that Laura Petrie, so often concerned with maintaining a proper appearance, is really into role-playing. After seeing this episode, it's easy to imagine her pressuring Rob into all kinds of kinky scenarios in the bedroom, and I have no doubt that Carl Reiner was delighted at this implication. (The script is by Sheldon Keller and Howard Merrill, who wrote six other episodes.)
It's also funny — and perhaps reassuring to couples watching the show — that after eight or so years of marriage, Rob and Laura still can't figure out each other's intentions.
Rob: (to Laura) I don't blame you for not jumping to forgive me. I'm not even asking you to forgive me. I'm not even asking you to be nice to me. I'm just asking you to let me live here.
• I've seen at least one recap of the episode, probably by someone who can't deal with ambiguity, stating flatly that Laura recognized Rob's voice from the very beginning. But Laura refuses to confirm this to Rob at the end of the episode. Maybe she does flirt with strangers when Rob's not around, and maybe she just doesn't want to break character when foreplay is involved.
• Also see my essay "Examining The Dick Van Dyke Show’s sophisticated comedy in just 10 episodes" at the A.V. Club.
• No longer on YouTube, but the entire episode is on Hulu.