Who Owes Who What?

Michael Smith

Professor Steirer

American Sitcom

8 March 2015

Who Owes Who What?

For my critical review I decided to watch the Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Dick Van Dyke, who also created the show. The show aired from 1961 to 1966. The episode that I watched, “Who Owes Who What?” revolves around the ever-present, awkward, situation among people owing people money. The episode resembles the modern day show “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, which presents common dramas and dilemmas that occur on a day-to-day basis. Van Dyke, like Larry David, has an uncanny ability to put these occurrences into context by putting a comedic spin on them. In my review, I will propose the common dilemmas in dealing with people that Van Dyke capitalizes on to make his show a hit.

The episode begins with Van Dyke trying to watch a boxing match while pretending to communicate with his wife. This is a common dilemma, when the male figure gets home from work and wants to relax, while the wife of the male tries to have conversation, and talk about important things going on in their lives. While Van Dyke is watching the boxing match (which we later find out that he is owed money for), his wife is trying to figure out the families’ finances. This is stereotypical of the classic American family, where the male brings home the money, and the female deals with it, and uses it for the well being of the household.

Within the family finances, a twenty five dollar check is stumbled upon that needs to be cashed. Van Dyke tells his wife that he will go to work and get it figured out, while the wife argues that he will not be able to get it done. Van Dyke insists, and goes in to work to get his well deserved twenty-five dollars.

The scene begins with Van Dyke puttering around the office in his suit, trying to find a natural looking place for the check to have fallen out of his pocket. He stumbles around the office a few times when his female secretary comes in, as he leaves the check in between two couch cushions. She sits next to the check, and Van Dyke immediately realizes that it is not a good place for the check, as it is not his secretary that he wants finding the check. He reaches over and tries to grab the check without her noticing, but she does, and picks up the check and returns it to him, thinking that he dropped it in between the cushions. Van Dyke takes the check as his two co-workers walk in, the shorter of the two being the one that owes him the money. After Van Dyke prompts the concept of the annoyance of someone owing you money, Buddy remembers that he owes someone in the office twenty-five cents, and Van Dyke asks if that is all he owes. Buddy does not take the hint, and goes on to ask to borrow a dollar from Van Dyke. Van Dyke, armed with a single dollar bill and his twenty-five dollar check, offers to give the man a dollar, but gives him the check instead. Again, the man does not realize what is happening, so he gives Van Dyke the check back, and snags the dollar bill out of his hand. The scene ends with Buddy telling Van Dyke that he owes him one dollar, and after he leaves Van Dyke says that he owes him one dollar, plus twenty-five dollars.

Van Dyke is next shown later playing chess at home with his friend, and he tells his friend that he is owed twenty-five dollars. He then comes up with a plan to make a funny television episode about owing people money. He also tells his friend that he told his wife that he got the twenty-five dollars back, not knowing that his wife is in the room. Upon hearing this, Van Dyke’s wife abruptly interrupts and asks why he lied to her about getting the money, and the dilemma is increased drastically, as he is not only still down twenty-six dollars, but he is in trouble with his wife for something that he had not thought much of, which is another common dilemma in the stereotypical American household.

This episode is a sure sign of things to come in the television world, as many more shows would be created in following decades to revolve around the day-to-day struggle of the average American male. Situations are presented in which he cannot win, and continuously digs his own holes deeper and deeper. A more modern day version of this could be seen in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “The Simpsons”, and “Family Guy”. The reason, I believe, this is such a repetitive subject in nighttime television, is because it is so simple, yet so easily relatable to the average American male, who is the one most likely watching the show. Van Dyke was revolutionary in figuring this out in the 60s, as it remains a repetitive theme in television to this day. I was able to find the show entertaining and enjoyed watching it unlike other episodes I have watched this semester. The jokes and humor I believe were funny and some of the jokes were still relative today.

 

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