Comedy tonight! Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore return to TV

The Van Dyke Show CBS, Wednesdays, 8-8:30, beginning tonight. Starring Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, Kari Lizer, and Billy O'Sullivan. Two all-time CBS favorites - Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore - return to series television tonight in brand new shows.

Both stars, it seems, have decided to acknowledge the fact that series television often steals the persona of its leading characters and turns them into distorted versions of reality.

So this time around, both series are presenting their stars as people very much like themselves - quirky, imperfect, but still lovable human beings who are not blessed with the gift of eternal youth and so tend finally to act their own age.

The premi`ere of Mary's show - ``Annie McGuire'' (Wednesdays, CBS, 8:30-9 p.m.) - ran into some last-minute glitches (rumor has it, wholesale reshooting) and was not available for previewing by critics before airing.

According to Mary Tyler Moore, ``Annie McGuire'' is not going to be just another variation of Laura Petrie or Mary Richards. She's going to be a true reflection of what's happening to women in today's society. Inevitably that means a reflection of what has happened to Mary Tyler Moore herself.

In this new show, reportedly a reality-based comedy, she plays a 50-year-old working mother, recently remarried.

The premi`ere of ``The Van Dyke Show'' was ready for viewing the other day and afforded this critic a half-hour of solid Van Dykian entertainment, filled with hearty good humor, delightfully silly slapstick schticks, expert double and triple takes, plus a healthy dollop of old-fashioned sentimentality.

Dick is a grandpa this time around. His real son plays his son on the show, a theater owner who is following in his father's show-biz footsteps. When Dad (Dick) comes to visit, he becomes part of the show by mistake and later maneuvers himself into becoming a permanent part of the playhouse action.

Father-son glow of affection

There is a fine warm glow of love and affection between Dick and Barry as they play the father-son roles, and the grandfather-grandson relationship, played between Dick and actor Billy O'Sullivan, emanates the same kind of feeling of honest-to-goodness warmth.

While Dick remains the master of the slow take and the straight-faced reaction, this performance reminds viewers that he is also a superb pantomimist and Keatonesque pratfall artist.

First there is a kind of intellectualized humor in his supposed on-stage improvisation. Then, his antics climbing in and out of the grandson's double-decker bunk make for some hilarious physical comedy.

In between there are moments of simple familial feelings, climaxing in a joyfully poignant scene.

A cast of `real' people

Written by Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark, this initial episode skillfully manages to create an ongoing situation for future segments and slyly establishes the character of each member of the family - quickly identifying grandpa Dick, his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson as people with whom we can live for many seasons.

Barry, a fine comic actor in his own right, shows signs of being a chip off the old Van Dyke, so to speak.

Kari Lizer as the daughter-in-law and Billy O'Sullivan as the grandson come across instantly as real people.

Directed by Jay Sandrich

Directed by veteran prizewinner Jay Sandrich, created by Donald Todd under the aegis of Grant Tinker's GTG Entertainment, ``The Van Dyke Show'' is a modern-day version of the classic family series of early television.

Dick Van Dyke brings to it the simple grandeur of subtle comedy sandwiched between delicious episodes of physical humor.

A multiseason winner?

It's pure electronic ecstasy to have him back for a whole season ... and predictably for many seasons to come.

Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore back to back on CBS! What more could any TV buff ask for in one season?

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