Review By: Gringo
Dick Van Dyke achieved questionable fame with his role as the cheery Cockney chimney-sweeping chap in Disney's Mary Poppins. He also achieved the notable status of becoming a major irritant by starring in Diagnosis Murder, a television show that is equal only to Murder, She Wrote in the stakes of mindless pap. Remember how Angela Lansbury had Disney connections (as a teapot)? Dick Van Dyke was involved - doing a very bad British accent - in the musical about a nanny who flies around on an umbrella. See the connection? See it? No? The House of Mouse eerily seems to exert some influence or strange mystical spell on actors and actresses. After starring in a Mickey Mouse-funded movie, the cast members are headed for absolute mediocrity, should they choose to star in a television detective series. I'm talking about real life people of course. Although I'd be highly amused if Pluto, or Donald, or any other Disney character decided to branch out and start a detective agency. They'd have the perfect cover - huge face masks - which means no-one would ever know the true identity of the guy or girl dressing up as a cartoon character whilst solving a crime. Celebration!
That introduction brings me in no tangible way back to the subject at hand; Diagnosis Murder. I've been unlucky enough to catch this show several times. When I was at University, it always seemed to be on whenever I was watching television. Now I've graduated (hello stupid information no one in the world...ever needs to know! Let us have some more!) it seems to have faded away from the small screen somewhat. How highly bizarre, and yet at the same time it's such wonderful news. If you've read my Murder, She Wrote review (and if not, why not? Oh, yes, you have sense! That is why! Bless your cotton socks! If they're not made of cotton, bless them anyway!) then you'll know I wasn't a huge fan of the show. It was just so very formulaic. This program is no different, although it tries to bit a bit more light-hearted. It's like Lansbury's show taking the proverbial pee out of itself; there's no need. It's humorously irritating enough in its own right. In addition, most of the jokes or comedy situations in Diagnosis Murder weren't jocular or comedic. What a surprise!
I suppose before I continue ranting and raving like a foolish crazy-person I should tell you some background information on the show. Going on the memories of what I've seen, the main character was a doctor called Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) who worked at some anonymous Community General Hospital. This wasn't a hospital for army generals who might storm into the emergency ward screaming "Ten hut! I got a pain in my brainmeats! Fix it! Move it! Move it! Hut!". Instead, it was a place that seemed to have only one corridor, three rooms and four or five staff members, of which Dr. Sloan was the head. His son (Barry Van Dyke) was some sort of police officer - which provided the tenuous link needed to explain how Dr. Sloan got involved in diagnosing and solving so many murders. In addition, there were two other recurring characters; a male and female doctor who constantly failed to get together (in the sexual sense! Oh, so risqué!). Wait just one gosh-darned-diddly moment! Stop and think about the show's title. Diagnosis Murder? How very stupid. Not only is it a lame joke, but it's not even true! At least Jessica Fletcher wrote murder novels in Murder, She Wrote. But in not one single episode of Van Dyke's show did I see his character taking a thermometer from a patient's cold, blue mouth and saying "Hmm! My diagnosis is...murder!".
Anyway, Dr. Sloan and his band of merry misfits from Mystery Location Hospital went around solving all sorts of - perhaps somewhat obviously - murders. Just like in real life! The average episode followed a simple pattern. Some nameless fools had an argument, usually resulting in one of them winding up dead a few minutes later. Then for no real reason, and often via the most tenuous of links, Dr. Sloan, his policeman son and the rest of the happy clown troupe set out to investigate how Mr. or Mrs. Nameless Fool died. Guess what the most common cause of death was? Yes, murder. Again. And again. And again! So much! There were a few twists and turns (shake it, baby, shake it!) throughout each episode to try and throw the less-vigilant viewer off the scent, but anyone who bothered to use one brain cell and watch just five minutes of the show could easily deduce who the murderer was. What usually helped me in the deduction process were the lingering close-ups of a suspect pulling an evil face, accompanied by fitting bad guy music which did little to hide the fact that the person was guilty. But the musical fun doesn't end there! Oh no!
The theme tune for the show greatly irritated me. It was all right to begin with, using some saxophone and drums to tedious effect and fully warning everyone of the long, painful time ahead. But then they (whoever was involved with the show's music) went and added stupid disco beats, wacky guitars and other such fun. Whilst I'm on the subject, the tune for Murder, She Wrote annoyed me too. It was fair too jovial and folksy for a show that revolved around a lot of people getting finished off. In the murdering sense! The tune for Dyke's show was more serious in tone, but considering part of the introduction sequence features Dr. Sloan walking into a punch-bag, its overall effect was somewhat diminished. This was a program that didn't know how to find the right balance between drama and comedy. It was if it wanted to be some strange hybrid dram-com. Hmm. Dram-com. What a stupid name. I hope people don't actually refer to dramatic comedies that way. It's enough to make Dick Van Dyke shout "Mawee Pawpins!" in one of the worst impersonations of an East London resident I've ever heard.
Thankfully, there's very little Cockney-accent content in the crazy doctor-turned-investigator show. What there is a lot of is plain, boring acting, mundane scripts that require little thought and plot resolutions that fail to fill the gaping holes left in the story. The residents of Mystery Hospital Town must be awfully concerned about their safety. If this show is anything to go on, there's a murder once a week, every week for twenty-six consecutive weeks. Then for some reason there's no murders whatsoever for a few months. Then the cycle starts up again, bizarrely in tandem with the new television program season. Now that's a mystery Dr. Sloan should be out investigating. In fact, Dr. Sloan probably doesn't deserve his title. I haven't seem him administer medicine to a single person, deal with any patients or operate on anybody. And as E.R. has taught the world, that is all that doctors have time to do - except from the endless sex, constant arguments, love triangles and leaving the profession to star in really bad Batman sequels.
Do you have the time to listen to me whine? Because I've got a couple more paragraphs to go. Hey, I wonder if I can fit in a few more pointless song references? Wait a minute - who am I having this conversation with? It's not like you can reply in real-time and answer yes or no. Madness! This television show isn't anything special and it often veers on the inane. It's really quite pointless, simply extending the detective drama genre's life into an unreasonable old age. It's about time program makers started being a lot less lazy and tried developing new, original formats. The idea of a murder, followed by a bit of sleuthing, with a typically melodramatic finale - and closing on some wacky joke - is a very tired one after all these years. I suppose that the adventures of Dr. Sloan and company can be seen as one of the more light-hearted efforts in the detective genre, but with so many similar shows out there, I don't think there was a great need for yet another one.
Unlike my review of Magnum P.I., I have actually seen some episodes of this show. For once, I can make my conclusion on the basis of first-hand experience. And that conclusion is really quite simply. I don't like the show very much, but what I detest is the sheer pointlessness of it. I know that sounds a bit ironic coming from this site and the caliber of its content, but pointlessness is what Listen To Me is all about. Well, there you have it. That's what I think of Diagnosis Murder. And we all know how much my opinion is to be valued, trusted and adhered to. After all, some of the television shows I deem as quality viewing include The A-Team, the occasional Barney The Dinosaur episode and re-runs of The Joker's Wild. My taste is flawless. Maybe. But regardless, at least I don't like watching mindless quasi-entertainment, which is exactly what Dick Van Dyke's detective-doctor wacky fun-fest is.
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