The hit fictional sitcom Dad’s Casa was a cultural juggernaut when it first aired, but with so many seasons, not to mention all the spinoffs and tie-ins, it can be intimidating for a new viewer to get into. Here, then, are my completely subjective picks for the five episodes of Dad’s Casa everyone should see.
S1 E10, “Casa Belli”
What it’s about: War! Well, the kind of “war” that takes place in sitcoms, which is to say, a dispute between neighbors. An escalating series of pranks ensues between Dad and Horatio after Horatio steals the “Welcome to the Casa” sign over the front door and puts it up at his house. Dad treats the whole thing like a military operation, addressing Carmella as “Lieutenant” and the kids as “Private” throughout the episode (though Jose gets a promotion to “Sergeant” by the end).
What makes it notable: This was arguably the episode that made Dad’s Casa explode into the popular consciousness, and when people talk about “Classic Casa”, this is often the episode they have in mind. We get some classic lines here, including the first “Not in my casa!” from Dad, in response to Lucy’s affectation of pronouncing “lieutenant” the British way. Interestingly, the plot here casts Horatio as the antagonist; in later seasons (as Horatio turned into more of a bumbling comic character) that role would be taken more often by Nappy or Steve, but they hadn’t been introduced yet at this point. A post-credits dedication to the U.S. armed forces was criticized as being in poor taste after an episode focused on comedic hijinks.
What I like about it: The final scene of Operation Vinegar and Baking Soda is a masterpiece of physical comedy, but my favorite bit is the running gag of Dad insisting throughout the episode that the family communicate by walkie-talkie even when they’re all in the same room.
S7 E4, “Dad Breaks the Fourth Wall”
What it’s about: The title is literal; due to a home improvement project gone wrong, Dad breaks a gigantic hole in one of the living room walls. (The living room set, of course, only has three walls; the wall Dad breaks is the one we never see because that’s where the cameras are, which means that whenever the characters are looking at the broken wall, they’re looking directly into camera.) Dad consults several contractors about fixing the hole, but various mix-ups and mishaps drive each of them away.
What makes it notable: The episode ends with Dad deciding to leave the hole there, which sets up the running gag in the later seasons where a character will squint into camera and describe something they see through the hole (“Do you see that couch out there? Looks like there’s a whole family just watching us!”). This episode is often cited as the turning point when the show became experimental and postmodern, though in reality, stuff like that had been creeping in for a while.
What I like about it: The gimmick is mined for some great humor here, with various characters looking at us out of the TV and reacting with alarm or disgust. Sure, some of it is a little on the nose (Dad: “I feel like we’re all on TV or something!”; Carmella: “Yeah, Animal Planet.”), but it’s all worth it for stuff like Larry’s weird extended monologue. Dormos reacts almost angrily to the view through the fourth wall (“What the hell am I lookin’ at? An interior decoration nightmare, that’s what!”), while it’s left to one of the contractors to point out how little sense this situation makes (“I don’t get it, don’t you have any windows on this side of the house? How could you possibly have a view through this hole that you can’t see from anywhere else?”). I also like how they dispose of the various carpenters and builders who come to try to fix the hole – especially when one of them walks into the casa and bangs his head on the beam like Dad always does. The contractor drops to the floor and Dad crouches down to take a look at him. “Well, he’s dead,” Dad announces. “Maybe we should try the Yellow Pages.”
S4 E9, “Padre’s House”
What it’s about: In this backdoor pilot for the short-lived spinoff of the same name, the family visits Carmella’s cousin Luis, who has just married a woman named Louise. Louise, who comes from old New England money, has a son and daughter from a previous marriage, and the contrast between Luis and his upper crust WASPy new family is the predictable setup for sitcom humor. Here, Luis is in charge of renovating Louise’s old family estate, and ropes Dad into helping him conceal from his wife the increasingly ridiculous mishaps he causes. Meanwhile, Carmella does some sleuthing, as she starts to suspect that Louise is hiding a dark secret.
What makes it notable: As its own series, Padre’s House just didn’t work. Luis was the only character with even a hint of charisma, and the two children were as stiff as boards. Sure, to some extent that was the intention – but if your concept involves stiff, unfunny characters, maybe it’s not a great concept for a sitcom. In this pilot, however, Dad and crew really liven things up. It’s notable that this is one of the few episodes in which the titular casa does not appear.
What I like about it: There are so many great moments in this episode. The scene where Louise initially assumes Carmella is the maid is just perfect, and I couldn’t stop laughing when the daughter freaks out after noticing Luis’s crucifix (“Mother, he is explicitly killing Jesus!”). But the best part is Louise’s over-the-top tearful revalation of her family’s “dark secret”: that her ancestors did not really come over on the Mayflower. To which Luis replies, “Honey, it is OK. I too have a dark secret of my own, which is that today I by an accident set on fire your family home cuatro times.”
S4 E2, “Dad the Impaler”
What it’s about: After watching a Dracula movie on Halloween, Dad finds himself beginning to take on the characteristics of a vampire – he shuns sunlight, starts wearing a cape, and even buys a new “bed” (which turns out to be a coffin) which he puts in the basement. Eventually, he invites the neighbors over for “a delicious homemade meal”, and, predictably, it turns out that the neighbors are the ones on the menu. But, of course, it was all a dream.
What makes it notable: The show did a lot of holiday episodes, but this one stands out for the amazing cinematography and art-house production by a secret guest director, which contrasts with the rather hackneyed “it was all a dream” plot. Guesses as to the identity of the guest director have abounded since the episode aired, but – amazingly – no conclusive answer has come out even after all these years. In contrast to the avant garde, highly cinematic horror style of the episode, the fictional movie that Dad is watching at the beginning (Count Dracula’s Castle of Horrors!) is shown to be a very cheap B-movie. Christopher Lee also has a cameo as one of the people delivering the coffin.
What I like about it: The episode is, obviously, beautiful and eerie to look at, but there’s some great comedy here that I think is often overlooked, like Dad’s increasingly unsubtle hints as to the nature of the upcoming dinner, to which Horatio and the other neighbors remain studiously oblivious. I also like Dad’s double take in the final scene, after he wakes up, where Mom pours him a big glass of tomato juice.
S6 E22, “Mi Casa Es Sue Casa”
What it’s about: Not to be confused with the season 2 episode “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” (which is about an increasingly ridiculous number of house guests showing up at the casa for various reasons), or the season 8 episode “Sue Casa” (which is about all the family members suing each other over various petty grievances). This episode has Dad overhear Carmella speaking Spanish on the phone to her family; when he hears her use the phrase “mi casa es su casa”, he jumps to the (admittedly somewhat strange) conclusion that due to some weird technicality, the legal owner of the casa is his Crazy Aunt Sue. Afraid that she will find out and kick his family out of the casa, he starts to acquiesce to Aunt Sue’s eccentric ideas in an effort to get on her good side.
What makes it notable: Crazy Aunt Sue had been mentioned plenty of times before, but this is the first time she appears, played by none other than Helen Mirren. Unlike some of the show’s other resolutions of long-running gags (the Red Door, for instance), when Crazy Aunt Sue finally shows up, she does not disappoint.
What I like about it: Aunt Sue’s over the top eccentricity could easily have been annoying, but the writing here is very good, and Tim Allen’s acting as Dad finds himself going along with her bizarre schemes is wonderful. The way these schemes ramp up is delightful, from stuff like kombucha-infused candles (“Or maybe we should infuse some with the tears of virgins,” Aunt Sue muses) to the finale where we have Dad dressed up as a psychedelic fertilized egg (“This is a worse trip than that time with the platypus,” Dad says) advertising Aunt Sue’s “film that is really a magazine that is more of a lifestyle that is actually a pyramid scheme”.
Let us know what you think of these episodes, and what your choices for most essential episodes of Dad’s Casa are!