Are you a somnambulist? Do you know someone who sleepwalks? Walking in your sleep is actually probably more common than you know. It almost has to be otherwise there would not be quite so many characters on TV shows who have walked in their sleep. And if you have watched as much TV as I have, then you know that sleepwalking is nearly as common a problem in America as stupidity is among the Republican Party.
I stake no claim toward knowing if Ed Norton’s case of sleepwalking was the first ever portrayed on television. Probably not, but then again, as I said, I don’t know. What I do know is that Ed Norton’s sleepwalking episode of “The Honeymooners” remains one of the funniest. Ralph Kramden is charged with keeping tabs on the somnambulist adventures of his upstairs neighbor and best friend. He tries everything from hiding the key under his pillow while he spends the night with Ed to tethering them together to taking Norton to see a shrink. If you have never seen the sleepwalking episode of “The Honeymooners” then the following will make no sense; if you have seen it, you will laugh: “Lu-luuuuuuuu!”
The Dick Van Dyke Show
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” features one of the oddest cases of sleepwalking ever portrayed on TV. Rob Petrie’s brother Stacy–yes I said brother and yes Stacy is played by Dick Van Dyke’s real-life brother Jerry–has a very peculiar type of somnambulism. He not only seems to be completely wide awake, but undergoes a personality change. When really awake, Stacy Petrie is quiet and introverted but when sleepwalking he becomes the life of the party. Since “The Dick Van Dyke Show” revolves around the world of television, you would not lose a lot of money by betting that Stacy’s more entertaining sleepwalking personality becomes integral to a plot about his getting into show business.
From a psychological perspective, sleepwalking may be seen as an attempt by repressed emotions to escape the subsconscious and lead a person to confront their darkest fears or desires. That may be a bit heavy for a cartoon, but this particular view of sleepwalking is most definitely at play in the episode of “Hey Arnold!” when Helga’s sleepwalking takes her inexorably toward the rooming house in which the love of her life Arnold lives. Helga’s conscious manner of dealing with her conflicted emotional trauma of loving Arnold yet being a tough broad on the outside is to deal a series of insults and hateful pranks. Only while asleep can she toss off the clutches of that conflict and give in wholly to love. But will she be caught by the ever-faithful Phoebe before she potentially makes a fool of herself?
Then there are those cases of sleepwalking (and other activities) that are the result of taking certain medications. In response to a host of stories about people doing some very odd things in their sleep while under the influence of sleep-inducing medications, “The Simpsons” put Homer on a pill satirically called Nappien. Under the influence of Nappien, Homer becomes a high suggestible zombie plaything of his son Bart. If watching this episode of “The Simpsons” is not enough to convince you that you need to take very seriously the myriad side effects of modern day pharmaceuticals, then I really don’t know what it would take.