Sunday, April 12, 2015

R.I.P. Richard L. Bare

Mr. Bare has passed on at the age of 101! Good gravy.

He directed around 167-ish of the 170 episodes of Green Acres. (Along with making the awesome film Wicked, Wicked.) Thank you, sir! Say hi to everyone for us.

Even Arnold watches Richard L. Bare programs on TV.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Season 2, Episode 1: Wings Over Hooterville

Aired: September 14, 1966
Written by: Jay Sommers and Dick Chevillat

 Oliver holds up a tiny piece of corn:

“I’m going enter this in the Corn Festival.”
“That ought to get a big laugh.”
“Eb, this may be funny to you. It is not funny to me. This is why I left New York.”
“To grow small corn?”

And Season 2 begins. And a show that was pretty assured of itself in its first season (while finding its format) is even more assured now. "Wings Over Hooterville" gives us Lisa making cupcakes (cake in a cup), the flashback to Lisa and Oliver meeting during WWII, a scene with Hungarian being spoken featuring English subtitles (which are referenced by the characters), an English officer telling Oliver to ask for "Hogan" if he goes to Stalag 13 and Hank Kimball delivering the kookiest slide show ever.
Jay and Dick pull out all the comedy stops here.

The Bing Bug is attacking all of the crops in Hooterville. And there is only one man who can fly a plane and stop them. But, first, we get the Meeting of Lisa and Oliver in WWII. "I don't think you're really American...  you spend more time talking than smooching." Lisa helps blow up a tank by wearing a lovely gown. Oliver hangs by a parachute from a tree. And a glorious model tank rolls through some model trees.

The excitement and surreal thrill that was building up through much of the second half of Season 1 is officially here to stay. Mr. Kimball's Emergency Town Meeting is one of the highlights of this. The slides include: the Bing Bug itself (unidentified, possibly the mother, maybe the uncle), Hank Kimball in his early stages, the county agent from Dexter County dressed as a lady...  OK, maybe there are only the three slides but they're still great. And the closing "Three Cheers For Mr. Douglas!" gag is beautiful.

"How do we get rid of the Bing Bug?"
"Well, there's one simple solution: Everyone go home and burn your crops!"

There's a lovely amount of sexual innuendo in this episode. Lisa constantly talking about smooching, mixed with her wiles used on the German soldiers (which will be even more evident in the semi-sequel to this episode "Das Lumpen"). The stock footage of big guns firing after Lisa and Oliver kiss. The mention of the sounds that the Bing Bugs make, except when they're mating. And, the story that goes with the slide of the woman in the bathing suit who is actually a man. It's the sort of innuendo that Three's Company or The Love Boat would have been proud of but never would have thought of.

The episode is paced like a bullet. With the addition of the flashback scene, there almost isn't enough time for everything happening here. And, that's awesome. Funny joke is followed by weird moment (what about those Right Brothers and their airplanes?) followed by laugh out loud silliness. With all this comes the realization that every character from Petticoat Junction is now fully acclimated to Green Acres.

Oliver ends up in trees a lot. He also ends up getting taken advantage of a lot by the Hooterville people. (And, at the end of the episode, Oliver's corn crop burns down.) Lisa is having a great time, whether she's making bad coffee or telling great stories. Now, the show is on track for the way it would run until the end. 

The final image of the episode is a shot of the woods and the appearance of the caption "Prevent Forest Fires." Love it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Oh, one thing...

Season 2 reviewing is about to commence! I was planning on including screenshots for this next round of reviews but my computer won't read my DVD. Possibly because it's double-sided? For now, no screenshots. I'll try again with Episode 2.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

1.32 Uncle Ollie

Written by Dick Chevillat & Elon Packard

"Well, might as well make yourself at home. Want to hang up your coat and hair?"

Welcome the HYPAS to the show. They are only mentioned here but they will return.


The episode begins with Oliver using some of Hal's Hotcake Flour as mortar for bricks in the bedroom fireplace. That's good stuff. (Lisa makes hotcake sandwiches later, which are genius.) Then, a loud motorcycle pulls up and Oliver's nephew Chuck/ Charles arrives.

The appearance of sleaze film director Don Edmonds (Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S. & Terror on Tour) as Chuck/ Charles is tricky enough. Seeing him with his long, lush Mop Top haircut pretending to be a beatnik (or something similar) can do something strange to a Green Acres viewer.* It can almost make you turn the episode off. Hippies are bad enough. (We'll see some of those in a few seasons.) But, beatniks? Oh boy. I never quite understood the "beatnik." Bongo drums and bad poetry are all I can think of when that word crosses my mind. So, to end the very entertaining Season 1 with the appearance of a full-on beatnik can make one weary.

But, you should persevere. Trust me.

For the first two acts (around 18 minutes), this is about the beatnik's reactions to the farm mixed with the Douglas's reaction (along with Eb) to the beatnik. And, it's not-so-great as you might imagine. (Although, finding out that Eb likes Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck is cool.) There's some charm in it. I think this is the only episode where Eb whittles. But, Chuck/ Charles feels so out of place. The long hair jokes get tiresome fairly quickly. The laugh track seems to love him but who else did? Apart from, maybe, his mother. Possibly the writing credit should have clued us in: "Dick & Elon Packard." Where'd Jay go? Vacation? Granted, he deserves it. But, beatniks? Dick, did you tell Jay about this? I'd hate to think Mr. Sommers came back from two weeks in Palm Springs and wept quietly when he saw Mr. Edmonds with his long haired wig. But, it might have happened.

Then, the episode does something that I've always appreciated in Green Acres. There are so many shows from the 1960s and the 1970s where a character shows up for one episode and they suddenly become the main focus of everything. They're the ones who learn from their surroundings (or not) and the main characters, the people we come to see, fade into the background. Green Acres will do an episode like that later on with Bob Cummings. But, it will be a "seeing this world through an outsider's eyes" episode. Chuck/ Charles here is a little different because he's a beatnik. No different from a flapper or a stoner. He draws attention to himself and it's, mostly, laughable.

Then, the episode twists.

It turns out that Chuck/ Charles is great at souping up hot rods so he fixes his uncle's tractor. It goes so fast that Oliver gets arrested and dragged before a judge. Then, Oliver takes out his nephew's motorcycle and it happens again. While this doesn't sound like the height of hilarity, it's well done. And, it, basically, shifts the focus in the second half away from Chuck/ Charles and his Beatnik world to Oliver, where it should be. And, things become funny again. And the episode ends charmingly. And the end of the season is saved.

Giving such a large chunk of the episode over to an unlikable/ annoying character can make one a little worried that they might do that again. Luckily, they really don't do it that much. They keep the focus on the main characters, where it should be. So, Season 1 of Green Acres doesn't end with a strong flourish but with a few laughs. Now, things are going to get really wonderful.

By the way, Chuck/ Charles does not return. Hallelujah!

*Chuck/ Charles may not actually be a beatnik. He might just be a "groovy" pre-hippy kind of guy. However, he mentions getting an espresso. Coffee house=beatnik in my mind. Thank you. Good night.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

1.31: The Rains Came

(05/18/66) Teleplay by Jay & Dick
Story by Howard Merrill and Stan Dreben

"To put it in legal terms, he was non compos in his mentis."
"The compos of my mentis is not on trial!"

The 3rd episode with names other than Jay's and Dick's on them. I would guess that Howard and Stan wrote a script. And then, Jay and Dick took it and completely overhauled it. (I'm calling it "Green Acres-ing" it.) And, with almost all the scripts where Jay & Dick don't handle everything, it does feel a bit different from the others. Not tremendously but just enough so it feels a touch odd.

This one starts at the Pixley courthouse. Mr. Haney has sued Oliver for not paying up on a contract. There has been a drought in Hooterville. Haney brings a Native American gentleman over to do a rain dance. Oliver throws them out after the man does a couple steps. When it rains, Mr. Douglas claims the Native American gentleman did nothing. (And, he's pretty much right.)

There is a running joke about Oliver not being a real lawyer because he doesn't hang out at the saloon across the street. It's OK but a little trite. A little too sitcomy. Not so Jay and Dick-like to me. And, Haney's lawyer pretending to be Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind is amusing but doesn't seem quite right either. But, the judge berating the attorney with "I've seen your impersonation of Spencer Tracy" is good stuff. Even, Lisa and her sunflower seems like another writer to me. That's a subplot. She waters a sunflower every day and wishes on it. She wishes for rain. It's a Hungarian thing. I wonder if Howard and Stan just brought in a plotline and a pile of jokes. It was Jay and Dick's job to assemble them together.

Not putting down the funny here, though. The courtroom scenes are amusing but it's when we get back to the farm with the flashbacks that we really take off.  I wonder if the original script was all in the courtroom. Maybe Jay and Dick took it and brought it back to the farm. The writing does feel different. Eb's goofy talk about vultures in the field is great. It's in the side stuff that the episode takes off. Mr. Kimball's visit here is very inspired.

I do get slight worries when I see other people's names on the scripts. Because, inevitably it feels like this is a show that had a very specific sensibility. Jay came up with the stories. Dick wrote the jokes. It feels weird when someone else does it. Like reading Sherlock Holmes stories by someone who isn't Arthur Conan Doyle. Haney seems a bit too obviously conniving here. Oliver seems a bit too competent for this point in the series.

A bad episode? No way. I laughed quite a bit. It just felt a bit like it was written by a fan of Green Acres rather than the main guys. Luckily, the show won't do this too often. Or it will find a writer or two who can join in the game.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

1.30: Culture

5/25/66 Jay & Dick

"Uh oh. Here come my boss."
"Eb, you're supposed to be working."
"Are you going to hit him again?"
"He told us when he don't work you beat him with a baseball bat."
"Or an axe handle."

I know. The dialog sounds rough. But, it's delivered by Henry and Horace, two local Hooterville kids. Eb's watching them while their moms are getting together for a cultural meeting. The ladies, led by Lisa, decide that it's time for culture to hit Hooterville. Ralph Monroe may never get the closet door in the bedroom finished. But, she'll take the minutes on the club voting for a Hooterville Symphony Orchestra.

Oliver immediately declares all the women to be "nuts". And, he could be right. Watching the group of women in this puts me very close to feeling that this a "rural" show after all. Ralph is nutty, as always. The rest of the ladies are very countrified. They seem like they could safely meet at the Shady Rest over on Petticoat Junction and not have a problem.

We learn that Hooterville has less than 110 people. We hear the first use of the word "wetback" in the show. Derogatory? Definitely. But, Oliver's follow-up line about smuggling in a "few damp oboe players" is funny. Oliver, in fact, spends most of the episode amused at Lisa's attempts to bring the culture in. In this episode, he seems settled into the world of Hooterville in a way he hasn't so far. He's doing his thing. And, a sign that he's comfortable here comes in the "Fantasy Flashback" sequence. The first of many that this series will have.

"The Concert in the Park" sequence. A band plays 'The Irish Washer Woman". Two people who look a lot like Oliver and Lisa sit and listen and flirt. In fact, it is Oliver and Lisa breaking the fourth wall constantly. Lisa mentions The Beach Boys and calls Oliver "Irving". Oliver insinuates that smooching should be a big part of their afternoon. Lisa keeps pointing out that her "mother is very strict". They smooch behind a parasol. Oliver kisses like a Harry. He's no Irving. I do love the flashbacks. In the later seasons, these would, generally, involve Oliver and Lisa telling about how they met. Here, it's another charming element added to the series bag of tricks.

Sir Jeffrey Wingate, AKA Poopsie, comes to Hooterville to start the orchestra. Guess what? It all goes wrong. One of the joys of the episode, in fact one of the joys of the show, is that the plot is really just a basic framework for a lot of goofing around. We see the New York City skyline. A caption reads "What city is this?" Three seconds later, we read "If you answered New York, you were correct." The season is ending and the guys are pushing the sitcom boundaries even further.

Sir Jeffrey arrives and discovers no culture in Hooterville. But, he's a stuffy clod. The people are very gung ho. Oliver can't stop smiling at all of it. I like to think of Oliver as a character in a sitcom who discovered, upon arriving in Hooterville, that his sitcom makes no sense. This is one of the few episodes where Oliver is in the sitcom he seems to think he should be in. It suits him. His bemusement is charming. When Oliver says that he can play guitar in the orchestra because his wife is in charge and said he could, it is very funny. And, watching the Volunteer Fire Department band playing for Poopsie is a joy.

Watching Poopsie degenerate during the third act rehearsal is funny. The people of Hooterville force a confident man to run out of town in one night. When he asks them to play Brahms' Lullaby, they all play "Hot Time in the Old Tonight". We knew they'd play it. We know they'll play it again. It's funny.

And, the episode ends with a callback to Lisa's mom being "very strict". Nicely done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

1.29: Horse? What Horse?

Aired: 5/11/66 (Written by: Jay & Dick)

"Lisa, wake up! There's a zebra in the window."

Here's a surprise: The tractor isn't working. The radiator is screwed up. Oliver goes to the telephone pole, which is next to the electrical pole, to call Mr. Drucker about a new one. He immediately gets involved in a long scene going up and down the telephone pole and the electrical pole. They really made Eddie Albert work out hard in some of these episodes. Mr. Drucker keeps calling. The electrical cord keeps falling out. Mrs. Ziffel wants to make a call on the party line. Lisa is unhelpful. It all ends with Oliver falling off one of the poles. Wonderful comedy.

Oliver is looking peaked and muttering a lot. Eventually, he ends up seeing a white horse with black spots. The horse follows him home from the field. But, no one else sees the animal. As the episode continues, Oliver sees a camel and a zebra...  And, everyone thinks he's going crazy. Standard sitcom plotting. But, there's something about straight Oliver being disbelieved by the crazy people of Hooterville that gives it a little twist. We know that they're a little off and that Oliver is our touchstone for "normality". What happens when he begins to slip away? I thought it was an interesting bit of plotting that the horse doesn't show up until the end of Act 1. We set up Oliver's exhaustion in Act 1. The horse is all throughout Act 2. The animals multiply and we learn what's going on in Act 3.

I always found it a little odd that the animals end up having a regular (more or less) explanation. (I won't ruin it here.) I'd always thought that it should be a little stranger. We're still in early days, though. As the show goes along, the general insanity will become truly insane, but in a fun way. (After saying that, I realize that the scene where Lisa shows their Gaugin and their Matisse and their Renoir to the county doctor is a nice touch of insanity. The pricey paintings are hanging out on their shabby walls and the doctor is flabbergasted.)

As far as the funny goes, the opening act is the best here. The aforementioned pole sequence has great verbal and visual laughs in it. The last two-thirds are charming because I love seeing characters I enjoy going through a standard sitcom plot. I like to see where the writers are going to take it. I like to see where the actors are going to go with it. It's a nice conceit to have Oliver, possibly, breaking up. The second half isn't quite as wacky as the first. It is just very entertaining and very charming. We are near the end of the season. Jay and Dick can be forgiven for being a little light on the laughs as long as there is still joy.

Three moments from the last acts grabbed my attention:

1) Oliver's speech to the doctor about scratching in the ground is one of his best. As the doctor looks on, we can all believe that Oliver has gone around the bend.

2) Lisa trying to "slip a mickey" into Oliver's milk, which ends up getting her loaded. We know it's going to happen. But, Eb's calm straight man antics and Lisa's fast-moving, ever-expanding confusion about where the pills are make it great. And, when Oliver says "You know I don't drink milk," that is the capper.

3) Hank Kimball's scene, where he seems to be the sanest man in the scene, is quite funny.