Wednesday, July 29, 2009

1.5.: My Husband, the Rooster Renter

"You call this a farm!"
"No. You called it a farm when you sold it to me."

The early episodes of Green Acres (specifically up to The Day of Decision, episode 22 of this season) have a very different feel from the rest of the show. They're very serial-like. In fact, I guess you could say they are a serial, a la Lum & Abner or Amos & Andy from the 30's/ early 40's. The basic plotline in each episode follows the Douglas's attempting to make their house a home, whether that involves redoing the bedroom or just trying to get a telephone in. Lisa trying to become a farm wife and consistently failing is another thread. A third deals with Oliver's attempts at being a farmer. Some episodes lean more on one bit than the other. This one has a bit of all three.

The "County Agent" arrives and he's kind of helpful, which is a heck of a surprise because the "County Agent" in question is Mr. Kimball. As the season moves along, Mr. Kimball will become one of the most consistently funny fellows that sitcoms have ever seen. But, in this, his first appearance, he's relatively restrained. He seems as amused as everyone else that Mr. Douglas has bought the Old Haney Place. He can't even give Oliver an honest opinion on the land at the end of their meeting. Very soon, he will become a strange, wandering forgetful man who works for one of the strangest (never seen) people around. The closest we get to the Hank we'll know is when he fumbles over Oliver's land question but that's not forgetfulness, that's trying to be tactful and failing. More about Mr. Kimball as he develops.

Mr. Haney does, indeed, rent Oliver a rooster and hen, Bertram and Alice, respectively. But, of course, Bertram is a rotten crower (he's really a pecker). The ill-timed crowing of the rooster causes wackiness throughout, along with making Lisa say the title at the end as she laughs at Oliver's dazed reactions to the rooster's crowing. And, as always, seeing Lisa laugh like that is pretty odd.

Lisa tries to cook the hotcakes again. One of them sticks to the burner. Oliver tries to spatula it up and gets the whole burner attached. "I think you're doing something wrong with these pancakes." At least, at this point, they still see the problem and are trying to work on it. Very soon, everyone would give up and live with the hotcakes and all their variations.

This is the episode where they get running water (definitely), electricity (sort of) and a telephone (not really). There is a wonderful sequence where the plumber is popping up in closets and on the roof as he traces the pipes. Then, the roofer suddenly appears from under the sink because he thought the plumber would be there. One of three moments where you can see the show shaping into what it will be. The other two are:

2) Mr. Drucker marrying a sack of flour and a sack of potatoes.
3) Lisa calls Hooterville "Hootersville". Oliver corrects her. She then calls it "Hoosterville." Eb immediately walks up and says "Are you going to Hoosterville?"

Oh boy. We're getting there.

The show has got a real nice groove here. The episode moves along at a decent pace. There are always several things going on so it never gets slow. For example, Lisa cooks hotcakes while plumbers and roofers crawl around the house while Mr. Haney tries to get them to rent Alice the chicken. It's edited very swiftly, which is great because a lot of sitcoms from this time can really make you feel the 25 minutes. GA generally has a lovely flow to it. As the show develops, it would focus more on one plot but it would have a large series of supporting characters to move around within. Now, it keeps up the pace by never settling on one thing. It's great.

Oliver is dealing quite well with the fact that no one seems assured of his farming abilities. In fact, once again, he delivers a heartfelt, stirring speech to Eb and Mr. Kimball. Both of them look utterly confused. He is also keeping fairly patient about all the house stuff. Water is hooked up but they need electricity to get the pump going. So, they rent a rotten generator from Haney. The telephone company brings over a phone, puts it on the wall and says it will be three months before they get the wires. Through it all, Oliver keeps relative calm.

Lisa seems to be in a bit of a state of grace here, too. She laughs at a lot of stuff and seems amused by life on the farm. Possibly, without Oliver's Mom there, she's adapting, ever so slowly. Tough to say. She's definitely still a Big City gal at this point. The scene where Sam Drucker is talking to Sarah the Operator and Sarah wants to know what Lisa is wearing is charming. And, the first time I ever heard the word "chartreuse".

Mignon, their dog, is a girl. I always thought she was a boy. I don't know why.

At the end, with a bum rooster, loud generator, no telephone and, possibly, nothing to eat but hotcakes for the rest of their lives, Oliver & Lisa seem very happy. The adventure continues...

Next episode: They can stop paying rental on those cots and that kitchen table.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

1.4.: The Best Laid Plans

"I just came to ship our furniture to Green Acres."
"Green Acres? You mean Yuk Manor."

Welcome Elinor and the old Hoyt-Clagwell tractor!

Once again, there's no real main plot here. Lisa goes back to NYC to work on packing up their furniture. Oliver stays at the farm and, with the help of Eb and a wonderfully temperamental tractor, begins to plan out the farm. In the first half of the episode, everyone keeps offering Oliver their condolences...Lisa has finally left him. As with the last episode, folks seem to know exactly what's happening at the Douglas farm. The episode shifts in the second half as Oliver's Mom (Why does she dislike her son so much? I don't think we ever learn.) convinces Lisa to have an architect lay out their land with a swimming pool, tennis courts, projection room, etc. Meanwhile, Oliver uses an old piece of wallpaper to sketch out the crops on their land.

It all sounds pretty sitcomy but the joy of Green Acres is the way it uses these ideas to its advantage. The "Lisa has left Oliver" plotline is used as a conversation-starter. The other folks in Hooterville really feel for Oliver but Oliver is confused by their misunderstanding and, frankly, more interested in working on getting his farm ready. He has everything ready; his plans are grandiose. They're waiting on the "County Agent". (More about him in a moment.)

The parallel sequence of the very different plans for the farm being laid out is nicely done. Oliver's mother is perfectly willing to spend all of her son's money to make the 160 acres into a country club. Lisa wants to soup the place up, too. And, after initial reticence, she dives right in. Meanwhile, Oliver and Eb are setting out Oliver's dream on that old piece of wallpaper. There is a moment when the plans intersect. Lisa plans a croquet field. Oliver wants to use the spot for sugar beets. Eb points out that "That's where Mr. Haney used to play croquet!" In the end, the new Hooterville Country Club on the Douglas land is nixed but the script doesn't really care about the outcome. Oliver says no and Lisa shrugs and carries on. Another sitcom would have stopped and had them have a real heart-to-heart but Jay & Dick are smarter than that.

We know that they know that Oliver will never allow his land to be turned into a country club. So, they have fun with the set-up and treat the resolution as a forgone conclusion. If this plot had taken up the episode, maybe we would have needed more. But, at this point, the show is so much like a serial that it really doesn't affect anything. Oliver says no and we carry on. As I said, they're using sitcom conventions and doing their own thing with it. There were plenty of lazy sitcoms out there. GA will rarely become lazy.

The actual thread that runs though the whole episode is the "County Agent". He will arrive and he will tell Oliver exactly what needs to be done to the land. I thought this magic man would show up in this episode but I guess it's the next one. I think hindsight (or foresight) makes this constant mentioning of the "County Agent" important. I don't know that anyone watching this for the first time would think anything of it. But, I know who the man is that they are waiting for...

Hank Kimball.

(Oliver seems to anticipate Mr. Kimball's arrival when he says to Lisa that they have the richest soil...he pauses...and says "maybe not the richest...")

Every step of the way there's something getting in the way of Oliver's dream. This episode has a lovely feel of "Oliver may get everything in place. This will work out." Well, Mr. Kimball hasn't shown up yet. When he does, the dream will get another piece knocked out of it.

We meet Elinor the cow in this episode. Mr. Haney pulls off some chicanery to get her into Oliver's life. She's a homing cow. She keeps returning to her home: the Douglas's barn. In the end, Oliver won't buy Elinor so Haney tricks Lisa into buying her. (They do throw in an old joke here: Lisa saying she wants the house to be nice for the three of them. Oliver's eyes light up. It's not a child she's talking about but Elinor. You know....I never really thought of Oliver as the type who wanted a child, nor Lisa the type who would have the patience to raise one.) Elinor will now moo her way through the rest of the series.

The Hoyt-Clagwell looks more inanimate but is very picky/ tricky. This is the tractor. The tractor that is constantly falling apart or refusing to run. But, this time it's not Mr. Douglas who is causing the problem. Eb says that Mr. Haney used to have the same troubles with it. The tractor isn't named here. It's just "the tractor". "The tractor" that will acquire a life of its own. And, its history is far more convoluted than the history of your average tractor. I think. I've never owned one but I imagine I'm right.

I can't forget Ben Miller. He's the man who has the farm adjacent to the Douglas's. He grows a lot of apples. He's a congenial older man who seems to farm his 140 acres all by himself. Well, I never see anyone else. His house is one of the ones in the opening credits. I kind of almost forgot him because he'll be very important later in the season and then he'll be gone. Just keep in mind: Ben Miller. Owns the farm next door. 140 acres. Apples.

To return to the overall feel of the episode, it's an incredibly charming & relaxed episode. It never goes too fast but never gets too slow. The scene always shifts before something can go on too long. And, Eb is slowly beginning to become the Eb we know and love. His moment on the train is 100% pure Eb. Probably the first moment like that. It bodes well for a character who will become gloriously odd as we move through the series. I will say that, at this point, the show could possibly use some more supporting characters. It's really Oliver, Lisa, Mother, Eb, Mr. Haney and brief appearances by folks from Petticoat Junction at this point.

Never fear. The supporting characters are coming and they will be great. At the moment, though, we have a very small main group of characters. I could see someone watching and wondering where the show will go from here. The farm and the house stuff can go on for ages but some more supporting characters seem to be a necessity to keep the comedy flowing. And, in fact, they are and Jay & Dick know it. They'll be loading us up soon. The whole foundation is being set and we will be commandeering Mr. Drucker and the Ziffels for ourselves shortly. Sorry, PJ.

That's really the only drawback to this episode. If the show is going to continue as strong as it has been, it needs to open up a bit and include some more people. It will, my friend, it will. But, at the same time, it will not lose the central pillars of Oliver and Lisa. Who, by the way, have just spent their first month on the farm. Five left.

The show is slowly constructing its world while continuing to throw in good gags. Sometimes all it takes for a TV show to be that much better than the ones around it is to have folks working on it that are honestly good at what they do. Some shows, like Leave It To Beaver, never quite seemed to figure that out. Green Acres gets it right at the start and doesn't let up. Thank Goodness.

In the next episode, the County Agent arrives. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1.3.: The Decorator

"He bought the Haney place...Yeah, the Haney place. No...he don't look like a drinkin' man."

And so, the Douglas's spend their first night on the farm. They sleep on small cots Mr. Douglas rented from Mr. Haney. No electricity yet. So, their electric blankets are hooked up to the car battery. Lisa announces that if she is going to stay, Oliver must hire a decorator. The house is a real shambles. Cracked walls, peeling wallpaper, doorknobs falling off, holes in the floor...and it doesn't seem to faze Oliver one bit. He just want to farm...and he wants his farm wife to cook his breakfast.

Apart from people thinking Oliver's a bit nuts, Lisa's hotcakes are the longest running gag on the show. Over the next six years and 168 episodes, no matter how many times she cooks these things, they won't improve. And, here's something I forgot...Do you know who showed Lisa how to make hotcakes?

Kate Bradley. Remember what I said about Kate trying to help Lisa and having it come to nothing, unlike everything she did for people on Petticoat Junction. Well, here's another example. Kate arrives with a basket full of food. She and Lisa dive right into making hotcakes...and they are instantly terrible. They're either chewy and stretchable, like eating rubber, or they're so hard they can break a plate. I wonder why Kate doesn't have Lisa do another batch correctly? Maybe because Oliver eats it all with a big grin? Lisa's hotcakes will go through many variations over the next six years but never become good to eat. They will always be terrible. In fact, apart from when she has amnesia, Lisa never cooks anything worth eating. After a time, the viewer will start to worry for everyone's health. And, does Lisa eat the hotcakes too? I've never seen her do it.

The cooking of the hotcakes is just one part of the episode. The title may be "The Decorator" and the summaries you'll find may intimate that this is what the episode is about...but it's not. It's a thread that runs through the episode and caps off the ending but it's not the episode. There is no real plot. It's about their first complete day on the farm, but mostly in the house.

Oliver is trying to get the farm started. He still firmly believes in all the farming rhetoric in his mind. He is diligently poring over his Dept. of Agriculture pamphlets and telling Eb how a farm should be run. Lisa is trying to cook and trying to be a farm wife but she really has no clue. Eb is being sarcastic and trying to eat the hotcakes. Mr. Haney rents them a kitchen table. Oliver's Mother is coming to visit. Her series of faints when she arrives at the house are great. Her comments about "You don't have to keep a promise. You're a woman!" are, possibly, less great.

Just a quick bit on Oliver's mom: She shows up quite often in the first season and, most of the time, she will become the brunt of a joke but not always. When the second season begins and the show has far more interesting local supporting characters, she will fade away (with the notable exception of a rather bland episode). She's not without her charms but she's never that interesting, a holdover from the 50's or the radio sitcoms of the 40's. The big twist here is that she is not Oliver's mother-in-law but his mother. That twist is fine but sometimes she gets in the way. When they realize that the best way to use her is to team her up with Uncle Joe, then she really becomes fun.

Just a quick note to me: Jay & Dick began writing comedy for the radio. One of the things I've always loved about Green Acres is that it feels different from other sitcoms, at its best. I was never quite able to figure out why. Then, I read somewhere (Sorry, I've forgotten where) that the show is structured like a radio show, Fibber McGee and Molly or Jack Benny, for example. I think that's right and I want to write about that. But, not in this entry. Later. Maybe a separate entry.

Back to the review...

At this point in the show, Mr. Haney arriving with exactly what Oliver needs isn't strange. It's logical. At night, they'll need to rent cots. The next morning, they'll need to rent a table and chairs. Soon, he will arrive with some very prescient items but not yet. However, it's over in Mr. Drucker's store that the strangeness of Hooterville begins to rise.

Mr. Douglas shows up to ask about a decorator and get some basic staples for the house. There is a funny bit with Sam detailing his Honeymooner's Special, complete with a "Keep Smiling" sign. But, it's the other parts of their conversation that seem odd here but pretty natural later on. Mr. Drucker knows everything that is going on at the Douglas's house even though he hasn't been there or been told what's happening by someone who has been. How is that possible? Sam says he just keeps his ears open. Oliver is amazed. The ability everyone in Hooterville has of knowing everything Oliver & Lisa are doing just by turning an ear to the wind will grow as the show goes on. I'd forgotten it was Sam (who is still rooted in the "normal" world of Petticoat Junction) who first brings it up.

The last couple of minutes of this episode may be a little too sitcomy...the decorator joke is good but should come with a wacky series of tuba sounds on the soundtrack. And, when Oliver shows Lisa their One Week Anniversary cake with their fixed-up house on it, Lisa makes a joke and laughs at it. It seems strange. I don't think it would have seemed that way to someone watching the show for the first time from the beginning. Lisa is still a New York Gal here. The settling in is a gradual process.

The closing moment of the episode is nice and racy. Lisa blows out the candle and the bedroom goes into complete darkness. Pause. Lisa tells Oliver to be careful because he's crushing the cake. Now, that's good naughtiness! Apart from The Addams Family, I don't think any other couples were this affectionate in 60's sitcoms. I love it. It's a calm randiness that rides through the series.

Episode Three. Another great one. It moves very slow in comparison to something today but, compared to Petticoat Junction or My Three Sons, it whips along. Helped greatly by the fact that there are so many funny moments from the hotcakes to the fainting to the pulling of the cots through the front window to Mr. Haney's fake elation when he realizes that he has a table on his truck...Good stuff. And, slowly, the farm is being put together. That's a good thing.

Next episode: Is it all over? So soon!...No. It's just a little drama.

Friday, July 17, 2009

1.2: Lisa's First Day On The Farm

"You should see the size of this cellar!"

Abandoning the faux-documentary of the series premiere, this second episode of Green Acres is more straightforward in structure.Lisa gets a tour of the house ("the Haney Place"), hates it and almost goes back to NYC. Kate Bradley convinces her to stay, in true Petticoat Junction-style.

The episode starts out in an odd manner...a pre-credits sequence. In Season Six, they would use them but here it stands out. We see that the Douglas's apartment is being sub-let. A couple (who probably sub-let an apartment in every sitcom of the 60's) love the apartment. But, there are two stipulations: 1) the furniture is not included & 2) they must take care of the farm. The "farm" being the collection of Oliver's plants on the balcony. This teaser ends with a great moment. The new tenants say something like "If he was so crazy about farming, why doesn't he just buy a farm?" Close up of the realtor: "He did." Cut right to the opening credits...Great opening. Restates the premise and glides right back into it.

(On a little side note, I first discovered the inconveniences of syndication cuts back in 1986 with this episode. CBN was showing GA at 5Pm every weekday. So, I was diligently taping it on Beta. WTBS started showing it at 4AM so I would timer record it to try and catch episodes I'd missed. Lisa's First Day On The Farm aired on the two stations very close to one another. The CBN version began with the opening credits and flowed. Imagine my surprise when the WTBS episode has a pre-credits sequence! The hell! Unfortunately, I was in 7th grade and my peers could have truly given a crap when I told them about my findings. (If it wasn't Foreigner or The Beastie Boys, I got kicked in the slats.) Oh well. At least I could tell you folks about it.)

Then, the main body of the episode begins and...

Hello, Eb!

Hello, Mr. Haney!

Two great characters. The character of Pat Buttram's Haney is there from moment one. A man whose entire waking life (and possibly his dreams) is taken up with swindling. In these early episodes, his swindles are the most profitable but the least creative. He's basically taken everything, including sinks and bathtubs, out of the Douglas's new home. So, Oliver has to buy all of it back...and then he'll buy livestock and a very special Hoyt Clagwell tractor. Haney always seems to be there immediately with whatever Mr. Douglas the point where I'm pretty sure Oliver could have him arrested for trespassing.

I've always liked Mr. Haney. He's not my favorite but his appearances are always a good time. Personally, I've always thought that being so constantly on the make for some dough must get tiring. But, if this is how he makes his living, then I guess it wouldn't be but the way he gets around would wear me out.

Eb was Mr. Haney's hired hand and, by the end of the episode, he is Mr. Douglas's. A tall, thin fellow with a slight sarcastic streak that will have become wonderfully odd by the end of the season. Here he seems rather restrained if you know the Eb of later in the series.

The biggest addition to this episode is Mr. Dick Chevillat. Jay Sommers was described as the "story guy". Dick was the "gag man". And, the quality of the gags pick up here. The 10-minute (apx.) walk through the empty house for the first time is wonderful. Oliver's insistence that "I can fix it." becomes funnier when you realize that everything is in need of fixing. Eb's chatter and Mr. Haney's flim-flammery have a nice kick to them. You can tell that something has been added to the writer's mix. His influence will increase as they comtinue to find the show's footing during this first season. We're still setting the foundations out here.

Then, there's Lisa... She's glamorous and lovely and sophisticated and Oliver must be a little loopy if he really thought that she was going to adore all of this rural, well, squalor. But, and we don't see this here, Lisa is a great adapter. In these early episodes, she is the wife of a wealthy (possibly?) man who spends his time & money indulging her whims. Now, she's indulging his and she doesn't seem to like it. As the show progresses, she will do what Oliver never does...adapt to her new life. She doesn't become the perfect farm wife. She becomes a true resident of Hooterville, which is far more important. (Remembering that it will be a while before we fully see how odd Hooterville is.)

Oliver is showing his first sign of troubles here. He keeps up the optimism throughout the opening but it cracks upon our return to Drucker's General Store. Joe Carson is running a pool based around how long the Douglas's will stay. Oliver seems thrilled when he hears 12. "12 years?" "Days." Then, the first sign of his temper being lost is encountered. And, it will happen again and again. In future episodes, he will deny being a hothead. And, maybe if things were going his way, he would probably be the picture of calm. But, this isn't a collection of Daily Affirmations, it's a sitcom. Oliver will be losing his temper a lot.

In fact, Lisa gets flustered as much as Oliver here. But, once she adapts, that will rarely happen. Life is life and you either move with it or try and stand in its way. I wonder if Oliver ever thought "Hey! All this trouble I have around here is just as stressful, if not more, than the rat race I got away from! I was a good lawyer so I had some control there. Here, in Hooterville, I'm the odd man out! These people aren't the backbones of anyone's economy. They're just nuts." I suspect he may have thought that but then something pleasant floated through his mind and he forgot it...until the next time he remembered it.

I always enjoy the scenes when Oliver & Uncle Joe meet and when Lisa & Kate meet. A Sitcom Summit! Uncle Joe and Kate really are from a whole different world. And, in fact, although Uncle Joe seems very comfortable here, Kate and her daughters always seemed a little wary. Kate and Oliver are always congenial. Kate and Lisa like each other but Lisa just tends to say things or do things that Kate looks at with confusion. It's probably Kate's nature. She's a good woman who likes to help people. But, with rare exceptions, Lisa doesn't really need anything. Oliver provides the basics. If Lisa can't cook, Kate will try to teach her but it really doesn't matter because Oliver will roll with it. (He may make fun of Lisa's farm wife skills but he doesn't do anything to really change them.) So, Kate is up against a rarity: Someone she can help all she wants but, in the end, it won't amount to a thing.

Uncle Joe's meeting with Oliver usually involve very little. He does flim-flam him once or twice but it's usually with something Oliver actually wants (fire chief, for example). It's tough to pull the wool over someone's eyes when 1) the person doesn't mind & 2) the person knows you're doing it. I guess, in the end, the supporting characters from PJ were the only ones who could get shifted into the world of GA. The two shows are very different. In style, in attitude and, well, almost everything. So odd that they're in the same "world". I wonder if, in 1965, people noticed any difference. It's sure obvious now.

Lisa' First Day On The Farm is a wonderful second episode that does exactly what The Beverly Hillbillies & PJ did. It extends the opening set-up across several episodes so we can ease in. It's quite lovely. The sort of thing that happens all the time now but sure didn't back them. It has the added advantage of some great jokes, including some wonderful sight gags with the house. The toilet flushing ("It's a shower!), the "what's behind the wallpaper" reveal and the kitchen door opening are my favorites. But, Oliver's drop into the basement (which we actually only go into once in the fifth season episode Trapped, where they seem to have forgotten about it) is wonderful, too. And, the joke gets a great capper later on. Oliver's optimism after dropping through the floor is darkened by Lisa's doing the same and taking that as the cue to leave.

The episode even has a moment of humanity (apart from Oliver and Lisa's increasingly frustrated responses) right at the end. ("Stop whining. She left me too.") Oliver and their little dog Mingon sit by the fire in their dark, dingy farmhouse. Lisa comes back, after a good talk with Kate. She has decided to stay and it's handled wonderfully. One more gag caps us and we're...out.

Oh, by the way, technically Lisa's first day on the farm is at the end of the first episode. After the opening credits here, we see Eb and Mr. Haney taking the bathtub. We learn that this is the Douglas's third day there. All Lisa can do is sit and stare at the house from the safety of the car. So, my question is, does this affect the pool? How can uncle Joe win with "1" day if it's their third day there?

One more thing: I'm slowly watching PJ. I'm halfway through Season One. Is there an episode in the start of Season Three where Oliver and Lisa are shown staying at the Shady Rest? I guess I'll find out soon.

Next episode: The first attempts to fix the house begin.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

1.1: Oliver Buys A Farm

"In 1930, there were more than 32 million people living on farms.
In the 35 years that followed, more than 20 million people sold their farms & moved to the city.
To the best of my knowledge, in this same period of time, only one man got rid of his Park Avenue penthouse and bought a farm."

Oliver Wendell Douglas is that man. And, Green Acres is his story. It's the epic sitcom tale of a man with a strong, strong passion that takes precedence over all the obligations he is forced into throughout his life. A man who fulfills his dream, only to find that the dream he was led to expect isn't quite what exists in reality.

The title of the episode sums the episode up perfectly. Oliver has a successful law practice in NYC and lives in a lovely penthouse filled with furniture we will become very familiar with over the next six years. His best friend is his wife Lisa, a "socialite". At this point, there's no mention of Lisa's thick Hungarian accent even though she does let a few strange phrases and words slip through ("Hootersville?").

Oliver takes a business trip to Chicago. On the trip, he sneaks over to the town of Hooterville and buys "The Haney Place". A house, a barn and 160 acres of land that he can live on and farm to his heart's content. Lisa is unhappy with it but, after several tantrums, agrees to stay for six months. The episode ends with their arrival at "The Haney Place" and Lisa's first view of the crummy old house they'll live in from now on.

The episode is presented as a TV documentary hosted by What's My Line? presenter John Daly. The doc seems to be about why a city man would move to a farm in America in 1965. Although everyone, including Daly, thinks Oliver is nuts, I think the evidence to the contrary is just as convincing . In the first half, when the doc is going strong, we see an abbreviated version of Oliver's life. He was born in Saratoga Springs, NY. (I saw Eric Clapton in concert there back in 1994-ish.) He was born on a farm so he believes his roots are there. His dad forces him to be a lawyer. His Mom thinks he's nuts (pretty much about everything). Every aspect of his life tells him that being a rich lawyer is the way to go. If he became a farmer, he'd be letting everyone down. So, he becomes a lawyer and (contrary to what we see in Hooterville) a good one. But, there is something about farming...

Maybe it's a personal thing...But, I always sympathized with Oliver's plight. In The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed buys the biggest mansion on the block because that's what wealthy people do. He never seems comfortable there ; he'd clearly have been happier back home. But, that's what you do when you have that much money. It's not like Jed actually adapts. For god's sake, they don't know what a stove is! The world shapes around him and his kinfolk. And, as much as people may balk against the hillbilly influence in Beverly Hills, no one ever thinks Jed's a nut. GA is a reversal in more ways than one.

"Beverly Hillbillies in reverse" is the oft-quoted description for the show. It sure is, I suppose. We have the reason for Jed's move. But, Oliver's is a complete reversal. He became a lawyer because his dad was a big lawyer who went to Harvard and it was the right thing to do. He lived in the Penthouse because that was what you did. Unlike Jed, who leaves the land he loves behind, Oliver finally goes where he believes he needs to be after a life of doing what others want him to do. Yes, he does love the law but, as Daly says, He had two loves - Lisa and farming. Lawyering is, at least, a third. Oliver is following his dream. Why fault a man for that?

I'm pretty sure that another show must have done the "faux-documentary" thing before but I'm not thinking of it offhand. Daly sits at a desk in front of a rack of TVs that light up with varying images, including Oliver complaining about the city and Lisa saying she loves it. (As in the credits, Oliver crosses over from his side to hers.) It seems to me to be a pretty great way to introduce your show's premise, especially when you don't have to worry about a pilot. GA & Petrticoat Junction did not have pilots due to Paul Henning's success with BH. When you know most definitely that you will have a second and third episode, the first is yours to play with as you will. I like the route Jay Sommers has taken here. I fully believe that the show really takes off, comedy-wise, once Dick Chevillat joins up for the next episode. But, Jay has set down a nice foundation. After this episode, it is the division between what Oliver believes about the farmers as "the backbones of our economy" & the confused looks on the farmers' faces when he says things like that about them that fuels the show.

It isn't until halfway in that Oliver says that the farm is in Hooterville. When I originally watched the show, I knew little of TV history and had never seen Petticoat Junction so that meant nothing to me. When Oliver gets to Drucker's General Store and meets Sam, Uncle Joe, Floyd Smoot, Mr. Ziffel & Arnold for the first time, it isn't presented as our first meeting with them. We know these fellas. Seeing them play checkers and seeing Uncle Joe sass around is something we know and love. Oliver is the one being introduced to us. The rural folks are as confused as the city folks when they hear about Oliver's dream. Oliver makes his first big speech here. There are no fifes accompanying him. Just his passion for what he believes farmers are and how they prop up our society...and the men of Hooterville have no idea what the hell he's talking about.

A portent of things to come. Oliver can shrugs off the city's catcalls but the town of Hooterville will turn out to be truly odd. It is rural only by location.

The scene in Hooterville is quick. I can only imagine folks watching the show on its premiere. Did they know that Hooterville was involved? Paul Henning's name is in the credits but there is nothing indicating the setting. PJ is set on the outskirts of town at the hotel and train station. Did America perk up at hearing Hooterville? The Drucker Store scene is presented in the same way the Fonz would later appear in Laverne & Shirley. "Oliver must be OK because the people from Hooterville welcome him in." This episode premiered on 9/15/65. The night before this, the third season of PJ began. It would have been the first time America saw all of their friends at the Shady Rest in color. And now, they're back on the next night! The promise of more visits with the Bradleys and their friends waits in the wings.

The episode ends with the theme kicking in and the Douglas's car driving up to the old house we saw in the opening credits for the first time. Lisa's dread sinks in until she's crying in the same way she has been throughout, like a petulant child. The look on their faces as Lisa is trying to wish the house way shows it all. As Lisa breaks down, Oliver is staring through the house to the future and all the farming he's going to be doing. He's a man with a passion that is finally being fulfilled. You can see how he became so easily flustered as the series went on. And, from this point on, Oliver's fantasy of farming and farm life will slowly deteriorate although he keeps up the high spirits for some time. However, at this closing moment, he is in the pocket. The dream has come true and he takes it all in.

Things will go wrong in a few minutes.

I can't imagine how I forget the opening credits...Aren't they great? Excellent theme and great images. The credits set up the basics of the story that the faux-doc would climb into deeper. For all the times Oliver would become incredibly confused by life in Hooterville and no matter how much Lisa will become acclimated to it, the credits will remain the same. Oliver's optimism and Lisa's dislike of the farm remain the same at the beginning of every show. Possibly the theme could have changed as the focus of the show shifted but it's too iconic. They were right to leave it. And, by Season Two, it stands in bold contrast to what actually happens in the episodes themselves.

One more thing: Is the show funny? It didn't really occur to me to go over this. I mentioned it above but GA makes me laugh regularly and, when it doesn't, I'm usually very entertained. I guessed that anyone reading this would probably find GA funny like I do but I imagine there might be some who need convincing. And, frankly, I'm not the man to do that. this episode funny?

Yes. Yes, it is. It has plenty of good one-liners and some funny wordplay. But, it is the next episode when things will officially take off into Yuktown, U.S.A. And, it will be later in the season before the perfect GA format will truly take us to That Goofy Place.

Oliver Buys A Farm is a lovely opening episode. It does feel rather different from the show as it would develop but it has enough of the future in it (especially the way the Hooterville residents are twisted just slightly from the way we know them in PJ) to get one excited about what is to come.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Hello, everyone.

If you want the full on history of the show, check out the Wikipedia page for Green Acres (or GA as we'll call it) at It's pretty solid.

I just wanted to say a few things before we get started with the individual reviews.

Something important that you need to remember here is:

1962 - The Beverly Hillbillies
1963- Petticoat Junction
1965 - Green Acres

All, more or less, part of the same world. The characters in Petticoat Junction lived on the edge of the town that the people of Green Acres lived in the center of. I always think of it this way...You're driving down a rural road, in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, you see a sign saying "You are Now Entering _____". Then, in quick succession, you see a gas station, a store, some buildings, some people and then you're in the wilderness again. We always used to say "Wow! That was some town. Four buildings, a phone booth and a dog." But, of course, the town is really off of this main road, where the people live. They're the town.

Kate, Uncle Joe and the gals (Hi, Betty Jo!) of Petticoat Junction live on this main road (or off the main train line). They run the Shady Rest Hotel. They rely on folks coming to stay at the hotel for as long as possible. So, a lot of Petticoat Junction is about people passing through, Encountering the pleasant folks on the outskirts of the farming community of Hooterville.

Green Acres is off the main road. It's set in the place where folks live. We see Sam Drucker and his general store often enough but rarely go to the Shady Rest. Why would we? I grew up in Rochester, NY. I remember very clearly being out with friends one night. We were in a parking lot. Two women walked up and said "Where do we get a cab?" We had no idea. They got kind of mad. But, really, why would we know? This is our town. We're not passing through. The Shady Rest is where you pass through. The farms are where you live.

The Beverly Hillbillies connection is far briefer and much stranger. Oliver Douglas and his wife Lisa appeared on a few episodes of BH when the Clampetts came to Hooterville. Simple as that...except for the episode of GA called "The Beverly Hillbillies". In that episode, they perform a scene from the hit TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies". And, on more than one occasion, people on Green Acres mention watching BH. So, at some point, Oliver & Lisa and Eb & everyone go from enjoying the wacky adventures of these hillbillies to having Thanksgiving Dinner with them. How or why? On GA, no reason is necessary.

Once you finagle all the shows into the same world, GA sticks out quite alarmingly. BH is satire. It's watching backwoods folks adjusting (or not) to city life. PJ is about country folk and their lazy living. GA is about a city couple and the strange town inhabitants who would fit quite well into Twin Peaks. It's this slight madness running through the show that I love about it.

Of course, it you look at the 1965 Season...Two of the other big shows were Get Smart! and (mid-season) Batman. That was a heck of a season. Over the past two years, I've watched all three of those shows in order, from beginning to end. All three are great. GA is the best. Sorry. Batman is a hell of a lot of fun. But, as there is absolutely no character development, everything relies upon the endless comic book variations on a theme. For the first two seasons, they kick ass. Season Three they lose it. It seems to be correcting itself by the end but much of that last season is kind of tedious. Get Smart! is wonderful but has a similar problem. Every episode in the first three seasons (except multiple part stories) is self-contained and wacky and fun but there's never much impetus to see what's going to happen next. I could go ages in between episodes. Once Season Four hits, Max & 99 get engaged and you actually care about them. That's when Get Smart! is at its absolute best.

GA gets pretty nutty. There are long stretches of self-contained episodes but much of the first season is a continuous series of episodes as Oliver slowly puts together the farm and the house. By time it reverts to standard sitcom plotting, we like the characters. We want to see what they're going to do next, especially Oliver & Lisa. That is the best part of the show, there. Oliver & Lisa love each other and are best friends. The chemistry between Eddie Albert & Eva Gabor is wonderful. They're playful, charming and love to tease one another. When they get mad at each other, it's uncomfortable for everyone. They need to resolve it quick. Several episodes end with them going into the bedroom & leaving us in the living room as they close the door. We see the house for a brief moment...and the bedroom light goes out. C'mon! What other couples on TV in 1965 were like that? This stuff is wonderful. As nutty as the situations get, their relationship keeps us tuned in and interested.

The first couple on American TV to sleep in the same bed were Herman & Lily Munster. They were, of course, dead. The first living couple who shared the same bed were Oliver & Lisa. 'Nuff said.

As the episode guide progresses, we'll meet the characters so I won't go in-depth here. The first few episode reviews might be a bit more serious than the ones that follow. But, I'm setting everything up so just hold on a bit, please. I want this blog to have a fun feel to it. I want to move through the 6 seasons and 170 episodes and learn about Oliver & Lisa and the Poople of Heeterville. They're nice. They deserve the visit.

C'mon, let's go down to the Valley.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Welcome to the Green Acres Reviews

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the blog devoted to an episode-by-episode review of the 1965-1971 sitcom Green Acres. In this fella's opinion, one of the best American television shows...ever. I said it, I'll say it again under the threat of a swift kick to the slats.

I will be proceeding methodically through all 170 episodes of the show. The next post you see will review the first episode and will be up shortly. I intend to analyze each episode in detail, not just "Funny episode. Eb is great in this one." We'll go a little more in-depth.

I hope you enjoy the trip. Let's go to Hooterville.