Friday, August 28, 2009

1.14.: What Happened in Scranton

How to apply fertilizer
"There are three methods for applying...No, there are two. No, there are three."
"Well, what are they?"
"Well, one is a a rather primitive method of applying. It was used back in the early settlers days back in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and certain sections of the Delaware Water Gap. They called it shoveling."
"Yes. They'd get a shovel with a big bag of fertilizer and just sort of shovel it around."
He never makes it to the other ones.

Ahh, things have picked up again. The first ten minutes are spent watching Oliver milk a cow, Alice laying eggs and Mr. Kimball ramble about fertilizer and The Chief. ("Like he said to me, 'Mildred', he said...") It's only when they hit Drucker's store that the main plot hits: there is no beauty parlor in Hooterville! And, the Ladies Every-Other-Wednesday-Afternoon Discussion Club convenes to set up the beauty parlor on the Cannonball!

Meanwhile, Oliver just wants to fertilize his wheat.

Lisa calls Mother ("Lisa darling, you're in new York! You escaped!") and Claude (also known to Mr. Haney as Clyde) is sent from the City to help the ladies. Why? Because of something that happened in Scranton... So, the ladies are done up beautiful with huge bouffants and spit curls and their men are very confused. They won't work with their hair done up! Oh comedy!

It's nice to get back to the way the shows were before the past couple episodes. When something is this early on, the slightest pattern can throw everything out of whack. Remember when the Munsters went from being slightly dark and macabre to just another sitcom about 10-13 episodes in? Well, luckily, GA doesn't drop down that road. The laughs are back. The goofiness is all around. The limited supporting cast is starting to run us in circles a bit. We are very slowly expanding out, however. With the next episode, luckily, things will open up rather nicely.

It's nice to have Mr. Kimball back. He's got a nice long scene where he rambles all over the place and accomplishes nothing. Arnold shows up briefly. Mrs. Ziffel gets her hair done up. Mr. Ziffel is confused by his wife's hair. Sam has a nice moment. Eb shows up in the opening. Everyone is here, almost, but they're not quite interconnecting properly yet. Soon...

A strange episode. It's got back on track but it sort of fades as it goes. Claude arrives and the hair gets done and the comedy sort of fades, apart from the great hairdos. Luckily, this is only a brief bump. And, we may be getting a break from Mother soon. That's something to be happy about.

Just some random bits:

Lisa's speech at the end takes an amorous twist , which can only double the population of the Valley.

"Mr. Ziffel, when was the last time you told your wife she was beautiful?"

I do love Lisa using "Scranton" on Oliver at the end to get him to do go out for dinner. It doesn't work, of course, but it's as cute as a kitten. And, Lisa's hair looks nice. And, the episode ends with them kissing and a cut to the exterior of the house...where the lights go out. Ummm...racy anyone?

This episode works better watched randomly than where it is in the run. But, it's still a good one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

1.13.: The Wedding Anniversary

Where's the quote? I was so busy thinking as I watched that I didn't write one down.

(How's that?)

Not one of my favorite episodes. Possibly my least favorite of Season One.

It's Lisa & Oliver's wedding anniversary. Oliver can't remember how many years they've been married. There's a long flashback to last year's anniversary when Oliver's "Balcony Crops" got the two of them thrown in prison. This year -- they end up back in prison.

I used to have a tough time pinning down why this episode did little for me. But, now I've mostly got it. Part of it is the previous episode: Lisa Has a Calf isn't a favorite of mine, although it does have its charms. This one seems to be missing some of those charms and seems to be actively going in a different direction than the previous episodes. It's more sitcom-like than anything we've seen so far.

I don't mind the premise but the structure threw me off. The flashback is about half (or more) of the episode. Things start with Oliver forgetting the number of years. Then, we have the flashback. Then, we return to Today where Oliver arranges dinner at the Shady Rest, tussles with Mr. Haney and gets them both arrested. Normally, I love the flashback scenes in Green Acres. From Season Two on, the flashbacks and fantasy sequences will be sheer joy. Here, however, it feels strange. They are all set to go out when Oliver's corn gets sick. He won't go. Dr. Faber shows up. Mother (Oh boy!) shows up. They get arrested. It all feels like a repeat of scenes we saw in the first episode. And, the jokes are very low-key and not that funny. It almost feels like, even though Jay & Dick are named, Dick is on vacation. Most of the sharp jokes that normally litter the scripts are missing here. And, this flashback should be great but turns out to be just overlong and drab.

And, the main plot doesn't have enough to sustain it. The bit with Mr. Haney feels like filler. Sort of like, maybe, the flashback didn't go on long enough and they needed to fill space. There's really no reason for it at all. I wonder if the flashback was supposed to be almost all of the episode and something happened. The second half of the episode, set in Today, kind of drags. And, it doesn't help that the first half, the Flashback, kind of does too.

Another problem is that there is no faffing about at the start. We begin immediately with the plotline and then, by the end, have run out of plot. Usually, the episodes goof about in the beginning and gradually the plot overtakes everything. Here, like the last episode oddly enough, it's there from the start and it runs short. I can't help thinking that, as Phil Leslie left after the writing of the last episode, he yelled "Do an anniversary one where Oliver can't remember how long they've been married? We did that on Fibber McGee and Molly and it killed!" The reason why I say that is because I can see Fibber forgetting but not Oliver. Jay and Dick have done that thing where they altered a character slightly, just for this episode, simply for the expediency of the plotline. And, I'm not so thrilled. (They did that in the fourth season of The Bob Newhart Show a lot. Another example is the The X-Files episode "First Person Shooter". They look like Mulder & Scully but that ain't them, Jack. Rotten episode.)

No Mr. Kimball here, by the way.

In the end, the episode is watchable. Other folks probably like it a lot more than I do. It just feels about as un-Green Acres-like as you can get. Here...

Have you ever loved a TV show or a band or a book or something...? Say a TV show, for simplicity's sake. And, you really want someone else to love it like you do? And so, there's a new episode on or something and you say, "Watch this! You'll love it. Trust me." And, they watch it. And, for some reason, very little of what you love is in the episode. Maybe they're experimenting, maybe it's an off day. Who knows? But, you sit and watch and think "C'mon, do that thing you always do...C'mon, where are the big jokes?...C'mon, where are the weird sketches?" And then, at the end, you have to explain what you love about the show to a disbelieving friend because none of it is apparent from what was just shown?

The Wedding Anniversary would be the comparable episode of Green Acres. Watch the episode and enjoy time spent with the characters. But, know that it shall return to form very soon.

Oh, by the way, it's been 10 years. Oliver & Lisa married around 1955...if the show is set contemporaneously.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

1.12.: Lisa Has A Calf

"That's one of my best hats! It cost 125 dollars!"
"125 dollars! It doesn't even hold water!"

Teleplay: Phil Leslie, Jay Sommers & Dick Chevillat
Story By: Phil Leslie

And, here's a surprise, this one feels sligthly off, just like the last one that wasn't 100% Jay & Dick. It's not in bad hands, though. Phil Leslie was one of the chief writers on Fibber McGee and Molly so he knew funny. But, possibly, as the main idea of the episode shows, he was just familiar with the sitcom tropes of the 40's and 50's.

During a crazy rainstorm, Eb enteres the extremely leaky living room of the Douglases and announces that Elinor is pregnant. Immediately, Lisa takes over. She covers the soaked cow with a comforter and holds an umbrella over here. When Oliver tells her she doesn't have to do this, Lisa says that he'd understand if he was a mother. And...all I can think is "Lisa, you're not a mother. Nor have you ever shown a signal maternal sign towards anyone. And, if the main Mother in your life is Oliver's Mom, you've got the wrong idea of Motherhood." It's a bit of a strange conceit for an episode. And, to be honest, I can't imagine Jay & Dick cooking it up.

Of course, the main thrust of the episode is the townsfolk and, eventually, Oliver's Mother thinking Lisa is pregnant. All this stuff doesn't amount to much. It's all the fill-in stuff that adds a bit of zazz. Mr. Haney trying to sell a portrait of Beethoven as a Young Girl is great. And, of course, they have to keep Haney from finding out about Elinor because he'll sue for the calf and win.

I think the episode starts to lose me when Mother shows up. It's been a while and, frankly, it was good to see her gone. She has one funny moment. When Uncle Joe says that Lisa is expecting a "B-A-B-I-E". "What is a babie?" But, then all she can think about is a child growing up on the farm and she makes loud Margaret Dumont noises and I sigh.

It's a good episode but, like Lisa the Helpmate, it doesn't quite feel right. We've got three different Green Acres going here. 1) The calm, charming show that began in the opening episodes and is fading away. 2) The fast paced, funny, oddball show that I love to pieces. 3) A standard sitcom with a bit of a strange thread running through it. This episode is definitely in the Number 3 vein. "Everyone thinks the leading lady is pregnant but it's actually an animal that's having the baby" seems like a plotline older than sitcoms and probably is. One of the great things about the show as it goes is that it will take standard sitcom plots and twist them. This one only has a bit of twisting and all that is on the periphery. For example...

Mr. Kimball is officially here. He keeps backtracking and forgetting things throughout his scene. And, the writers must know they've got a good character, because Lisa, while talking about Hank, acts exactly like Hank with backtracking and all.

And, the big one...

Eb mentions the Beverly Hillbillies in his first (small) run of the episode and it seems like the Eb we know and love. Then, Eb reads a letter from Lisa and they dub in Eva Gabor's voice as Tom Lester speaks. Then, Eb bails out the barn in snorkel and flippers and says that there is a man fishing for barracuda in there. Hooray! Eb is almost here! In fact, I can't help thinking that Jay & Dick added these little bits, grafting them on to Phil Leslie's script.

It's a good episode. Definitely worth a viewing. But, it seems slightly misplaced. We should be focusing on the farm and the house. This episode should have been later on but it wouldn't really have fit there. If you can get past Mother's blustering, it's fun. It just feels kind of wrong.

And, yes, Mother does faint when she learns that Lisa is not pregnant. Even Oliver seems tired of it. He lets out a "For Crying Out Loud!" That's how I felt.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1.11.: Parity Begins At Home

"I am stupid."
"I am smart?"
"No, you're not smart either..."

The show is now right there...right where I always thought it was. In that hilarious zone that too few American sitcoms reach. This episode is firing on all cylinders but, and this is why it's in that zone, it's not one of the absolute best. It's just funny, well-paced and fun. It has Lisa being dumb, charming and sexy; it has Oliver being funny, flustered and heroic in his own special way. Everyone else, except Eb, has a nice moment. The guest cast (including Jesse White in a very funny turn) add a little extra but do not in any way overshadow the regulars. Jay & Dick have written a strong script that has a main plot and tons of other business around it. And, Richard L. Bare, our consummate director always puts the camera in the perfect spot for the laugh. (Not as easy as you'd think.)

Act 1 has Oliver and Lisa spending most of their time goofing around the farm. Oliver is ready to plant his 160 acres with wheat. Lisa messes up her first load of wash. We learn the way the shower works. (Lisa describes it best in the episode but I didn't write it down. Suffice it to say, the shower is outside. Depending upon who is showering, they yell "Lisa" or "Oliver" and the water turns on and off.) Meanwhile, the Crabwell Corners Stabilization and Conservation Committee, which consists of two gentleman, are handing out allotments to all the farmers. There is an over-complicated system that tells farmers how much of a certain crop they can plant. They learn about Oliver buying the Haney place and decide to visit him.

Act 2 has the Committee arrive at the Douglas farm and see Lisa in the shower. One of the few (if only) times in the show that Eva Gabor does not have a wig on to accentuate her hair. And, frankly, she looks great in the shower. When she steps out with her towel, we get a moment, which, I would imagine, was rather racy for the time, of her in a fur bikini-type thing and the towel. Lisa's not a modest lady. And, it's a surprising moment. But, it's shrugged off as "nothing out of the ordinary" when Oliver steps out and says hello to the guys and not "What are you guys doing watching my wife take a shower?" The City Folks are a little more cosmopolitan. Anyway... The Committee (through much good comedy) tells Oliver that he can only plant a small amount of his land with wheat due to the law. Oliver goes nuts and calls a town meeting. He will send a petition to Washington to protest this law!

Act 3 wraps it up nicely. I won't give the final bit away but... Mr. Kimball shows up with the Hooterville World Guardian that has Oliver on the front page. ("New Resident Starts Trouble") Oliver will not back down even when Mr. Kimball reads him the law in, probably, the funniest moment of the episode. The framing of the shot as Oliver listens to the law while Hank reads is brilliant. Oliver is listening intently and, with each word, he starts to lose the point of it. His response and his delivery (in the next shot), when Hank finishes, is hilarious. It makes me laugh every time. But, in the end, everything's all right and Oliver can plant all he wants and Lisa messes up the wash again.

Watching this episode is like listening to Rubber Soul (by the Beatles, just in case). They have so much wonderful music and Rubber Soul is not their best but it's a group hitting it again and again. If it's not their best, it's only because, at other times, they've done just a little bit better. They're so good that when they just do their job they kick ass, naturally. That's what this episode is...a show that is already in such a good place that an average episode like this one has everything you could want. Now, is this hyperbole? Am I going overboard? Possibly. But, I'll tell you why I do this...

Back in 1986, this was the first episode of Green Acres that I decided to record.

Well, story time...And stop me if you've heard this but...

I begin 6th grade in the Fall of 1985. New home, new school. Bit of a teething problem at the start. I went to a Catholic School so we were one big class that sat together all day. We had 5 boys and about 14 girls. As you can imagine, a room full of 12-13 year olds can get fairly unruly in more ways that one. We were no different. (Most of that, however, is for another blog or a John Hughes-style film.) But, as the new kid, I got picked on. And, much to my shame, I did something I shouldn't have: There was one other new person. Her name was Debbie and she was overweight. In order to stop myself getting picked on, I picked on her, which deflected everyone away from me. It was rotten and I did apologize later. But, it was too late. Catholic Guilt has set it in and, whenever I dwell on it, I think "Dammit! What an asshead I was." Sorry, Debbie. You probably had to put up with too much of that in your life. I should have been a better person.

So, Green Acres...isn't it great? How about that Hank Kimball?

I would get home from school a little after 3. I'd do my homework (always a breeze) and, for those first few weeks kind of flail around. With no one to play with, I was left to my own devices. Sometimes in the past I'd watch TV (You Can't Do That On Television, mainly) but now I began to totally immerse myself in it (I had a subscription to TV Guide for a year) with the assistance of our VCRs, mainly one of our Betamax players. I began taping lots of TV shows and watching them whenever. I rarely watched something when it aired (and this was late 1985). But, there was one run of shows that I watched religiously...on the CBN Network, starting at 4PM every weekday.

4:00 - Hazel and a bowl of ice cream
4:30 - Father Knows Best
5:00 - Green Acres

Three sitcoms that seem to come from different eras. Father Knows Best was a radio show transplanted to TV. It's sometimes wacky, sometimes fuzzy. Hazel has the calmest laugh track ever on it. I thought I was watching a drama the first time I tuned in. Then, I heard these calm distant laughs and thought "Oh! A sitcom." Green Acres is...well, you know.

But, I enjoyed all three. I fear Hazel may no longer interest me unless I have a bowl of ice cream every time I watch. Father Knows Best I prefer on radio now. Why? I don't know. I just do. Maybe I like to create the town and home in my mind. Maybe in my "Father Knows Best Reviews" column, which may never happen, I'll go into that. Green Acres, however, kicked me right in the slats.

I started watching the show near the end of its run, mid-to-late Season Six. And, I adored it. It was funny and weird and, get this, I laughed at things happening on it! Didn't happen much on sitcoms. Then, one day, the show looped back to the beginning and I got to see everything build up around Oliver and Lisa. And, with Parity Begins At Home, I began taping it. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Summer of '86 - Went to Boy Scout Camp and canoed 100 miles through the lakes of Upstate New York and Canada - Meanwhile back home, my sister taped each episode for me. By the end of eight grade, I had apx. 150 of the 170 episodes on Beta. And, it was awesome.

They would show them in order, generally. Every once in a while they'd throw in a random one but they were pretty consistent. They just kept skipping some episodes. And, after I'd gone through once and got everything I could, it became tougher to get the stragglers. I'd have to tune in or tape it just to see if it was one I had. Generally, it was. As high school began, I drifted to slasher films but my Beta collection of Green Acres stood proud and tall. Until, by the mid 90's, both our Betas had broken down...

Columbia House helped. I got 11 VHS tapes from them with 44 uncut episodes. Then, the MGM discs gave me Seasons 1-3. 92 episodes of magic. Then, TV Land provided the rest (except for one) and here I am...I still watch it as I used to. When I'm in a GA mood, I throw on a disc and just watch until I can't watch no more. Back in the 80's, it was a Beta tape and a whirlwind. I used to tape the five episodes of the week and then, on Friday night, sit and watch all five. My Goodness, I had a great time.

It was (is) such a joyous show, rarely mean-spirited, full of great characters that made me laugh. That's why I started this blog. To try and transfer some of my joy over to you...I remember my Uncle Roger, one cold night in 1986, watching some episodes with me and saying "Green Acres? I remember this. Why are you watching this?" He was the man who introduced me to Doctor Who (the only TV show I prize above GA). I so wanted him to enjoy it. But, he seemed disinterested. I kept laughing and saying "Isn't that great?" but nothing.

Uncle Rog, you readin' this? Go watch some Green Acres. Payback for all the great stuff you introduced me to.

Everyone else...please continue enjoying. In the spirit of discovery, no more "Next Time" tags. Just know that, until we reach the end, there will be a next time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

1.10.: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

"You got a lime spreader."
"No. And, I'm not gonna buy the one you have on your truck."
"I haven't got one on my truck."
"Wanna buy a truck?"

We are cooking now. Mr. Kimball has the first of his all-out forgetful and funny scenes (and the Chief comes up). The telephone pole with the phone on top arrives. We get the first town-wide comedy scenes when Oliver's old law partner, Judson Carter Felton, keeps trying to call Hooterville. We get the first sequence where an outsider enters Lisa and Oliver's new life and sees only insanity. The show has arrived and damn it's good.

Lisa is still having trouble with the Generator "Plug-In" system. Oliver is getting ready to spread lime on the soil. And, JC Felton is trying to get Oliver to come back to NYC for three weeks to finish a case. During all of this, the hassle of contacting NYC gets Oliver his phone on a pole outside the bedroom. Why on a pole? They ran out of wire.

I always loved the phone up the pole. (Contrary to GA poplar belief, the phone does go inside during Season Three and, I think, it's there for a while. We'll see when we get there.) It makes for a lot of great physical comedy and a lot of casual athletics from Eddie Albert as he goes out the window and up it. I like the "We ran out of wire" thing too. Oliver & Lisa wake up at 5:30 AM and the pole is out there. It is dawn. So, they put it up when it was still dark. They brought the wire all the way out, put up the pole and just placed a phone on the top when they discovered that they had no more wire...all in the dark, without making a sound. Awesome. Pure classic comedy. How'd they do it? Who cares! You wake up every day to discover new obstacles and here, very literally, is a new one for our favorite farm couple.

The phone actually arrives because of the scene with Mr. Kimball. This is the first of the absolutely wonderful Hank scenes. He is forgetful ("No. I left my lunch there.") and confused ("What have you got here?" to the dozen bags that say "LIME" on them) and throwing out anecdotes about his boss, the Chief ("If we don't laugh at that joke, he fires us. Well, not fires. He suspends us without pay forever."). I wish we got to meet the Chief but, like Maris in Frasier, it's better that we don't. Then, he can become the craziest boss ever.

Anyway...Sarah, the woman who runs the phone company, is Hank's Mother. But, they've had a fight and Hank ran away from home a week ago. (Mom wouldn't let him have a dog.) Oliver asks Hank to talk to his Mom about their phone. Well, the next morning, the pole is there and Oliver is a hero for bringing a Mother and Son back together. Of course, Oliver has no idea what they're talking about but he gets a phone out of it.

Lisa does a lot of meal preparing in this episode and a lot of standing around being pretty and charming. In fact, Oliver doesn't really do too much either. They just sort of react to everything around them a lot for the first half. Then, when JC Felton arrives at the house, they just act normally (the way they've been acting for the past nine episodes) and it does, indeed, look like they're a bit crazy. In the second episode of My Three Sons, they bring in an old lady who watches the Douglases (no, this time it's Steve and his three sons) and thinks they live in a hellhole. A second episode, before we've seen everyone do their thing, is far too early for this sort of thing. And, the episode isn't that great. Here, with JC Felton, it's perfect. Mainly because the episode is paced very quickly. It cooks along and suddenly, halfway in, Felton is there and, in rapid succession, he goes from room to room and then winds up up the pole and then on the ground. Nicely done. GA would do this again but much later when the world is far more complex. (What would Felton have done with Arnold or a flirting Ralph, I wonder?)

It's not only the swift pace that makes the episode such a joy but the fact that it's funny. For some reason, Haney mistaking Judson Carter Felton, prominent NYC attorney, for his pal Gomer always makes me laugh. And, when Mrs. Ziffel does the same thing, I laugh again. Floyd Smoot's yell to NYC is funny. Uncle Joe's trouble with everyone's name shows that, perhaps, Joe works best in short bursts rather than as the constant flim-flam man that he is in Petticoat Junction. Well, I think so. Could you imagine a show devoted to Mr. Haney? I'd go mad. Short bursts of their comedy works best...Although, an Eb and Hank Kimball show? Anyone?

Every episode adds a little something extra. Every episode raises the "Laugh-O-Meter" a little higher. Wonderful show. If you watch this and you don't laugh, then I don't know what to tell you because it's funny. Maybe One Day At A Time is more your speed. It's shot on cheap video and it's topical (circa 30 years ago) so...that must mean something. What I'm saying is that if you watch this and don't like won't like GA. If you watch it and like it, let's keep traveling. This is good stuff.

Next episode: The first one I recorded on Betamax back in 1986.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

1.9.: You Can't Plug In a 2 With a 6

"People used to say to me and Fred all the time 'Are you John Wayne?' I had an awful time convincing them I wasn't."

Great title, great episode.

The show has backed away from its growing similarity to Petticoat Junction. It's now starting to fill out and look like the Green Acres that I know and love. This episode is loaded with supporting characters and pure zaniness, which are two hallmarks of GA. The title is named after the new "Generator Plug-in" system.

All the kitchen appliances are linked to a list. (The list is below.) Each appliance has a number from 1-6. You cannot plug in more than 7. And, no matter how many times Oliver explains it, Lisa always gets it wrong. It's a scene with some lovely verbal shenanigans to open the show...

...which is really about Oliver and all the other farmers choosing what to plant. Oliver wants to do wheat. But, Doris Ziffel has lumbago, which means corn. Oliver never seems to lose his faith in the American farmer even when he finds out that they base all of their planting on nothing but aches and bumps (Wheat Bumps! Cranky spells mean soybeans. If you've got a cold, it's potatoes. Headache is asparagus. Swollen ankles are carrots.). In fact, he gets caught up in it, too. In fact, he gets so caught up in trading his seed in over and over again, that I've forgotten what he chose in the end. I guess we'll find out next time.

Mr. Kimball is definitely becoming the wonderfully forgetful and tangential character that will rule the Comedy Waves! His scene in this one, filled with confusion and backtracking, is very funny. Mr. Ziffel, Doris and Sam Drucker are all lined up and fired upon, like bucolic Comedy Targets. They just get nuttier as Oliver gets more confused. Even Arnold makes a brief appearance. We are slowly setting up that pig.

As I watched this episode last night, I tried desperately to remember every great thing that happened. But, I've forgotten most of it. It's such a good time. The episode cooks along with the Plug-In system bookending everything as Oliver tries to pick out seed in the middle. There are a butt load of gloriously funny and lovely moments. This could, possibly, be the first of the "Really Wonderful" episodes. It has everything a Green Acres episode needs, including remembering to have Lisa mention NYC a few times to remind us of the 6-month agreement. (She does say that she's been here five weeks now. At some point, time slowed down or episodes aired slightly out of order.) Eb still isn't quite in place and two major supporting folks aren't here yet but boy this show is great.

It's all praise here. After two slightly worrying episodes, we are back and the show is kicking behind again. I can't wait to see Oliver planting them fields.

Before I go...I double checked the "Plug-In" List.

Can Opener - 1
Coffee Pot - 2
Electric Iron - 2
Toaster - 2
Mixer - 2
Frying Pan - 3
Rotisserie - 4
Dishwasher - 5
Washing Machine - 6
Freezer - 6
Refrigerator - 6

Next episode: Reaffirmation of Oliver's Ideals...set in the Land of Wacky!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

1.8.: Lisa The Helpmate

"Lisa, I've got to drive up to the State University to take these soil samples."
"What happened to the other ones?"
"They broke them."
"They didn't like them."

Screenplay by Jay & Dick
Story by Al Schwartz & Lou Huston
I would guess that this means Al & Lou submitted an outline or a script. Jay & Dick bought it and then rewrote it to fit their needs. That's a guess. This will happen again.

The first episode with someone other than Jay & Dick on the credits is quite a good one, although we are still in a Mom-heavy realm. She gets a plotline where she gets asked out on a date with Uncle Joe and then she fiddles with Oliver's soil samples and causes much confusion & worry. Honestly, she's fine when she's up against Uncle Joe but even Oliver is getting tired of her trying to get Lisa to go back. Even my wife said "OK, Old Lady. We get it." I'm afraid I agree with my wife and Oliver Wendell Douglas. Luckily, her tirade during this episode happens while Lisa is making the bed in a rather funny fashion.

This episode still has a touch of Petticoat Junction to it. The strangeness that was building up in the first six episodes isn't here again, with one exception. However, the two main plotlines, that converge nicely in the end, are funny and one of them brings the Soil Sample running bit of the past few episodes to a close. I'm interested now in seeing at what point the show becomes itself. It seems to be moving towards its own identity but now its in a strange limbo. Funny, yes. Charming, yes. Paced nicely, yes. Green Acres? Not quite. Could it be Mother's influence? Possibly with her around Jay & Dick feel like they need to write in a different way than they had been planning? Guesswork, all guesswork.

Here's something that always confused me: the episode title doesn't really make sense. The Soil Sample jars break. Oliver's Mom throws all sorts of junk in the soil, like cold cream and makeup. He's given a bad Soil Report but finds out about Mother's trick. In the meantime, Lisa plants a parcel of land with rented vegetables to make Oliver feel better. She's certainly a helpmate here but it's at the very end...I wonder if Al & Lou's original script had Lisa putting all the junk in the soil. Jay & Dick changed it to Lisa's mom since she was still there. I don't know.

Regardless of my musings...

Oliver gets some lovely moments here. He begins planting his seeds. One seed at a time using one finger to make the hole. And, he keeps pulling up bottles that Mr. Haney buried back there during his big parties. Eventually, Oliver has a big old bandage on his finger. Once he discovers that Mr. Kimball broke his soil samples, he spirals downwards pretty quick. Why wouldn't he? The whole farm is in jeopardy. He is very visibly sad when he returns from the University and tells Lisa to pack it up because their soil is nutty. And, once he learns that his Mother played a trick on him, he's right back to being Oliver again.

Lisa doesn't do a lot here. She makes the bed and is part of the matchmaking squad that gets Uncle Joe and Mother together and she declares that she's not happy if Oliver's not happy, which is why she's giving him the six months. In the end, her renting of the vegetables (and the subsequent cleaning of the vegetables) is wonderful. She loves Oliver. They love each other. It's really cool.

Uncle Joe and Kate get a long scene at the Shady Rest, which leads me to believe that Al & Lou may have been PJ writers. That scene is 100% pure Junction. If the show was really becoming more like its sister, than they would have been perfect. As it is, their contribution here fits right into the show at this moment. Outside writers won't begin to look strange until next season. When the show has its own identity, it becomes pretty obvious that most writers really don't quite know what is needed.

The one person here who seems to be on the GA track to Magic and Wonder in Hooterville is Hank Kimball. His first scene in the field with the broken Soil Samples is almost the Hank we will know and love. As with the first time we saw him, the sort of confused forgetfulness he exhibits here is more him covering up a mistake than intrinsic to the character but its funny. And, I can only think that Jay & Dick saw him in this scene and thought "That character is real funny when he can't remember a darn thing. Let's follow that down." I'm glad they did.

Overall, I enjoy this episode. The show has now gone for two episodes drawing ever closer to sharing the same disposition as PJ. But, this is a detour. It'll change soon. I think the proper alignment of Hank Kimball's character and, as I've mentioned before, the arrival of the full-on supporting cast will bring us truly to life. Until then, enjoy the calm loveliness of the show...before the farmyards of Hooterville go really nutty.

Next episode: The electricity chart arrives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

1.7.: Neighborliness

"Your mother loves you."
"Then, why does she always introduce me as her attorney?"

A slightly odd episode. And, it took a few minutes of thinking to figure out why I find it odd. The first act takes place in the morning. Mother is visiting. Oliver is fixing the front porch rail and making it into the trademark wobbly, uneven rail we'll see for the rest of the show. And, Lisa cooks breakfast, with some help from Mother. The second act is a visit from the still-not-quite-there-yet Mr. Kimball who tells Oliver that he should start plowing immediately or he'll miss the planting season. Oliver tries a Haney plow but it's a bust. Then, Oliver learns that Mr. Drucker can't get him a plow in time. But...Uncle Joe wants a shotgun.

Act Three is a plowing party at the Douglas place with contests and prizes and all that great stuff. All of it arranged by Uncle Joe, who has taken the entry fee and ran. Oliver gets his fields plowed and everyone is happy. all doesn't seem quite right. It all seems slightly different from what we've seen or, honestly, from what we know the show will become. Of course, I can't fault the episode for not being what I love most in the show because the show is still growing. For most of the season, it will be finding its proper niche. But, and this is the clincher for me, I had to go back and re-check who wrote this episode when I was done. It's Jay & Dick. It almost feels like someone else could have written it or, at least, that they were trying something a bit different.

Now, I don't want anyone to think I'm a bit down on this episode because of any of that. This is a fun and charming episode of Green Acres. It's not really that funny and it's a bit slower than the previous ones and the main thrust of the third act occurs because of one of Uncle Joe's schemes...Ah-ha! I wouldn't have thought of this a year ago but now I know what this feels like: an episode of Petticoat Junction. It has the same laziness to it (not a bad laziness) and it is driven ahead by an Uncle Joe scheme. Well, in the future, GA will occasionally wander near satire, like the Beverly Hillbillies, so why can't it try to be more charming and bucolic, like PJ?

Possibly because PJ is the most sitcom-like of all three of these shows. Possibly because GA doesn't feel like GA when it feels like PJ. Possibly because GA requires that touch of madness that elevates it above the shows around it.

That's three "possibly's". I think that's enough.

I wonder if there's a corresponding episode in the land of the Junction? It's about Uncle Joe wanting a new shotgun. He gets everyone to pay him an entry fee for the Douglas's Plowing Party that he just made up. As that's going on, he's doing something wacky with the shotgun, maybe shooting Floyd Smoot in the slats.

I think this feels sort of like a place holder episode. It's certainly fun to watch but it doesn't move the show ahead at all, apart from Oliver's fields getting plowed. And, Mother takes a bit too much of the spotlight here for my tastes. I think she will get hooked up with Uncle Joe again next episode and that's when I like her the most. She's there to tempt Lisa back to NYC. But, as the show goes on, Lisa will become more of a Hooterville resident so Mom will become superfluous. And, frankly, her shtick is getting a bit old. She doesn't like the farm or the house, I get it. Bring on more Mr. Kimball! Where's Alf and Ralph?

I guess I'm pining towards the full cast of characters being in place.

Oh...we do see Mrs. Ziffel for the first time here. And, both her and Fred don't seem quite right. Soon...

Watch the episode. It's charming. It's just missing some of the verve that make Green Acres so special. It's like a lesser track on a Beatles album ("Wait"?). It's definitely the Beatles and there are moments that grab you but you kind of wish they had re-written it or tossed it out and brought in something stronger. However, we have let's enjoy it.

Next episode: Uncle Joe and Mother - An Item?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

1.6.: Furniture, Furniture, Who's Got the Furniture?

"You're as pretty as a little red wagon rolling up a steep hill."

I almost left off the quote because this is the first episode with about a dozen possible quotes for "Best (or Most Representative) Line of the Episode". This one is packed. I would call this the first of the Really Great episodes of the show. Yes, Lisa and Oliver a bit too laughy in the beginning and Lisa's "Mooo!" doesn't do anyone any favors but they don't really get in the way.

Lisa is continually smiling and happy in this episode, except when the furniture doesn't arrive on time. It seems odd until Oliver joins in. They are in a very nice space, once the opening scene is out of the way. "Hoyt-Clagwell!" That darn tractor. Oliver tries to use it to pull up a stump but it just falls to pieces. Apparently, the Hoyt-Clagwell line of tractors is mostly junk. And, there's nothing Oliver can do because Hoyt & Clagwell broke up years ago because their wives couldn't get along. Oliver declares that he will never purchase another thing from Mr. Haney!...and then they go and deliver the Douglas's furniture to Mr. Haney's house.

Apart from this opener, both Lisa and Oliver are in high spirits. Oliver's Mom gets the short end of the dramatic stick here. She arrives at the Hooterville station and calls "The Haney Place"...but, of course, Oliver & Lisa don't have a phone and she speaks to Mr. Haney. From that point on, she goes on an all-day journey with Uncle Joe. The scene where she is pumping the handcart down the track as Uncle Joe sits in front is wonderful. Mom ends up in a field being attacked by a bull.

So much joy in this episode. The quote above begins the "things that country folk say to city folk because that's what they want to hear" thread. "Pushing a straw hat through a key hole" is a great one. The red wagon up the steep hill is the first. Throughout the show, these strange sayings that make no sense will pop up and confuse Oliver. They're spoken as charming colloquialisms but, really, they make no sense. I love 'em.

The furniture does arrive by the end of the episode and it fills up the house. Everything is crammed everywhere. The daybed in the kitchen is a nice touch. But, the bed in the bedroom literally fills up the room. There is a nice scene with Oliver and Lisa trying to maneuver through the crowded room. Lisa does a athletic bounce on the bed and falls onto Oliver's back. It's very charming. I'm not sure what Lisa is thinking throughout this episode. Most likely, "I'm a month-and-a-half into the six months. I am going to make the best of this." And, she certainly seems to be.

Oliver doesn't do anything really farmy here, except for the tree stump pulling. It's all about the wallpaper and the furniture. He seems quite contented. Even the thought of his Mother coming to visit doesn't chill his bones. It probably helps that she doesn't actually make it there by the end.

Sam Drucker has a nice chat with Sarah the operator. Oliver has to make a call to New York City. Sam insists that he put the call through because long distance calls can scare Sarah. "Hold on to your plugs." When Oliver gets the info he needs from a man who comes in the store, he leaves while the call is being put through. "Sarah, don't cry. He'll make another long distance call someday." In Mayberry, Sarah is very competent and always helps Andy and Barney get what they need. In Hooterville, Sarah is a little shaky.

This episode is excellent. One of my favorites from this season. It's funny, weird, paced very quickly and ever-so-charming. And, the great thing is that the show just keeps improving. There's so much great stuff coming.

Next episode: Bring on the neighbors!