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.

Monday, June 11, 2012

1.28: Never Look a Gift Tractor In The Mouth

"Boy, you are a grouch! That's what I get for marrying a man 68 years older than I am!"

Well, it's Oliver's birthday... and the tractor is finally really bothering him. And, Lisa decides to get him a tractor... So, how does Mr. Ziffel end up with it? Through Comedy, my friends. Very funny comedy. Jay & Dick are cooking along here. Lisa at her silliest, visiting with the Tractor Salesman, talking to Oliver about gifts and, then, letting the Ziffels have the tractor.

It's Oliver's birthday but Lisa gets the episode. And the Ziffels share it with her. I love Mrs. Ziffel's general assumption that Lisa and her husband must have something going on. The incredible age range doesn't even factor in. I love how happy Mr. Ziffel is to get the tractor and Oliver gets so excited for him. The reaction Oliver has when he knows that the tractor is his but the Ziffels would be better off with it is priceless. I've had that reaction.

And, Oliver's "What did you say, Mrs. Ziffel?' as Arnold oinks on the radio always makes me laugh.

Turns out the city folks are really nice folks. We always knew they would be, though.

R.I.P. Frank Cady

Mr. Drucker, you shall be missed. Who will run the general store now?