'Allo 'Allo! has raised a limp on Judge Cynthia Boris's hat.
"Listen very carefully. I shall only say this once."
Back when we had six channels and not 600, Britcoms such as 'Allo 'Allo!, Are you Being Served and To the Manor Born were PBS staples. Like comic, extended commercials between pledge drive segments, watching these shows made you feel worldly, artsy and intelligent—because they were on PBS. They had low production values, bawdy double entendres at every turn, overblown caricature characters, and a laugh track that could scare crows; maybe I should rethink what I said about wordly, artsy, and intelligent.
Your phone is ringing. Pick it up and answer…
Facts of the Case
Allo Allo! (Hello, hello for those of you slower on the uptake).
René Artois (Gorden Kaye) is a man with his hands full. He runs a café in France (during the German occupation in World War II) which has become a haven for both German soldiers and the French Resistance. A bit of a brown-noser and a coward, René does his best to keep both sides happy and apart from each other; this isn't always an easy task. Making life more difficult for poor René is Lt. Gruber (Guy Siner), the homosexual German tank driver who has the hots for Rene; Otto Flick (Richard Gibson), the prissy Gestapo officer; his companion Helga (Kim Hartman); Michelle, a spy for the resistance who likes to speak in hushed whispers; and Officer Crabtree, who sounds suspiciously like Inspector Clouseau.
With friends like these, you definitely don't need enemies.
Allo Allo! was an extremely popular British sitcom that ran for nearly ten years on the BBC. The first five seasons have aired periodically in the US, and now they're available on DVD.
Its serialized nature sets this show apart. Its plot lines run over several episodes or even over several seasons, with each episode beginning where the last one ended. Watching the show out of sequence is difficult, which is likely the reason this isn't a popular style for half-hour comedies.
If you did come in late, René will give you a personal update on the important points at the start of each show. The comedy here is extremely broad to the point of being burlesque. A huge amount of the humor revolves around sexual double entendres. (Menacing SS Officer to Women: "Do you see this bulge under my coat? Do you know what it is?) The characters are often accidentally pushed into compromising positions: yes, that's a man in that corset and black lace stockings.
Fans of The Pink Panther movies will enjoy deciphering the dialogue of Officer Crabtree, a "British idiot who thinks he can speak French." It's a bit of an oddity in itself that the characters are all speaking French in the show even though we hear them speak English. Crabtree's French with an English accent ends up with sentences such as; "I have nose (news), can you gas (guess), and you have raised a limp on my hat." (Figure that one out yourself).
The humor is hardly subtle, such as homosexual Gruber singing, Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine and Herr Flick's declaration, "There is no reason to cease your jollification just because a senior Gestapo officer in a particularly foul mood is entering your premises."
If the jokes don't get you, the character names certainly will. Meet the German officers, Von Klinkerhoffen, Von Walkenstiffen, von Flockenstuffen, and von Karzibrot, and how about the lovely ladies Elsa Bigstern and Yvette Carte-Blanche and Madame Fanny?
Have I mentioned that this isn't sophisticated humor? But then again, this is the same country who gave us Benny Hill.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the face of modern sitcoms this show seems a bit like high school students putting on a play. Many Americans may not appreciate the broad humor and the burlesque quality that is the hallmark of good British comedies.
The DVD's themselves don't inspire either, as they're stripped down with no extras. There's not even a booklet, which might have been helpful in order to keep the large number of characters straight.
A little bit of Hogan's Heroes, a little bit of The Pink Pather and lots of Abbott and Costello—Allo Allo! is a guilty pleasure. Don't think about it, just enjoy.
The court will make a ruling as soon as it figures out who has jurisdiction: the British, the French, or the Germans. Come back later, this could take awhile.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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