Judge Neil Dorsett would wear a blue-colored wig, but he doesn't want to be mistaken for a Green Day fan.
"I'll let a flood of emotion flow over me face and you tell me when to stop."
Fair warning: this program contains full frontal shots of Mrs. Slocombe's pussy.
Facts of the Case
The seemingly immortal Young Mr. Grace, owner of the Grace Brothers department store, has finally turned out to be mortal after all. Provisions for the contracted employees of the now-defunct store emphasize that the man felt that his employees have all done very well, but unfortunately the investments in which the pension fund was held have not been liquidated in time to arrange proper payments to the employees, the last of whom are (you guessed it) the men's and ladies' ready-to-wear departments, which had been combined into a single floor some twenty years earlier to provide the set to a long-running workplace situation comedy, Are You Being Served?. Served ran for thirteen years on the BBC, weathering numerous minor cast changes and providing a steady stream of sarcasm and double entendre. The remaining employees—Captain Stephen Peacock (Frank Thornton), Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sudgen), Miss Shirley Brahms (Wendy Pritchard) and the redoubtable (okay, just plain doubtable) Mr. Humphries (John Inman)—find to their dismay that the thousands of pounds reserved for their retirement have been invested in a country inn called Millstone Manor, quite far from London. Upon investigation of the site—and acknowledging the sad reality that they can't make it in London on the scarce remaining pension money—the group decides to take up residence in the hotel, which has already been equipped with its new manager: none other than the team's friendly but domineering supervisor from the store, Mr. Rumbold (Nicholas Smith). Alongside the last of Mr. Grace's young and sexy secretaries (and the only one, frankly, whose sexiness doesn't seem parodic), Miss Lovecock…er, Lovelock (Joanne Heywood)—who has been named the pension's manager and thus must sign the checks—the team determines to open the hotel. They're joined by the only remaining staff, a Mr. Moulterd ("There've been Moulterds in these parts for two hundred years!") and his daughter Mavis (Billy Burden and Fleur Bennet), who could be described as the salt of the earth, were the earth somewhat smaller and made entirely of salt. However, the pickings for employees turn out a bit slim in the country, and the team—now one collective fish out of water—is forced to reunite professionally and run the hotel on their own.
Brahms: "That crowd was up till two in the morning, gassing
For those unfamiliar with Are You Being Served, and haven't yet figured it out from the opening paragraphs, this show, like its predecessor, is devoted primarily to one thing: the sexual double entendre. There are other elements to be sure—pure slapstick, heavy sarcasm, much class consciousness, and a bit too much costume tomfoolery—but primarily what we come to Served for, and thus also its successor, is a lot of bawdy (mostly sexual, some scatological) jokes couched in pretend innocence. Served enjoyed not only its thirteen-year run on the BBC but in the very early '90s became an incredible rerun hit on PBS stations across the United States. That series is already out in a ten-volume set from Warner/BBC, and this addenda series has been released in a single volume to complete the set. (Obsessive fans will probably also seek out Are You Being Served? Australia. Though this is the first time a cow has appeared with the group, it is no stranger to milking.) Writers David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd are back along with the cast, to provide something that might not be the strongest sitcom to ever exist, or even the strongest follow-up, but something that's not just another AfterMASH or Mayberry R.F.D. (provided that anyone still remembers AfterMASH and Mayberry R.F.D.).
The opening episodes, which find the group encountering and adjusting to their situation, are actually quite funny. The exposition is simple: Mrs. Slocombe and Miss Brahms must share a room because the room designated for Brahms has a leaky ceiling; Mr. Humphries is startled to find himself abruptly sharing a bed with the young Mavis Moulterd; Miss Lovelock is unexpectedly important to the hotel's ability to run at all. The bit with Humphries has attracted some ire in that his implied eventual heterosexual relationship with Mavis seems out of character for this sexually ambiguous man; I would respond that ambiguity only works if it's actually ambiguous, so more power to Mr. Humphries for screwing with people's expectations. While Humphries had always evinced enthusiasm at the notion of a gentleman's inside leg measurement, he'd always been somewhat aghast at his own attraction to women as well when faced with them up close, and Mavis is definitely up close. His nervousness over the matter becomes much fodder for humor as the show progresses. The fundamentals of the proceedings are rounded out by Rumbold's characteristic hubris (underneath which lurks a delighted child, on display as he primes the church organ by playing a cheerful ballfield dittie), Peacock's attraction to Lovelock, and the revelation that Mrs. Slocombe may or may not have spent some intimate time with Mr. Moulterd in her youth as a "big wallopin' country girl"—a notion which she "unanimously" rejects.
Unfortunately, once the premise is established the show shows less originality. The cast and crew seem to become hooked on going outside, most likely to provide contrast to their earlier TV-making existence. At the same time, the more annoying familiar tropes from Served begin to reappear, with three out of the final six episodes of this show culminating in a costume pageant, either literally or in attempt to fool a prospective buyer (Mrs. Slocombe's long-errant husband, no less) into thinking the staff is huge and composed entirely of country bumpkins. A noticeable cue to the return to normality is the return of Mrs. Slocombe's outrageously colored wigs. Slapstick setpieces such as Captain Peacock's turn on the riding mower, and musical numbers such as the "teaseling song" become more prevalent. But one thing I definitely liked about this show doesn't change: its tendency to build to a maelstrom of chaos and then suddenly end on a lousy joke in the midst of it, with only the suggestion of resolution and denouement.
Grace and Favour (the show's actual title) is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in a fine PAL-to-NTSC transfer. The image is sharp, very colorful and appealing, and the audio is clear and distinct. Unlike the original set-bound Are You Being Served, Grace and Favour presents a multitude of locations and lighting conditions. With the large grounds of Millstone Manor including not only a farm, but several buildings including a stable and chapel, there is no shortage of places to put the protagonists. The video technology is also markedly improved since the end of Served, to say nothing of its black and white beginnings. Each disc contains six of the twelve episodes, accessible either individually or by the "play all" option. The menus are a bit annoying, with not only the music playing at full volume but clips from the show playing out with their full audio, including the screaming overblown laugh track that this show inherited from its predecessor. Extras include cast and character biographies and the promotional clips used by the BBC for the show.
All in all, Grace and Favour is a pretty decent type of follow-up sitcom television program. It offers a reprise of the original cast and authentic new laughs drawn from the same character humor transported to a country locale.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Cast Biographies
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