Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thought this was one of those nature scenes relaxation videos.
Our review of Fresh Fields: Set 1, published April 20th, 2011, is also available.
"Could you come back later, please? We're having a row."
It's not a rowhouse, but the home of William and Hester Fields is the site of quite a few rows. Still, the couple in Fresh Fields is passionate after twenty-five years of marriage.
Fresh Fields: Set 2 features two seasons of the British sitcom, giving viewers a peek at a younger Julia McKenzie, who more recently has been playing Miss Marple.
Facts of the Case
Fresh Fields: Set 2 features Series 3 and Series 4, each on their own disc:
• "A Waiting Game"—Hester drafts William into serving the booze on her catering job. The accounting client he's trying to land not only shows up, but falls for Hester.
• "Moveable Feasts"—Hester and William are expecting a baby (their grandson, to babysit for a night). Naturally, someone's going to think Hester's pregnant.
• "Tipping the Scales"—Hester decides William needs to cut down on eating and alcohol. There's also a car boot sale that isn't going to work out.
• "Crossed Lines"—Hester battles a neighbor for a residents' association spot, but neighbor Sonia (Ann Beach, Bad Night for the Blues) likes the woman and William wants her accounting business. This means that Sonia's wine tasting could leave a bad taste in someone's mouth.
• "Alarums and Excursions"—Sonia's tarot reading starts to come true, so naturally Sonia's going to suspect that the admirer she saw in the cards is her own husband. This could put a crimp in the Fieldses' twenty-fifth anniversary plans.
• "The Old Folks at Home"—Hester thinks a seniors' home is a better use for an abandoned property than more flats, and she doesn't let the local councilman get a word in edgewise as she tells him so.
• "One Damned Ming After Another"—The requisite Fieldses going-on-TV episode finds them at Antique Roadshow. They also practice judo, play Trivial Pursuit, and foil a burglar.
• "Life is Full of Ups and Downs"—William's worried about money, enough to seek out a cheaper office. By the end of the episode, though, he and Hester are spending at a French hypermarket.
• "Takes Two to Tango"—William's still trying to land that "long-legged rover" that Hester hates—just as a client, of course. When William gets splashed with perfume samples that the new client is testing, there's bound to be trouble.
• "Caught in the Act"—The Fieldses' houseguests won't leave and are annoying enough that William and Helen sneak out to stay at Sonia's, but then the guests get lonely—and head over to Sonia's, of course.
• "Brighton or Bust"—Hester hasn't ridden a bike in years, but she's planning to do a fifty-mile charity run to Brighton.
• "Happy Returns"—A surprise party is in the works for Hester's birthday—but she just won't go. Among other things, she's miffed because the hotel staff on the Fieldses' Italian vacation somehow thought William was married to a younger, blonder guest.
Over the summer, I found Hulu and sampled a few British sitcoms—shows like Black Books, Spaced, and Men Behaving Badly—so I was open to considering a slightly older (1980s) British comedy. I don't think Hulu is going to be snapping up Fresh Fields anytime soon. It's pretty much a sitcom, decent enough but less modern and edgy than the Hancock's Half-Hour episodes from the 1950s I've heard online, let alone Spaced. Basically, silly situations are interrupted by neighbors—in this case, mooching Sonia, mother-in-law Nancy (Fanny Rowe, The Forsythe Saga), and Nancy's ex with a wandering eye (Ballard Berkeley, Fawlty Towers)—turning up to quip or get splashed with water or something.
The scripts, all written by John Chapman, are hit-and-miss, often relying on naughty bits, both double entendres (on fixing the bedroom: "I think it's high time we had a change." "Good idea. Anyone in mind?") and William's occasional (Groucho) Marxist joking about polygamy or adultery. The episodes also tend to be disjointed, with little continuity. In "Life is Full of Ups and Downs," William's concerned about financial reversals, but the problem is forgotten by episode's end. Some bits are familiar; I'd just seen the closing gag in "Ups and Downs" in Genevieve, a 1950s British movie I'd reviewed for DVD Verdict. A plot twist involving Nancy is just thrown in abruptly at the end of "Happy Returns." The show at times feels as plotless as Mr. Bean, only with lots of dialogue and not quite as funny.
At the same time, each episode had at least one bit that made me laugh out loud. Anton Rodgers and Julia McKenzie are excellent comedians, and when there's a good gag, it's really, really good. They also share a chemistry that could leave you thinking they were really married and always come across as a loving couple, even if they're always sparring over something and William is constantly calling his wife "barmy."
The picture isn't bad for episodes that are around a quarter-century old, although there are flecks (Acorn really should have fixed up the ones in the titles) and some flaring in outdoor videotaping that was probably bad in the first place. The sound fares well. Dialogue is clear, and the theme rendition of "Pick Yourself Up" comes across brassy without being annoying.
Bios of the stars are the only extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One episode, "Moveable Feasts," went off perfectly—leaving me laughing from start to finish. The plot still has some tired bits ("It's a one-way street." "I'm only going one way."), but the execution hits every mark and the characters shine. I particularly liked Julia McKenzie's scramble to get into her car through the trunk and Anton Rodgers' baby talk. The underlying theme of the fretting grandparents made it feel a bit more true, and less like a sitcom than usual. Fresh Fields probably would quickly disappear and be forgotten if it premiered today, but this episode leaves me with the suspicion that the show has a few episodes that people who watched it years ago still remember.
Despite the criticisms, I actually kind of liked Fresh Fields, mostly because of the leads. It's just not a must-see, and I wouldn't recommend it as a blind buy. If you're interested and can rent or queue it somewhere, you might like it.
Despite that whiff of tiredness, Fresh Fields is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
• Cast Bios
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