Appellate Judge Erick Harper comes from a town so small that he grew up thinking Green Acres was a documentary.
Our review of Green Acres: The Complete First Season, published February 11th, 2004, is also available.
Oliver: "Oh no! How stupid could I be?"
Eb: "I don't know—we've never pushed you to your full capacity."
Green Acres is the third leg of a trio of rural-themed CBS sitcoms from the 1960s-'70s. The show was a direct spinoff of Petticoat Junction, and a mirror-image of the wildly popular Beverly Hillbillies. It soon evolved far beyond its fish-out-of-water premise, however, and took on an almost otherworldy sensibility of absurdist, even surreal humor, transcending its more mundane stable-mates.
Facts of the Case
As the irresistibly infectious theme song explains, Green Acres tells the story of big-city lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert, The Longest Yard (1974), The Longest Day, Oklahoma!), who pursued his dream of moving to the country and living the quiet, simple life of a farmer. His beautiful, pampered wife Lisa (Eva Gabor, The Rescuers, The Aristocats, It Started with a Kiss) is less than thrilled with this new lifestyle, and pines for the luxury apartment and shopping she left behind in Manhattan. Add in a wacky collection of colorful local screwballs, and Green Acres is a timeless recipe for pure comedy gold.
The secret to Green Acres's enduring appeal is its absurdist view of the world. Hooterville and its residents seem to exist in a sort of parallel universe with its own indecipherable logic and rules. Oliver Douglas, a well-educated lawyer schooled in the logic and ways of our own world, finds himself in constant conflict with the world of Hooterville. The more he tries to apply his knowledge, whether in terms of law, science, or simple logic, the more he finds himself in conflict with the twisted logic of his new surroundings. Essential to this conflict are the two people closest to him, Lisa and their hired man, Eb Dawson (Tom Lester, Benji). Lisa, despite her lack of enthusiasm for country living, accepts Hooterville's wacky logic without so much as a pause. Just as Oliver works up a full head of steam and tries to correct her using his useless normal-world logic, Eb dependably shows up to validate her interpretation of the Hooterville reality. No matter where Oliver turns—to his neighbor Fred Ziffel (Hank Patterson), the storekeeper Sam Drucker (Frank Cady)—he only becomes more and more comically confused, as the entire world around him is just slightly off-balance: familiar enough to exist in, but different in odd, unexpected, and amusing ways.
Albert and Gabor probably have never received the credit they deserve as an outstanding television comedic pairing. Their chemistry and timing is always spot-on, and they are completely convincing not only as verbal sparring partners but also as a married couple. However, the real credit for making Hooterville a memorable place goes to Cady, Patterson, Pat Buttram (as the crooked peddler Mr. Haney), and the rest of the supporting cast. These actors, mostly veteran character actors, create the real substance and personality of this bizarre rural hamlet.
Creating this sort of delightful wackiness on a weekly basis required the talents of some excellent television writers. Most of the Season Two episodes were penned by the team of series creator Jay Sommers and story consultant Dick Chevillat, with occasional contributions from Elroy Schwartz, brother of Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz. Sommers also directed most of the episodes as well as producing them along with Executive Producer Paul Henning, who also had a hand in The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. Under their guidance, not only does the show break conventions of logic and reason, but also several conventions of television. For example, there is a series of running gags involving the opening credits on the show, with characters commenting on them, or finding them written on eggs, or dodging to get out of the way.
Green Acres: The Complete Second Season contains a whopping thirty episodes spread across two double-sided flipper discs. In the midst of all this madcap hilarity it is hard to pick out favorites, but a couple of episodes truly stand out. Episode 12, "A Square is not Round," contains hands-down the funniest exchange I've seen on any episode of the show. It involves a toaster that works by voice commands, and Oliver's shocked reaction while everyone else in town takes it in stride. Maybe that doesn't sound that funny in the retelling, but trust me—it's hilarious, and epitomizes Hooterville's well-meaning insanity. Also a riot is Episode 23, "The Beverly Hillbillies." The Hooterville local theater troupe decides to forego doing "legitimate theater" this year, and decides instead to stage an episode of the hit television show. Seeing Eva Gabor as Granny, mangling the character's Southern dialect through her thick Hungarian accent, is one of those priceless moments that makes the entire DVD collection worth a purchase. The idea of a sitcom poking such pointed fun at its city cousin is something that could only happen on Green Acres (at least until The Simpsons came along).
Video quality on these discs from MGM is nothing short of amazing, considering that Green Acres is pushing the big four-o. They are remarkably clean and free of grain or artifacting, and the original film elements appear to be in surprisingly good condition. There are some episodes that show some yellowing or aging, especially in the opening credits sequence with Vic Mizzy's endlessly replayable theme song, but for the most part these episodes probably look better than they ever have before.
The audio mix is a Dolby 2.0 mono track. This too is surprisingly good—mostly. Unfortunately, there are several episodes that suffer from split-second gaps or drops in the audio. It is not clear whether these are problems with the DVDs or the source material. In any case, the gaps are brief and hardly noticeable.
There are, sadly, no extras. Not so much as a recipe for Lisa Douglas's famous "hotscakes."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Delightful as it is, Green Acres is not without its flaws. The greatest of these is Hank Kimball, the dithering County Agent played by Alvy Moore. A visit from Mr. Kimball is a required element of almost every episode, and he generally manages to bring the proceedings to a screeching halt. It's not that Moore's performance is flawed; it's just that Mr. Kimball isn't nearly as fun or interesting as the rest of the quirky residents of Hooterville.
There are other flaws, of course, especially when viewing a forty-year-old sitcom through modern eyes. I have no use for political correctness, but there are a few moments in Season Two that made me a little uncomfortable. There is one episode where Eb remarks to Mr. Douglas, "You'd treat me a lot better if I was a wetback," or something to that effect. That's a fleeting example, but much worse is Episode 17 of this collection, "It's so Peaceful in the Country," which employs every 1960s Hollywood cliché about American Indians in a story involving Oliver's mother who is visiting from the city. Green Acres is a show completely devoid of mean-spiritedness, but this episode did make me a bit uncomfortable.
Green Acres, along with The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Hee Haw, met its demise in 1971 at the hands of short-sighted CBS programming executives determined to purge the network of its rural-themed programming. Never mind that the shows were still quite popular and proven ratings-getting hits, the suits decided that having such rural-themed shows in their lineup would not appeal to The U.S.'s rapidly urbanizing population. If nothing else, these sitcoms' continuing popularity through over 30 years of syndication and now DVD continues to prove the narrow-minded beancounters wrong.
Not guilty! Green Acres is still truly the place to be.
We stand adjourned.
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