In 10 Words or Less
Christmas cheer...for at least a few minutes
Loves: Mr. Humphries
Likes: "Are You Being Served?", Britcoms
Dislikes: Captain Peacock
"Are You Being Served?" is an unusual show, in that the setting is extremely foreign for anyone born outside of Britain, or after 1980. After all, the majority of those reading this have never had the experience of shopping in a department called "Gent's ready made" or seen a "floorwalker." The very dated, very British and very proper world of Grace Brothers Department Store is, to say the least, hard to connect to.
On the other side of the spectrum, the workers are extremely accessible, thanks to personalities that have one or less dimensions. From Mr. Humphries, the overtly gay counter clerk, to Miss Brahms', a cockney tart, the characters all maintain very defined roles, each with a gaggle of associated jokes and their own catchphrases. The whole party depends a lot on the comfort of familiarity, as if making the audience expect a joke can force them to laugh. It's certainly no surefire way to create comedy, but it can work at times.
The four episodes gathered here aren't quite right for the name of the disc, as just two of them actually contain anything Christmas related. The other two were just aired around Christmas. But at least the disc starts with the holiday fun. "Christmas Crackers" is one of a large number of episodes from the show's run in which the staff is expected to figure out how to boost sales for Grace Brothers. The solution, in the form of ridiculous outfits, is yet another opportunity for the show to give its props and costume departments the chance to stretch their legs. It's also another musical moment for the staff, one of four on this DVD that's painfully cheesy.
"The Father Christmas Affair" pits the staff against one another to see who will get the money that goes to the brave soul who will portray the British St. Nick for the store. While the costume contest that decides the part is ridiculous in its own right, the storyline involving the elderly Mr. Grainger and his musical routine that leads into the climax, couldn't even make it onto TV today.
The remaining two episodes are definitely not about Christmas. "Happy Returns" is about the company's leader, "young" Mr. Grace, and his birthday, which forces the staff to cope with some outdated traditions, including a free lunch that lives up to the bill, and a talent performance that threatens to embarrass everyone. The end result is a musical number to rival anything seen in a second-rate dinner theater.
The final outing, "The Punch and Judy Affair," is as far from a Christmas episode as it could get without being Jewish. There's no holiday even involved. Instead, a plot that only this show could pull off is introduced, as the staff must put on a puppet show to make up with the rest of the store after they work during a strike. Go back a moment and re-read that plot. I wrote it and it still is a bit shocking. It's moments like this episode that make me appreciate the Revolutionary War for its full impact.
A standard, insert-less keepcase brings you a single-sided DVD with four episodes, or about 120 minutes of BBC goodness. The full-frame main menu features an animated introduction, which leads into a mostly static set of choices. Among the options are a play-all selection, each episode title and a special features button. Select an episode tile and another animated transition, with an appropriate bit of audio, takes you to an episode description, complete with airdate and a scene selection menu that provides still previews and titles for each chapter. There are no audio options or subtitles, though the episodes are closed captioned.
For episodes that all originate from before 1980, these full-frame transfers don't look awful. The colors are a bit dull, and the image is far from sharp, but it's better than it looked on PBS. The standard problems found in older TV shows, including ringing, bleeding and mosaics in areas of solid color. Some odd things happen with the brightness as well, as some scenes flicker. Don't expect
The audio, presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track of what the packaging says is a stereo mix. The sound is solid, but the original production isn't very good. The opening theme will knock you off your couch, but it's followed by frequently mumbled or ill-recorded dialogue that's often overpowered by a loud laughtrack. Sound effects are a strength though, and often play a part in the show.
Just a couple of extras on this release, starting with the "Who's Who" text features that have been found on other "Are You..." DVDs. Covering an extensive 14 members of the cast and crew, these pieces profile not only the actors, but their characters as well. The other bonus feature is a 3:32 on-set interview from 1983, with Sugden, Richard, Thornton and Inman, as Smith and Mike Berry stand nearby. It's light and fluffy, and won't tell you much of anything.
The Bottom Line
One of the best sitcoms to come from the Old Country, "Are You Being Served?" never tries to rise above the simple nature of the genre, drawing laughs from the characters' combative relationships, double entendres and flat-out puns. This collection claims to be about Christmas, but should really be the musical episode, as two episodes have absolutely nothing to do with the holiday. Worse, all four are less that stellar representations of the series. The disc holds just four episodes, and a pair of OK extras, making it a lesser version of the discs in the complete collection. If you're a fan, you can do better, and if you're just curious you can do better. In the end, this is just a pointless collection that even the disc's producers couldn't justify, unable to put together enough episodes to support their theme.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.