What a disappointment. BBC Video has released 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight in a two-disc, eight-episode set. Showcasing the further adventures of WWII French café owner/Resistance fighter/barmaid groper Rene Artois (Gorden Kaye) as he dodges not only the advances of his two amorous barmaids, but also the Nazis occupiers of his small village, Nouvion, 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight comes up far short of the inspired satire that marked my previous visit to the series, a falling off in quality no doubt exacerbated by a critical defection from the show's creative staff.
About a year and a half ago, I had a wonderful time watching and reviewing 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Six (you can click here to read that review). Never having seen the series before, I was a little daunted at jumping right in to a comedy that had played that long, and one that featured continuous plot lines that ran through successive seasons. Fortunately, each episode of 'Allo Allo! has a little introduction by Rene who recounts what happened in the previous show. With a little bit of Googling, I was immediately up to speed on the show, and able to follow it along nicely. As well, one of the main stylistic features of 'Allo Allo! is its use of comedic repetition (lots of catchphrases for the characters, double entendres used over and over again, variations on basically the same sight gags), so not much would differ from episode to episode. I found 'Allo Allo! to be a delight, a silly, funny mixture of classic boulevard farce and British Benny Hill-like obsession with bums and breasts.
Unfortunately, whatever "X-factor" leavening went into 'Allo Allo! to keep it buoyant and charming, has largely evaporated by this tired eighth series. We never received series seven of 'Allo Allo! here at DVDTalk, but I just assumed, considering the caliber of talent behind the scenes, that series eight would be no different than the previous outing. What I didn't know until I read up a little on the series (since I missed that in-between season), was that series co-creator David Croft, who also acted as the series' primary director and co-writer, as well, had left the series after season six. According to Croft, he felt the series had more than run its course by the sixth go-around, and he moved on to different ventures. That left co-creator and writer Jeremy Lloyd (an actor, as well, whom I remember quite well from a particularly good Avengers episode, as well from the musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips), to partner up with someone new - writer Paul Adam - for the remaining seasons. As well, a new director, John B. Hobbs, took over the helming of the series from the departed Croft.
Croft, it turns out, was correct: 'Allo Allo! by this point has run out of steam. And the new team responsible for keeping the series chugging along (Croft may have wanted to quit, but the British public continued to watch the series), can't recapture that indefinable "lightness" that's needed for this type of delicate mixture of crude farce and witty satire. In 'Allo Allo!, café owner Rene is juggling many balls (that sentence right there would be a typical 'Allo Allo! joke). First, he has a shrewish wife, Edith (Carmen Silvera), who is constantly interrupting his trysts with barmaid/town bit-of-crumpet Yvette Carte-Blanche (Vicki Michelle - whom this season informs Rene that she is carrying his child. And as always, he has to deal with Edith's obstreperous mother Madame Fanny le Fan (Rose Hill), who lies upstairs in bed most of the time, pounding on the floor with her cane and imploring, "Will nobody hear the cries of an old woman?" when she wants something. As well, Rene is given orders - most of them impossible and dangerous - from Michelle Dubois (Kirsten Cooke), the local Resistance leader. If this isn't enough for one man, Rene is constantly in league with, or in opposition to, the German officers who control the town. Colonel Kurt von Strohm (Richard Marner) is being blackmailed this season by the Resistance, and he needs the much sought-after painting, The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp, to buy them off. Fay Lieutenant Gruber (Guy Siner) is of course willing to help, but Private Helga Geerhart (Kim Hartman) and Herr Otto Flick (Richard Gibson) have troubles of their own with the Gestapo.
To fans of the series who haven't seen season eight, this may all sound promising (particularly the pregnancy angle with Rene and Yvette), but quite startlingly, most of 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight goes over like a lead balloon. What was hilariously funny and bright and spirited in season six, has noticeably coarsened and become rote. And by "coarsened," I don't mean the jokes are any more vulgar, but their combined effect has been dulled by cheapened handling. What seemed intricate (despite the broad nature of the farce) in the previous season I saw, now seems decidedly paint-by-numbers. The jokes aren't as funny or varied, the plotting seems far more "logical" than it should (the episodes actually make sense now, which shouldn't be the case in such broad farce; they should be an element of confusion for the viewer), and critically, the performances seem tired and mechanical.
I don't want to speculate on the impact that the serious injuries Gorden Kaye suffered in a car accident may have had on his performance here (Kaye suffered life-threatening head injuries after the end of season six), but he does seem perceptively "off" this go-around. Whether it's from his accident, or more likely, from the inferior scripts and uninspired direction, his Rene here is far less animated - and not nearly as funny. The rest of the actors go through the motions, but as Richard Gibson alludes to in an extra featurette included on this disc, by this point in the series, the same old gags were cropping up again and again, and it shows on the actors' faces. I don't see a lot of "joy of performance" here in 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight. Perhaps if the actors showed more energy - and "energy" doesn't mean just throwing themselves around the sets; I mean active engagement with the material - the episodes could have survived the rote scripts and flaccid direction. But unfortunately, all three factors combine to make for a sadly diminished season here in 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight.
Here are the eight, one-half hour episodes of 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight (the first episode aired as a Christmas special, and runs closer to an hour):
A Bun in the Oven
Rene tells us it's now 1943, and the war is going badly for the Germans - but not as badly as it will be going for Rene, when Yvette announces she's pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Gruber and Von Strohm want The Fallen Madonna so they can desert to Spain.
A misplaced parachute drop of wax cylinders puts a halt to Michele's propaganda radio show. So it's up to Rene and the gang, dressed as Flamenco dancers, to infiltrate the chateau and retrieve them. Meanwhile, Von Strohm loses a picture of The Fallen Madonna that was intended for an art dealer.
A Woman Never Lies
Michelle blackmails Von Strohm with the captured Madonna photo, while the Colonel and Gruber try to rob the German payroll truck - disguised as Resistance girls!
Hitler's Last Heil
Von Klinkerhoffen decides to blow up visiting head Nazis Hitler and Goering - but they're actually doubles, and when they're mistakenly blown up, the General has the Colonel and Gruber dress up like the pair so everyone thinks they're safe in the village.
Awful Wedded Wife
Lead is needed for the new battery to power the Resistance radio, and it's up to Rene to find it. Meanwhile, Von Strohm and Gruber play dress up again - only to be caught by the Communist Resistance.
A fight breaks out between the two warring Resistance movements, while Flick and Von Smallhausen face a firing squad.
A Fishful of Francs
Von Strohm gets the money for the blackmail scheme but promptly loses it when the fish he stuffed it into is caught by Alphonse. Meanwhile, now Rene and Edith face a firing squad.
A mad scramble ensues for the money and The Fallen Madonna, while Yvette has some startling news for everyone.
The full frame, 1.33:1 video image for 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight is a little soft, with occasional wonky color, but overall, quite satisfactory. No compression issues to speak of.
The English 2.0 mono audio track is adequate for 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight. Very helpful is a close-captioning option (so you don't miss any of the misspelled wordplay).
In addition to the standard text bios for the cast members, there's an episode of the TV series, Comedy Connections from 2006, which runs 40 minutes and gives a detailed rundown of the series, with interviews with the writers and cast. It's very informative, and it might serve you well (if you're unfamiliar with the series) to watch it first.
I was looking forward to 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight and revisiting the double-entendre-laced, farcical goings on in Nouvion, but a critical departure in the writing and directing team leaves this eighth season a disappointing bust. The best I can suggest is a rental for fans who want to keep going with the series, but don't buy it. And if you're new to the series, skip 'Allo 'Allo! The Complete Series Eight and start at the first season.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.