Indeed, by the fall of 1966, first-time viewers stumbling upon Green Acres were probably bemused by its well established eccentricity, which would have been like going to see The Empire Strikes Back without ever having seen Star Wars. (Anyone interested in the series might want to catch up with Green Acres - The Complete First Season.)
For the uninitiated, Green Acres began as a spin-off and is a virtual inverse of the hugely popular (if one-joke) comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, though its premise is really a steal from The Egg and I (1947), the popular and quite good Claudette Colbert-Fred MacMurray comedy about a married couple from the city who move to a back-woods farm. As in that film, Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) has long-dreamed of becoming a farmer, but his singularly urban-styled wife, Lisa (Eva Gabor), is truly a Hungarian fish out of water. Both the movie and the TV show find the wife, after some initial frustration, adapting to her new life surprisingly well; it's the husband who gets into all sorts of trouble.
But rather than operate on the simple conceit of city-folk adjusting to their new surroundings, hillbilly neighbors, and "kuntry" life, as was the case with The Egg and I, Sommers and Chevillat opted to turn the Douglas's newly adopted community of Hooterville into an off-kilter universe filled with oddball characters and situations -- like the Village on The Prisoner, only with tractors and coveralls.
Among Hooterville's more peculiar residents: the Monroe Brothers, Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield), inept, gender-confused carpenters ("Chicken Coops a Specialty") who for the entire run of the series work on (but never quite finish) the Douglas's bedroom; agreeably duplicitous Mr. Haney, who never passes up an opportunity to soak city slicker Oliver for a few bucks; and Arnold, a TV-addicted pig who in one episode is drafted into the army.
The show ultimately is a satire of life's endless red tape and the futility in trying to overcome it. Eddie Albert was always superb at the slow-burn, even in "straight" roles, like the warden in The Longest Yard, and his straight man performance on Green Acres ranks among the finest in the history of the medium.
Most episodes follow an established formula that finds Oliver faced with a series of nonsensical obstacles in the daily operation of his farm, obstacles made all the more frustrating by the goofy logic (and general apathy) of Hooterville's residents. A brilliant second season show has Oliver fighting a "State Farm Unattached Duty Tax" with no apparent purpose, especially after learning that Hooterville has been without government representation since an ill-fated 1922 election when everyone showed up on the wrong day.
Season 2 offers amusing variations on the formula though, like one show where Lisa becomes jealous when an attractive neighbor with a huge, prosperous farm steals away Oliver's attentions. (The same thing happens in The Egg and I, but it's far funnier here.) Perhaps directly spoofing The Dick Van Dyke's innumerable flashback episodes about Rob's army days and his courtship with Laura, Green Acres's second season introduces a bizarre back-story for Oliver and Lisa: he as a paratrooper behind German lines, she as a member of the Hungarian underground.
Ultimately the dialog and structure of the program are the key to its success. Some gags are nursed over the course of several weeks to finally pay off episodes later. One first season show, for instance, had a hilarious running gag where Oliver is driven to distraction by weird colloquial sayings , like Mr. Haney's odd compliment, "Why Mrs. Douglas, you're purdier than a brown hen a-pushing through a key hole!"
Video & Audio
MGM's transfers of Green Acres - The Complete Second Season is an improvement over syndication versions of the show, though inconsistent. Some episodes look very good; others are worn, grainy with splotchy color, though all are modestly acceptable and are uncut. A Filmways Production (dahling), Green Acres's film and sound elements possibly weren't stored well prior to being acquired by MGM, as other Filmways shows tend to have similar issues. There are no subtitle or alternate audio options, though interested viewers can hear the program's famous theme song in French (!) at Mark Maggiore's indispensable Green Acres website. There are no Extra Features
Green Acres is a show underappreciated when it was new, and today admired mainly by a small contingent of fans who recognize it as one of the truly inspired sitcoms of the 1960s. Discover it for yourself.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.