Christmas cheer...for at least a few minutes
Loves: Mr. Humphries
Likes: "Are You Being Served?", Britcoms
Dislikes: Captain Peacock
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 Grace, and his birthday, which forces the staff to cope with some outdated traditions, including a free lunch that lives up to the bill, and a talent performance that threatens to embarrass everyone.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.
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.
The Bottom Line