Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, once said that he was always surprised when people came up to him and said that they liked all British comedies. He compared it to saying that you liked American music, like Donny Osmond and Van Halen. Until recently, only a few British shows ever made it across the pond, and Americans had only been exposed to the best of the best: Monty Python, Faulty Towers, and, if you were lucky, The Black Adder and Mr. Bean. People falsely assumed that all comedies that the BBC came up with would be of the same calibur. But that's simply not the case. There are a lot of other British comedy shows, many of them very popular in the UK, that just don't have the creative humor and unique style that made the previously mentioned programs so good. Some Britcoms are tired and repetative affairs. Shows like Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? fall into the later category. Another one to add to that list is the 1982 program 'Allo 'Allo.
Set in a small French town under German occupation during WW II, 'Allo 'Allo concerns the trials and tribulations of René Artois (Gordon Kaye). He owns a small restaurant which is a favorite among the Nazi officers. René has learned to survive fairly well, pimping his two waitresses for sugar and heating oil and keeping his affair with one of them away from his wife. Things take a turn for the worse though when an attractive French resistance agent informs René that his establishment has been chosen as their new safe house, and that he has to hide two downed British flyers.
That same day, the local German commander, Colonel Von Strohm (Richard Marner), gets in trouble too. He has stolen a painting from a nearby castle as well as an antique clock. He's planning on selling them after the war to subsidize his retirement. The problem is that Hitler has heard of the "painting of the failed Madonna with the big boobies" and wants it for his own collection. He has sent a Gestapo agent, Herr Flick (Richard Gibson), to track down the painting and shoot whomever has stolen it.
So Colonel Von Strohm forces René it hide the clock and painting in his cellar. With British airmen in his attic and stolen loot that Hitler wants in his basement, it's impossible for poor René to have the quiet life that he dreams of.
This BBC comedy was created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, the same team who came up with Are You Being Served? If you've seen their previous show, you'll know what to expect; this is more of the same. The first couple of shows are mildly amusing in a low-brow humor sort of way. The shows are filled with double entendres and risque humor, but also some clever scenes. When René first meets the English pilots for example: He doesn't speak English and they don't speak French, and the whole first meeting is a comedy of errors. Both sides of the conversation are acted out in English though, so viewers can understand both sides.
The program quickly loses what little charm is started out with however. That's because the show depends on a handful of jokes that are told again and again. Every single episode has the same jokes. I'm not talking about a character's catch phrase, but the same set-up/punch-line combination. Every show mentions "painting of the failed Madonna with the big boobies", has René's wife, Edith, sing (badly) while the patrons stuff their ears with cheese, and sometime during the episode the gay Nazi would interpret a casual phrase by René to be a pass. It was amazing how repetitive the show was.
Don't worry about missing the jokes either. Not only is there a laugh track, but the humor is broad and telegraphed well in advance. This show makes Hogan's Heroes look subtle and restrained in comparison.
The two channel audio is about average for a British TV show. The range isn't very wide and the show sounds flat, but the dialog is easy to hear. Audio defects are minimal. There are no subtitles.
The full frame image is also run of the mill. The image was a bit soft, and it wasn't as crisp as it should have been. The colors were a little muted too. Digital defects were minor, but there was some aliasing present in the background. Not a bad picture, but not a great on either.
There are a couple of fun bonus items included with this disc. There's a 7˝-minute interview with Gordon Kaye from a TV talk show, the cast singing "Under the Bridges of Paris" for a charity telethon, and the script for the pilot which scrolls by as the episode plays in a small window. There are also a series of trailers.
There are some amusing moments in the first episode, but don't worry
if you miss them, they'll be repeated in the rest of the episodes in this
season. This show is an exercise in repetition. How many times
can you hear the same joke before it is no longer funny. They take
the idea of a running gag and really drive it into the ground. The
sad thing is, a lot of the jokes weren't funny the first time. If
you laugh at the word "boobies" and find bed pans funny, then this may
be a good series for you. On the other hand, if you want a modicum of
subtlety or decorum with your humor and think that it's not unreasonable
for a sitcom to come up with new jokes for every episode, then it would
be best if you skipped this.