One last, tired go-around. BBC Video has released 'Allo 'Allo - The Complete Series Nine on a two-disc set that features the final six episodes of the long-running British sitcom about the French Resistance during WWII. As a bonus, the one-off retrospective, The Best of 'Allo 'Allo, produced in 1994 (two years after the series officially ended) with the characters of Rene and Edith reminiscing about their wartime adventures inbetween flashback clips, is included, as well. It has some choice moments from the once-funny comedy - genuinely amusing moments that become all the more pronounced when you compare them to the limp, lame attempts at satire in these final offerings.
For the uninitiated, 'Allo 'Allo concerns the comic, absurd exploits of Rene Artois (Gorden Kaye), a café owner in the small French town of Nouvion. Nouvion has been occupied by the Germans since the start of the war, and inbetween filching anything of value from the people of the town, the Germans play havoc with the wartime efforts of the local Resistance movement, led by Michelle Dubois (Kirsten Cooke). Colonel Kurt Von Strohm (Richard Marner) and his adjutant, Lieutenant Hubert Gruber (Guy Siner), are the bumbling Nazi officers who frequently tangle with Rene (the campy Gruber has an unmistakable crush on Rene), while scrambling to avoid punishment from their dictatorial superior, Major-General Von Klinkerhoffen (Hilary Minster). Suggesting far more of a threat than he could ever deliver, the hapless, twisted Gestapo agent, Herr Otto Flick (David Janson, recast for this last season) is in pursuit of the same elusive prize - the world-famous painting, The Fallen Madonna (with the Big Boobies) - as Gruber and Von Strohm are, aided in his search by kinky lingerie-wearer, Private Helga Geerhart (Kim Hartman).
Back at his café, Rene's life is further complicated by the assorted lunatics who live and work with him. His tone-deaf wife, Edith (Carmen Silvera), constantly implores him for sex - a request Rene is loathe to grant because he's having it off with his two barmaids: luscious brunette Yvette Carte-Blanche (Vicki Michelle), and quirky Mimi Labonq (Sue Hodge). Rene is forever getting caught by Edith with one of these little tarts ("Rene! What are you doing with your arms around that serving girl?"), before he, in mock indignation ("You stupid woman!"), upbraids Edith for suspecting what is clear to everyone - everyone except of course, the trusting, clueless Edith. Edith's bedridden mother, Madame Fanny La Fan (Rose Hill) provides more frustration for Rene, with her constant complaining - as well as her constant amorous conquests, well into her eighth decade. As for his Resistance work as the legendary leader, "Nighthawk," Rene finds little help from the local British undercover agent, Officer Crabtree (Arthur Bostrom), who poses as a French police officer, and who can't be understood by anyone because of his tortured, unintentional double-entendre-laden French. Rene, forever hoping for a little peace and quiet among all these lunatics, is doomed to be caught in an ever-expanding series of outrageous lies and preposterous schemes to stay one step ahead of the Germans and his suspicious wife.
I had a great time watching Series Six of 'Allo 'Allo (you can click here to read that review); it was a bawdy, silly burlesque, filled with naughty British double entendres and quite brisk thesping. Unfortunately, the main creative force behind the series, David Croft, left the program after Series Six, and when 'Allo 'Allo showed up again at DVDTalk in Series Eight (we unfortunately didn't receive a copy of Series Seven), the show was a pallid imitation of the original. And Series Nine, the final series ("season") in the program, is even more enervated. This is clearly a cast and crew delivering up one last go-around for perhaps a variety of reasons (audience demand, or the network's, or more money, or reluctance to let the experience die away), none of which, though, make up for the fact that the premise by this point has been thoroughly played out, and the performers and writers are on autopilot.
'Allo 'Allo's chief complaint among its critics is the overabundance of repeating gags and tag lines for the various characters that crop up in each and every episode. While I don't have a particular problem with that method of familiarized comedy (in fact, it sometimes enhances the playful nature of the show, when the audience is allowed to "get in on the act," anticipating and appreciating what a character is going to say before he or she says it), there better be some good plotting and writing surrounding those "brand name" tag line gimmicks, or the final results look overworked and uninspired - exactly as they do here in this final season of 'Allo 'Allo (not to mention falling outside even the outer bounds of disbelief set up by the series in the first place - I mean: Rene as a sex slave for the Communists? Sad and obvious). While the idea of wrapping up the series would seem to offer the creators a chance to go out with some zip, nothing could be further from that here, where "final" scenes with characters who have been around for ten years, just limp along and end, with no payoff - neither emotionally nor with simple, hearty yocks. The final episode, which features a brief epilogue set in present times, fails to work primarily because it's just not funny enough to truly put a cap on the series as a whole. So many series never get a chance to thematically wrap themselves up in final episodes where the writers send off the characters and close out the show. So when there is such a wrap-up, it had better at least match the best moments of that series - or risk being a major let-down. Which it is here.
Watching these last six episodes, I was certain that someone would try and do something different, something a little crazy with the scripts (they didn't), or that the cast would be re-energized for this last bow (they weren't). What a shame, then, when none of that materialized. Instead, the same old goofs were on display (cross-dressing, secretive clinches in broom closets, bedroom burlesques), but whereas they were tightly scripted and rehearsed in the first six seasons, here they're flaccid and stale. Worse than the beaten-into-the-ground scripts (by Jeremy Lloyd and Paul Adam), there's almost no level of excitement generated by the cast by this point. Whatever put a fire into their bellies during the first seasons is woefully missing here. One only has to look at the absence of the talented, funny Richard Gibson as Otto Flick, who called it quits after Season Eight because, in his own words, the series wasn't the same anymore, to see that at least some of the cast was aware that the series was on life-support well before this Ninth Season. The Flick character has been recast here, but through no fault of the replacement actor, the gimmick doesn't work, and further alienates the viewer from feeling like this particular season of 'Allo 'Allo is in any way related to the bright, funny, bawdy burlesque of the first six seasons. What a shame they couldn't have gone out on a high note.
Gone With the Windmill
A Tour de France
Dead Man Marching
Tarts and Flickers
A Fishy Sendoff
A Winkle in Time
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.