Monday, 5 April 2010

Goodbye City Life

Green Acres is the place to be, apparently. It's a 1960s US sitcom and a little TV gem that had otherwise passed me by until now. I guess it was shown in the UK at some time, but over here it's a show which has pretty much fallen under the collective radar.

On the surface, Green Acres is a pretty humdrum reversal of The Beverly Hillbillies, produced by the same studio. Uptight lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas, tiring of city life and the rat race, leaves Manhattan for rural Hooterville and and a new calling as a farmer. Along the way, he's accompanied by his glamorous Hungarian bride, Lisa, and a ragbag bunch of local eccentrics. So far, so good...

I'm assuming that was the pitch, but the show itself is something altogether different. It's very funny, until you start thinking about any of it. My mistake. Watched on the insomniac late shift, Green Acres resembles an episode of The Prisoner with a laugh track. Rather than finding nirvana, instead poor Oliver is trapped in an unsettling world of lunatics, fighting to retain his sanity as the local residents sleepwalk through a maze of mind games.

Two seasons in, and I'm now genuinely troubled by Oliver's plight. Whether it's wife Lisa reading him the episode's writer credits off of a hotcake, or characters listening suspiciously to the incidental music, Oliver's the last sane man standing, fighting an inexorable losing battle. His catchphrase is an exasperated "Whaaat?!?!" delivered unfailingly as he's presented with the latest assault on his sanity.

Luckily, the show has Vic Mizzy providing the score, which prevents it from being totally harrowing; That man could make an abbatoir sound welcoming. Cute musical riffs aside, I still can't work out if it's all brilliantly surreal or just deeply disturbing. Case in point are the Ziffels, an elderly childless couple, bringing up Arnold the pig as a substitute son. Very droll, but something in Fred's sad, rheumy eyes tells a different tale. What strange, untold tragedy befell this pair?

Watched during daylight hours, I imagine it all seems much cheerier. In the meantime, I await more troubling developments from this strange community.

1 comment:

Richard said...

"Oh, Oliver, don't ask what makes a man a good farmer, just be one."
Oliver Wendell Douglas is the one who is insane and deranged. He is completely un-gifted as a farmer and in denial about it. His plants won't grow because they are fed with Oliver's fantasies of being rural. Nothing works for Oliver.
However, everything works for his wife, Lisa. Lisa hated the idea of leaving Manhattan, and yet, adjusted immediately to, and became "one" with, her new surroundings. Like everyone, but her husband, she understands Arnold The Pig when he speaks. Things that happen don't surprise her, she takes it all in stride and finds harmony everywhere. She's in on The Joke, he isn't.
Meanwhile, Oliver is freaking out, blowing up, banging his head, arguing with Mr Haney, or trying to make sense of the perpetually self-contradicting Hank Kimble. Oliver achieved his dream of being a farmer, only to find it more of a comic nightmare, than a dream.
2 Best episodes: The Ballad Of Molly Turgis, and The Moon Rock.