"Green Acres" is one of the great mysteries of Television Comedy, right up there with how Drew Carey ever got his own show and exactly how much more shit are we supposed to take from that god damn Tina Fey. (Watch it John - I'm friends with Tina Fey on myspace! - ed. Wil) "Green Acres" - How did this thing ever happen? An early episode begins with Eb, Lovable Doofus Farmhand, walking up to the barn humming along to the show's theme song and, right when he gets to the door, the camera cuts to a close up of him leering into the lens and lip syncing Eva Gabor's trademark "Dahling, I love you but give me Park Avenue!". It is a stunning moment. Funny, yes - But a cold slap in the face of all who came here expecting a traditional TV comedy show and a bold refutation of all that has been and much of what shall be. Sorry for being so serious there but I just sat through an entire thirty two episode "Green Acres" DVD set and I could never be as funny as that. I give up!
Watching "Green Acres" today one could safely assume that it was created by a bunch of young pot smoking Sixties hipsters fresh from the coffeehouses and underground theaters of San Francisco, Chicago, and Greenwich Village. Yes, they probably thought working on this goofy show about Oliver Douglas, a New York Corporate Lawyer who packs up his glamorous Hungarian wife Lisa and moves to the Country was a pretty "Square" gig, but at least they could jazz it all up by squeezing in all of the craziest, most bizarre comedy bits imaginable.
"Dig it! Let's have him hire these two carpenters who never do any work!"
"Groovy! They'll be two brothers - Alf and Ralph!"
"And Ralph'll be played by a chick so everybody'll be confused about whether he's a guy or not!"
"Far out! And in the opening credits when it says 'PRODUCED BY . . . ' and 'DIRECTED BY . . . ' we'll have one that says 'CARPENTRY BY . . . ' so Oliver'll get all mad and yell 'They don't get a credit!!' at the camera!"
But, as you should have already learned from watching "Green Acres", nothing about this show - And the Universe of which it is a Microcosm! - is what it would seem.
"Green Acres" was the third of CBS Producer Paul Henning's Big Hit "Rural" comedy shows after "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". "The Beverly Hillbillies" was such a success (Reached Number One in just three weeks - Tell Matt LeBlanc that next time you see him. Then ask him how things are going with "Joey") CBS told Henning he could anything he wanted for a third show and "anything" turned out to be "Green Acres".
The stars of "Green Acres" are Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor as the Manhatten High Society couple who come to Hooterville to lead The Simple Life and are drawn into a vortex of insanity that only the girl who ends up hanging on a hook in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" can begin to relate to. Albert is always amusing as a cheerful, optomistic guy one split second away from losing his temper and bumming everybody out, but it's when he is moved at least once every show to gaze off into the distance and make one of his rousing patriotic speeches that we really get a glimpse of the megalomaniacal madness which truly lurks within the psyche of the Successful American Businessman. And when the citizens of Hooterville react to these exhortations with pure terror "Green Acres" delivers Political Satire of such poetic simplicity you would have to be a Conservative or a Liberal not to get the joke. Terrible things happen to good people when Harvard grads like Oliver get up and start talking about "Tradition" and "Honor" like that and it doesn't take long for Hootervillians to learn to ask "Are you getting ready to make another one of your speeches, Mister Douglas?" whenever they see that "Tradition" and "Honor" look in his eye. Not that the locals aren't occasionally receptive of Oliver's oratory, I remember one episode in which Hooterville seceded from the United States and Oliver was crowned as it's King. I don't recall how it ended, but luckily this was before the Clinton Administration and the situation was resolved without the involvement of the ATF.
Eva Gabor is often mistaken for her sister Zsa Zsa Gabor which is unfortunate because everybody hated Zsa Zsa, probably because she was called "Zsa Zsa". Which is hardly her fault - She got stuck with the name "Zsa Zsa" when she lost a bet with Eva over whether Hungary was in Europe or in Antarctica. There was a third Gabor sister but she got eaten by a polar bear when she went to Europe to settle the bet. But it's too bad people think Eva is Zsa Zsa because, to be quite honest, I am ga ga for Eva - She's one cute chick! Just look how funny she is in the opening credits sniffing and sneezing at the plants on her penthouse balconey while - At the same time! - on the soundtrack she sings "I get allergic smelling hay!". You think Gwyneth Paltrow will look that good sniffing and sneezing and singing all at the same time twenty years from now? I hope I have a wife half that fine when I'm as old and cranky as Oliver is. Which will be in about two weeks, so I'd better get me a haircut and do me some Wife Huntin'!
There were too many characters on "Green Acres" for the show to make any sense out of them much less a little ol' web zine article like this, so I'll focus on my personal favorite - Eb Dawson, the Douglas' hired hand and, if he has any say in the matter, adopted son. Lisa is gradually resigned to the idea that she gave birth to the big galoot sometime in the past while Eb slips into the habit of calling them "Mom" and "Dad" so Oliver has to growl "HE'S NOT OUR SON!!" more and more often. Eb, as played by the awe inspiring Tom Lester, is as primal a force of Comic Nature as Kramer on "Seinfeld", Norton on "The Honeymooners", and Forbis on "Weasel.com" - EVERYTHING he does is funny! Tom Lester, I salute you! (Saleeby imagines Lester returning the salute and cracks up laughing)
And of course Eb is tempted by the crazy fun all the other goofy young Sixties Guys are having. In all these Henning shows Adult Father Figures like Oliver and "The Beverly Hillbillies"' Jed Clampett are frequently terrorized by long haired bongo beating Hippie type characters who say things like "Far out, Daddy-O!" and "You're flippin' my wig, Hep Cat!" until Granny blows them away with a shot gun and makes Possum Stew out of their dead asses. Compare "Green Acres" to "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction" and one gets the impression that Henning and his co workers were plagued by the same kind of adolescent riff raff as their characters and put them to work on "Green Acres" just to keep them out of the draft (Comedy writers got an immediate 4-F classification, that's why Doug Kenney and Henry Beard started The National Lampoon as soon as they got out of Harvard).
WRONGO BONGO!!! Believe it or not (And if you go with "not" you better not let Granny know, we're running low on stew), "Green Acres" was created by the exact bunch of geezers who came up with "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". I haven't been this shocked since I found out Jimmy Page used to play guitar on Tom Jones records! And these guys were OLD! Henning got his start as a writer for the comedy radio show "Fibber McGee And Molly". Man, that was so long ago that Marconi had to invent radio just to keep Fibber McGee and Molly out of the Unemployment Office. Script writer Jay Sommers got started working for EDDIE CANTOR! The Book of Cantor was nearly in the Old Testament until they decided to produce it as a musical in Baghdad instead. I tried doing research on when Dick Chevalit started writing but all records of his early career seem to have been destroyed when General Sherman burned down Atlanta in the Civil War.
So how was it possible for such a decrepit bunch of hacks to come up with something as Utterly Psychotic as "Green Acres"? Well, kids, this may sound kind of "harsh" to your young ears, but in The Old Days you were required to be what was referred to as "Funny" to be in the comedy business. If Jimmy Kimmel's great grandfather Jimbo Kimbo had been allowed to do his Blackface Minstrel act all the immigrants would have gone right back through Ellis Island and returned to Europe to make even more of a mess out of the First World War. If David Spade's great grandfather had gone onstage to make faggy little remarks about Al Jolson's career he would have been . . . Oh, but specimens like that never reached Adulthood in those days. They were just dumped in a garbage can. So "Green Acres" may have been produced by a bunch of broken down old vaudevillians who thought Jerry Lewis was an out of control Anarchist and sent nasty letters about Soupy Sales to The House Un American Activities Committee, but they were FUNNY broken down old vaudevillians, punk! Maybe I'm just getting romantic here (And, if I am, send Uma Thurman over here before they play a Bon Jovi record on the radio and ruin everything), but "Green Acres" gives me the feeling of a battle hardened team of two fisted tough guys out to show this World exactly what they're made of and going out in A Blaze Of Glory. I'm allowed to use that phrase because I'm old enough to have heard it before it was on a Bon Jovi record - That guy ruins EVERYTHING! "Eh, these young whippersnappers with their 'Laugh in's and their 'Smothers Brothers' - They wanna see crazy, we'll show em CRAZY!" I hear that after a long day of working on "Petticoat Junction" Henning and the guys would drive shower curtain rods into one ear, through their heads, and out the other ear to work on "Green Acres" all night. Shit, let's see how funny those Adult Swim assholes are with shower curtain rods stuck through their heads! Ha!
But, as we have all learned the hard way, there's no beating those Baby Boomers and when some executive at CBS decided all these "Rural" shows were attracting too old a demographic he cancelled "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Petticoat Junction", and "Green Acres" in one fell swoop. Or, as Eva Gabor would have put it, one swell foop. Whose wise ass idea was that? Probably some Groovy Guy executive who wore a Nehru jacket and listened to The Mommas And The Poppas. Well, History sure has proved him wrong! Cause without those shows what else did CBS have? A lotta crap like "M*A*S*H", "All In The Family", and "The Mary Tyler Moore show"! What a MAROON! Is CBS still broadcasting anymore? They were forced out of the business when "Sixty Minutes" was busted trying to screw Bush out of the 2004 election with forged military documents, right? Right?
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - email@example.com