Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re beginning our series on the best episodes from another fondly remembered single-camera show of the ’60s, Green Acres (1965-1971, CBS). The first three seasons have been released on DVD, but every single episode (from all six seasons) are available for purchase on iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Oliver Wendall Douglas, a New York lawyer, gives up his law practice to follow his lifelong ambition of becoming a farmer. He and his reluctant wife, the Hungarian Lisa, move to the tiny town of Hooterville, where they try to assimilate to country living. Given the kookiness of the town’s residents, that may be difficult — for Oliver, that is.
Green Acres stars EDDIE ALBERT as Oliver Wendall Douglas, EVA GABOR as Lisa Douglas, TOM LESTER as Eb Dawson, PAT BUTTRAM as Mr. Haney, FRANK CADY as Sam Drucker, ALVY MOORE as Hank Kimball, HANK PATTERSON as Fred Ziffel, BARBARA PEPPER as Doris Ziffel, MARY GRACE CANFIELD as Ralph Monroe, SID MELTON as Alf Monroe, and ELEANOR AUDLEY as Mother Douglas.
As the third of Paul Henning’s trilogy of hayseed comedies (following The Beverly Hillbillies, which will eventually be covered on this blog at some point, and Petticoat Junction, which is, like this series, also set in Hooterville) Green Acres is the most absurd. With one of the best theme songs of the decade, Green Acres is an iconic sitcom that, although never surpassing The Beverly Hillbillies in popularity or longevity, easily trumped the less funny Petticoat Junction. The key to this series’ success was its downright looniness. Unfortunately, that trademark absurdity doesn’t really come into play until Season Two, and this season spends most of its time showing Oliver and Lisa assimilating to county living in a more traditionally sitcom manner. However, being a Henning series, the episodes are much more serialized than you’d expect (this will lessen as time goes on), and much of the first season plays like someone is literally televising chapters from a book. And though all the characters are clearly defined here, the series’ comedy isn’t fully developed. But, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season One. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode of this series is directed by Richard L. Bare, unless otherwise noted, and every episode of this series is written by Jay Sommers and Dick Chevillat, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 1: “Oliver Buys A Farm” (Aired: 09/15/65)
Oliver Wendall Douglas has fulfilled his lifelong ambition of becoming a farmer by buying a rundown lot in Hooterville. How will his wife Lisa react?
This, the pilot, is the only episode on my list with different credits than those listed above. The director is Ralph Levy, and the writer is Jay Sommers only. Now, even though the opening credits for every installment efficiently sets up the series’ premise, this episode gives it more space, and is probably essential viewing for new fans. Not screamingly funny, but narratively important.
02) Episode 9: “You Can’t Plug In A 2 With A 6” (Aired: 11/10/65)
Oliver, who uses statistics from the Department of Agriculture to determine what crop to plant, is surprised to learn that the residents of Hooterville have a different method.
Shades of the future Lisa come through here with the wonderful Gracie Allen-esque bit involving the generator and the numbers assigned to the various appliances. It’s a wonderful recurring bit that will last throughout the first season, and Gabor is hysterical. Additionally, this episode lets us see plenty of the other Hooterville residents — always a delight!
03) Episode 15: “How To Enlarge A Bedroom” (Aired: 12/29/65)
Oliver agrees to have the bedroom enlarged, but the pair he hires to do the enlarging, the Monroe brothers, are only licensed for hen houses and chicken coops.
This episode introduces two of my favorite Hooterville residents: Alf and Ralph Monroe. Alf’s a boy, played by Sal Petrillo, and Ralph’s a girl, played by Harriet Kravitz. This episode brilliantly begins the shtick with the chronically incomplete bedroom — one of the series’s most memorable hallmarks. It is a particularly solid and well-written episode, especially for Season One.
04) Episode 18: “Lisa Bakes A Cake” (Aired: 01/26/66)
To his chagrin, Lisa lists Oliver in the phonebook as an attorney at law. More to his chagrin, nobody calls for his services.
This episode is most appealing because — aside from having several humorous moments — it presents Oliver as a more complex character. He’s not solely interested in farming; there’s a part of him that also misses practicing law. It gives the character more versatility — in both humor and story. Meanwhile, Lisa bakes a cake, and anytime Lisa cooks, hilarity ensues!
05) Episode 20: “The Price Of Apples” (Aired: 02/09/66)
Oliver’s apple crop is ready to be harvested, but he must quickly collect and ship them himself to sell his apples at a higher price and beat his competition.
The plotting for this episode is brisk, smart, and enjoyable. In fact, this is one of the tightest episodes in terms of story. While other installments this season presented more “day-to-day life” happenings, this episode has a clear trajectory with a resolution that’s predictably comedic. There’s always humor in seeing our sitcom protagonists fail. Oh, and the hotscake gasket is superb.
06) Episode 21: “What’s In A Name?” (Aired: 02/16/66)
Ralph Monroe considers changing her name after she falls in love with Mr. Kimball, who refuses to give her the time of day because of it.
I must admit — I seem to be partial to the episodes that give the Monroe brothers a lot to do, especially the underrated Canfield as Ralph. Her crush on Hanky is hilarious, and any attempts she makes to be feminine (which will happen a few times throughout the series) always guarantee some laughs. Her relationships with both Oliver and Lisa are amusing as well.
07) Episode 23: “A Pig In A Poke” (Aired: 03/09/66)
The Douglases are preparing to return to New York for a speech Oliver has been asked to give at the Harvard Alumni Association. Meanwhile, Haney is menacing the Ziffels.
Arnold Ziffel, son of Fred and Doris Ziffel, is part of what makes this show so incredibly surreal and unique. Did I mention that he’s actually a pig? He’ll get more and more to do as the series progresses, but this wonderful episode — featuring most of our favorite characters — includes some hilarious bits. Most memorable is probably Oliver getting stuck under the bedroom floor.
08) Episode 24: “The Deputy” (Aired: 03/16/66)
Oliver assumes Sam Drucker’s position as deputy sheriff when the latter goes on vacation. Unfortunately, Deputy Douglas handcuffs himself to the Mrs.
Green Acres is generally anything BUT a traditional sitcom, yet this episode is very traditional. Now, I will admit that we’ve seen it done better with Lucy and Ricky (and Kramden and Norton), but the flavor of the show, which is just beginning to assert itself, allows for lines and bits that we just wouldn’t find in other sitcoms. Essentially, this episode makes a stale idea fresh again.
09) Episode 27: “Never Look A Gift Tractor In The Mouth” (Aired: 04/27/66)
Confusion mounts when Fred Ziffel thinks the spectacular tractor that Lisa has bought for Oliver’s birthday is really for him.
Another trio of my favorite Hootervillians are the Ziffels — Fred, Doris, and Arnold. This episode gives them the most that they’ve had to do all season and it’s wonderful. Furthermore, the idea of a fancy tractor with stereo is hilarious, and of course, Doris jumps to the conclusion that the reason Lisa gifted Fred is the result of a clandestine affair. Funny, funny, funny!
10) Episode 28: “Send A Boy To College” (Aired: 05/04/66)
The Douglases agree to put Eb through college so that he can become a veterinarian. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked one important thing.
This is probably the most we see of Eb in this first season of episodes, and he certainly makes the most of it. The script is well written with several funny bits; of particular enjoyment is Oliver’s “schneaking” away to avoid Lisa’s breakfast. Again, this series is superb at juggling many running gags, and somehow there’s (generally) always a consistency in the quality of the humor.
Other notable episodes this season that didn’t make the above list include: “Lisa’s First Day On The Farm,” which covers exactly what the title tells us it will, “The Decorator,” which guest stars Bea Benaderet and introduces Lisa’s cooking, “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You,” which begins the telephone pole gag, “Give Me Land, Lots Of Land,” which features great interplay between Lisa and Haney, and “Sprained Ankle, Country Style,” which features the ensemble beautifully (with plenty of Ralph and Alf).
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of Green Acres goes to…..
“Never Look A Gift Tractor In The Mouth”
***REST IN PEACE, MARY GRACE CANFIELD (09/03/24 – 02/15/14)***
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Two! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Interesting as you are starting to review The Jeffersons that you mentioned the change in Louise Jefferson’s character over the course of the series. While still keeping some intelligence it did like she became less so as the series went on and also more used to the Jefferson’s standing in society less funny. Green Acres seems to be one of the few sit-coms where a characters decrease in intelligence seemed to help as for a brief few episodes, Eva Gabor was the smart sophiticated wife and Eddie Albert the looney one. Much funny when Lisa became more abusurd and less intelligent (though you always felt still smart in city ways) and Albert the more sane one surrounded by absurdity
Hi, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting.
You know, I find the two series completely incomparable, primarily because they’re both so indicative of their respective eras — and 1965 is nothing like 1975, particularly on television. But I’ll try.
When it comes to the leading ladies, not only did Louise Jefferson exist long before THE JEFFERSONS, but, also, her character didn’t change until late in the show’s run. By that point, the series’ glory days were long gone, so the unexplained character transformation was of no benefit (and in fact, I think this helped foster a quicker decline). We knew Louise, we liked Louise; there was no reason for the show to change the way she was written, except to make it easier on themselves in coming up with cheaper laughs and broader stories.
On the other hand, GREEN ACRES spent the entirety of its first season developing a regular modus operandi, not just with Lisa’s character, but also with the show’s sense of comedy. Once it was able to define itself, the series had a few years in a “sweet spot”, delivering its best material (before, they too, went too broad). These gradual first season changes worked because the show was able to yield something noticeably stronger AND the transformations happened very early, before viewers could really miss the character’s previous form of existence.
So while I agree with you that characters losing IQ points over the course of their runs is rarely a positive development (because it demands that the audience reject continuity and logic), first season restructurings are very common, particularly as writers try to tap into their characters’ individual sources of comedy, as they did with Lisa. And that’s the difference between defining (Lisa) and redesigning (Louise).
I’m so glad to finally getting around to reading your Green Acres blog. It’s a show that I feel never gets its due when it comes to how clever it is.
I was surprised you didn’t include “The Ballad of Molly Turgiss”. It’s always been one of my favorites. I think Oliver’s obsession with “solk fongs” is hilarious.
Hi, Brandon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Not a fan of that installment — the premise feels out-of-place at this point in the show’s run, although, admittedly it probably wouldn’t have made the list for any other season either. Not enough character or capitalization upon the series’ unique identity. Kooky for the sake of kooky doesn’t cut it.