Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing our series on the best episodes from another fondly remembered single-camera show of the ’60s, Green Acres (1965-1971, CBS). Note that, while the first three seasons have been released on DVD, the last three — as of this writing — have not. The episodes in today’s list can be purchased 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, MARY GRACE CANFIELD as Ralph Monroe, and SID MELTON as Alf Monroe.
Though one can argue that the fourth season of Green Acres continues to represent the iconically wacky series in its prime, I think Season Four demonstrates a slight — perhaps very slight — comedown in terms of quality. While this series has, like most sitcoms, always had episodes that are either “hit” or “miss”, the misses grow a little more pronounced in their mediocrity. (This gulf will widen as the seasons wear on.) However, in terms of volume, there are almost as many classics here as there were last season. The difference is, because the inferior installments are more drastically disappointing, there aren’t as many honorable mentions. With all that said, the season continues its wonderful usage of the excellent ensemble — who work together as effortlessly and enjoyably as ever. So, 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 Four. (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 98: “Handy Lessons” (Aired: 11/06/68)
Lisa decides to help Oliver by studying carpentry with the inept Monroe brothers.
This episode is a riot from start to finish. If you’ve been reading the past few weeks of posts, you’ll know that I’m partial to episodes that feature the Monroe brothers. In addition to some great Ralph and Alf moments, “Handy Lessons” gives Gabor a chance to shine, as Lisa goes all out in her attempts to became a “lady carpenter.” Best line of the episode goes to Ralph, who’s speaking to her Hanky: “If you weren’t so sexy, I’d beat your brains out!”
02) Episode 99: “A Husband For Eleanor” (Aired: 11/13/68)
Mr. Kimball diagnoses Eleanor’s milk shortage as the result of her lack of romance.
What appeals to me most about this episode is its distinctively Green Acres premise: Oliver and Lisa try to mate their cow with a bull after the Hootervillians determine that her lack of milk has something to do with her need for… well… romance. It’s a totally absurd premise that gets even goofier as it goes along. But, the actors sell everything so gamely that it’s almost impossible to remove the smile from your face when watching.
03) Episode 100: “Old Mail Day” (Aired: 11/20/68)
Mr. Drucker goes on his annual delivery of all the past year’s misplaced mail.
Again, I must sing the praises of the writers for their creativity. Apparently, Hooterville has an annual holiday called “Old Mail Day,” in which all the mail that Drucker lost in his convenience store throughout the year is delivered in one big lump. (There’s even a letter dating back to 1917.) When Oliver complains about the poor mail service to the Postmaster General, the Hootervillians are not too pleased. Such fresh storytelling!
04) Episode 101: “The Agricultural Student” (Aired: 11/27/68)
The young student coming to observe Kimball at work turns out to be an attractive blonde co-ed.
This is one of the season’s most ordinary premises, and it’s a common one for situation comedies. I can boil it down for you: all the residents of the community are attracted to the new girl. But this series manages to make the story very enjoyable, and most importantly, very funny. This episode is packed with great moments for Hank Kimball, an underrated character, who, though he may be difficult to take at times, is always expertly played by Alvy Moore. If he’s your cup of tea, this episode is for you.
05) Episode 104: “How To Get From Hooterville To Pixley Without Moving” (Aired: 12/25/68)
The Douglases discover that while their farm is in Hooterville, their house is legally in Pixley.
This episode boasts many things that I love about this series — chief of which is the great ensemble of Hooterville residents. In this installment, Oliver finally forces the Monroe brothers to finish his bedroom, only to learn that they never got the building permit. Getting one proves difficult when Oliver discovers that the house is legally in Pixley. Things are complicated when the surveyor Oliver hires has the house condemned! (Can you blame him?)
06) Episode 105: “The Birthday Gift” (Aired: 01/01/69)
Oliver unknowingly gives Lisa a talking horse named Mr. Fred for her birthday.
You have to see this episode to believe it. Oliver gets Lisa a horse for her birthday. But not just any horse. No, a horse that talks. And what does this talking horse’s name happen to be? Mr Fred. (He’s a washed up television star.) The icing on the cake: Mr. Fred is voiced by none other than Jimmy Stewart. This episode is simply hysterical — not only does Green Acres parody itself, but it’s taken to parodying other series too! Classic with some hilarious plot points thrown in.
07) Episode 106: “Everywhere A Chick Chick” (Aired: 01/08/69)
Oliver decides to become a chicken rancher and buys 1000 baby chicks.
This episode reminds me a lot of the sixth season I Love Lucy episode in which the Ricardos and Mertzes decide to raise chickens. (Obviously the Douglases didn’t see that episode.) Trouble arises for Oliver when the Monroe’s bungle the building of the chicken coup, and Oliver must come up with a way to keep the baby chicks warm. This is a solid installment of the series — many laughs and nothing too surreal.
08) Episode 108: “A Prize In Every Package” (Aired: 01/22/69)
Oliver and Lisa discover stolen jewelry in boxes of inexpensive cereal.
The sitcom has always had a fascination with crime, and usually, unless they’re very well done, the stories never seem to be as funny as they need to be. This episode is a classic exception — once again taking an ordinary TV premise and adapting it in a kooky way that makes it both fresh and original. The episode trucks along humorously, but perhaps of more interest to classic TV fans is the welcome appearance of Alan Hale, Jr. — one of the seven stranded stars of the last series we covered on Sitcom Tuesdays.
09) Episode 112: “Retreat From Washington” (Aired: 02/19/69)
As the Douglases and company wreak havoc in D.C., Haney rents out their farm to vacationers.
I have to be honest with you: I’m usually not a fan of episodes in which sitcom characters go on vacation or make a big fuss about heading to new locations. I understand the need for story variety, but usually the shows come off looking tacky and gimmicky. While this episode (the second of a two-parter) doesn’t totally sidestep my general apprehensions, it does manage some excellent comedy — both in the D.C. and Hooterville portions. Totally worth it.
10) Episode 117: “The Milk Maker” (Aired 03/26/69)
A local inventor creates a machine that supposedly can turn hay into milk.
It’s very fitting that my Season Four list should end with another one of the season’s most creative and undeniably original episodes. In what other series are you going to find an episode that revolves around an invention that can turn hay into milk, thus putting all the cows of the world out of business? The premise alone is hysterical, but the script has some nice laughs as well. As the penultimate episode of Season Four, this is an excellent example of the series firing on all cylinders.
Other episodes this season that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Guess Who’s Not Going To The Luau?” in which Oliver is called to defend Arnold after the latter wins a free trip to Hawaii, “Eb’s Romance,” in which Oliver becomes entangled in Eb’s new relationship, “The Blue Feather,” in which Lisa is sent a blue feather and assumes that she has been cursed, and “Economy Flight To Washington,” in which the Hootervillians gear up for their trip to D.C.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of Green Acres goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Five! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!