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.
As with the previous year, Season Five presents another slight comedown in quality. Fortunately, with the characters so well developed, mediocre episodes work much better here than they would earlier in the run. What comes across best in these last few seasons of Green Acres is the cast, who are figuratively firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, the stories are more bizarre than ever, and as this is a trademark of the series, it’s not (yet) an explicit factor into the declining quality. Rather, some episodes work (“Oliver And The Cornstalk”) and some don’t (“The Beeping Rock”). But that’s inevitable when a series takes the kinds of risks that Green Acres does. Interestingly, this season also sees the return of a few typical sitcom premises — reckoning the dichotomy between Green Acres storytelling and normal sitcom storytelling. If you ask me personally, I would prefer episodes in which the extraordinary is balanced with ordinary, but it’s this quirkiness that sets Green Acres apart from the rest — and that’s entirely part of its charm. 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 Five. (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 123: “You And Your Big Shrunken Head” (Aired: 10/25/69)
When Arnold returns with newfound wealth, he becomes the target of many traveling salesmen.
Though some may disagree, this episode — the conclusion — is the strongest of the three part story arc that has Oliver, Lisa, Eb and Arnold headed to Chicago so the latter can pick up an inheritance. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, episodes in which characters travel are rarely favorites of mine, so despite some fun moments in the prior episode, this episode appeals to me most because, aside from stronger scripting, it’s set back in the lovely (and hilarious) Hooterville.
02) Episode 124: “The Road” (Aired: 11/01/69)
Oliver goes to the State Capital and seeks action against an overly dusty dirt road.
Written by DC & John L. Greene
The great thing about episodes among this variety — in which Oliver gets himself involved in some community affair and ends up frustrated — is that Eddie Albert is continuously excellent in his focus, exasperation, and interactions with the surrounding loonies. I would even argue that this is one of the superior efforts in that narrative vein, with a riotous script, a solid plot, and some nifty guest stars.
03) Episode 127: “The Special Delivery Letter” (Aired: 11/22/69)
Oliver and Lisa try to track down a special delivery letter that’s made the Hooterville rounds.
Story by Scott Anderson | Teleplay by Scott Anderson & JS & DC
This episode represents the perfect blend of Green Acres storytelling with normal sitcom storytelling. While the plot — characters trying to retrieve a piece of mail — was cliched by the late ’50s, Green Acres does exactly what a great series should do with this story: make it utterly unique by using its gaggle of strange characters to influence the plot in fresh ways. Lots of very funny moments in this installment; a standout in terms of humor.
04) Episode 129: “Ralph’s Nuptials” (Aired: 12/13/69)
Lisa plans a farm wedding for Ralph Monroe and Hank Kimball, but there are complications.
You know I’m a fan of the Monroe brothers, but, though this is a highlight from Season Five, I definitely wouldn’t consider this one of their finest installments. The episode seems to take its comedic delight in building to a wedding between Ralph and Hank Kimball, but the problem is, after the wedding, where should the story go? Unfortunately, it’s predictable and old hat, rendering the episode less enjoyable than it could be. Ingredients are there, execution is faulty.
05) Episode 130: “Oliver And The Cornstalk” (Aired: 12/20/69)
Thanks to Lisa’s lemonade, Oliver finds a tall cornstalk in his field… and a giant in the heavens.
I debated about putting this episode on the list. I don’t mind taking leaps into the realm of fantasy, but sometimes I feel alienated when a series goes overboard. I would agree with those who say this episode goes overboard — taking on the Jack and the Beanstalk story (as both Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched have done). But the episode’s hysterical, and despite my eye-rolling at the story, I can’t deny its inherent comedic value. (And there is an explanation at the end — albeit, a predictable one.)
06) Episode 131: “Beauty Is Skin Deep” (Aired: 12/27/69)
Lisa enlists the help of Sam Drucker to launch a new “beauty saloon.”
I really like this episode because it gives Eva a chance to shine in a story that not only centers around her character, but keeps her within the fields of (relative) sense. Her always hilarious malapropisms are at their finest, and everyone gives their usual sharp performances — made up Ralph is, as always, a highlight. Simply: this is a very funny and very solid Green Acres episode; one of the best of the season.
07) Episode 134: “Trapped” (Aired: 01/17/70)
Oliver and Lisa find themselves trapped together in their newly discovered basement.
This was one of the episodes I referred to above that takes an ordinary sitcom premise (two characters trapped together in a basement) and puts the Green Acres twist on it. Arnold, as he has in episodes past, plays the Lassie role here to great comic effect. It’s hilarious to see how much more competent he is than Hank Kimball. Lots of great moments in this one — another one of the season’s finest.
08) Episode 138: “The Confrontation” (Aired: 02/14/70)
The community appeals to newly elected School Board President Oliver when Arnold is kicked out of school.
One of my favorite episodes of all time, “The Confrontation” is jam-packed with many things that make for a great installment: Oliver’s getting himself embroiled in civic responsibility, the zany persistence of Hooterville residents, and plenty of screen time for those wonderful Ziffels. It’s difficult to write about this episode other than to say it’s one of the funniest ever, filled with laughs from start to finish. It’s the very definition of classic Green Acres.
09) Episode 139: “The Case Of The Hooterville Refund Fraud” (Aired: 02/28/70)
After Oliver gets his tax refund check, all of the Hootervillians demand checks of their own.
Story by Arnold Horwitt | Teleplay by Arnold Horwitt & JS & DC
No hyperbole: this is on my short list of the all time greatest Green Acres episodes. The premise is imaginative without being fantastical: after seeing Oliver with a tax refund check, the residents of Hooterville claim their losses to the government and demand compensation of their own. Thanks to a glitch in the computer, they all get exactly what they’ve requested. When the IRS figures out what’s happened, it’s too late: the town has already invested in The Hooterville Monkey Racing track. Unbelievably hysterical — “Release the banana!”
10) Episode 144: “Happy Birthday” (Aired: 04/11/70)
Oliver is less than thrilled to share a birthday with Arnold, despite his protests to Lisa that he doesn’t want a party.
This story is another of the typical sitcom fare: a main character’s birthday, he doesn’t want a party, but is convinced he’s having one, only to learn that he’s really not. What makes this one special is the fact that Oliver shares a birthday with Arnold, arguably Hooterville’s most loved resident. This is a moderately funny episode with a strong script. (And after a string of mediocre episodes, a breath of fresh air!)
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above include: “A Tale Of A Tail,” in which the Douglases (and Ebb) take Arnold to Chicago for his inheritance, “The Ex-Con,” in which Oliver’s impassioned speech about hiring ex-cons leads to him getting one of his own, and “The Cow Killer,” in which Haney is at his most delightfully conniving.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Green Acres goes to…..
“The Case Of The Great Hooterville Refund Fraud”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!