The Green Green Grass: Series 2 Review
With the exception of the occasional moment in Judge John Deed and Attila The Hun's dwarf-worrying, there haven't been so very many laughs in my house of late. Not only have I been watching The Green Green Grass for the purposes of this site but I've been straying onto a two-disc set of 'Allo 'Allo episodes as well, both of which bookend something like a set of comedy years in my life. When I was very much younger than I am now, I laughed like a drain at 'Allo 'Allo for no more reason that I didn't know any better, thinking that Ze Fallen Madonna With Ze Big Boobies and "Good moaning!" was as good as comedy could get.
Now a bit older and perhaps retreating into the comfort of those times as well as that afforded by a warm bed, slippers and not having to feign laughter at Alan Carr sticking with the idea that being very camp is still funny, I actually found myself watching the most recent series of The Green Green Grass. And not just watching it, mind, but actually picking it out of the schedules. The days of dribbling into my soup, of carefully reading the advertisements for incontinence products and of needing to hold newsprint an arm's length away to see it properly can't be very far off. I'm even drinking hot cocoa of late, which is as sure a sign of growing old as hair growing out of my ears. And that's happening as well!
Knowing how excited you all are at the thought of a review of 'Allo 'Allo, I'll not dally long with The Green Green Grass. The gist of the series is that Boycie and Marlene (John Challis and Sue Holderness) have left Peckham, the company of the Trotters and Only Fools And Horses behind for the Shropshire countryside, where they buy up a farm and settle into rural life. Not that Boycie and Marlene make for natural farmers - one could even say they were reluctant to leave the capital - but the small matter of Boycie being on the run from the notorious Driscoll brothers made their minds up for them. Together with their son Tyler, they leave for the country where they take over a large holding, less than ably assisted by farm manager Elgin Sparrowhawk (David Ross), farm hands Bryan and Jed (Ivan Kaye and Peter Hepplethwaite) and cleaner Mrs Cakeworthy (Ella Kenion). The Boycie of used car fame does not settle easily, though, and many run-ins with the locals ensue, not least with neighbouring farmer Llewellyn (Alan David), who does not care much for the Saxons who have moved in next door.
This second series was shown in 2006 and doesn't care so much about introducing the characters as just getting on with the comedy. Still, it's a BBC1 primetime sitcom, which means the jokes are as predictable as the winner in a one-horse race. Just as Only Fools And Horses never passed up an opportunity to show how dim Trigger was, The Green Green Grass lays it on very thick as regards how lazy Mrs Cakeworthy is, how useless Elgin is and how conniving Llewellyn will be given half a chance. The only surprise given their history on Only Fools And Horses is how much more likeable Boycie and Marlene are. In Peckham and as a character in a show that wasn't his own, Boycie was as happy to pick apart Del Boy's schemes (and to revel in his failure) as Llewellyn is here but with he and Marlene being called upon to carry The Green Green Grass on their own, their sometimes fiery relationship has been toned down with Boycie being shown as more hapless than he was previously. It works better than one might expect, particularly when given lines like, "I don't have a cock!", when given an illegal potion that leaves him bald from top to toe and, when nude, injured in such a way as to suggest he was masturbating in his own drawing room.
These two discs contain the seven episodes of series two as well as the Christmas special from that year. Testing Times sees the European Union investigating Boycie's claims to be an organic farm after he is seen unloading Mammoth Grow Feed from his jeep. Boycie believes that he will be sent to prison, which is unfortunate for one who, in Here’s To You, Mrs Boyce decides to run for mayor. He is distracted, though, by getting Tyler into the school rugby team and by the attention a young lad at Tyler's school is paying his wife. But the boy has simply misdirected his affections...it's Boycie that he's really after! Onwards to Bothered And Bewildered and Boycie must decide, after taking a phone call from his accountant, which of his staff he must sack. Given that she doesn't actually know where the cleaning things are, he decides to get rid of Mrs Cakeworthy but finds that her occult powers have a way of changing his mind. In Mother Earth, Tyler goes vegetarian to please Bethany and Boycie becomes a less-than-willing guinea pig for Marlene's new-age healing.
In Schoolboy French, Tyler welcomes a French exchange student into the Boyce home, thinking that Lawrence is a boy. Lawrence, though, is a very attractive young woman, who soon as the Boyce men, father and son, wrapped around her little fingers. Marlene puts a stop to all of that, though, but Lawrence sees something of herself in Mrs Boyce, more than Marlene would like to admit to. In More Questions Than Answers, Llewellyn, who is having troubled times on his farm, sets Boycie a challenge - his farm hands against Boycie's in a pub quiz with a bet of £10,000 at stake. Marlene contacts her divorce lawyer, Boycie puts his head in his hands at the general ignorance of his own employees and Llewellyn arrives with his temporary farm staff...three teachers! Tyler, though, has a surprise in store for them all. In the final episode, Brothers And Sisters, Boycie is suspicious when Marlene's sister Petunia (Paula Wilcox) arrives in the village fresh from Peckham. He's right to be wary, though, when she describes meeting a couple of blokes in a pub, one short and one very tall and skinny. Not Del Boy and Rodney but Tony and Danny Driscoll (Christopher Ryan and Roy Marsden). Just out of prison, they want to meet with Farmer Boyce to discuss his testimony against them.
Finally, it's on the Christmas special from 2006, From Here To Paternity, in which there isn't just one bit of sitcom confusion about who might be pregnant but three. Llewellyn's dog? Mrs Cakeworthy? Bethany? No matter as everyone thinks Boycie has something to do with it and he ends up with two black eyes. Meanwhile, Jed, Elgin and Bryan think that the legendary figure of Old Bones is creeping about the farm at night, something that Boycie is set to believe in when he sees a shadowy, black-and-white animal in his yard.
I would love to say that there are surprises in this...but there aren't. It has its moments, for sure, but nothing that would make you think that the John Sullivan who wrote this was the same John Sullivan who wrote all of Only Fools And Horse. Like My Family, this is comedy that's safe for all the family to enjoy. It may have the odd risque line in it, such as Mrs Cakeworthy interrupting Tyler and Beth's kissing in Schoolboy French with, "There's a French letter here for you!", but such things will pass younger viewers by and will provide something for mums and dads (and teenage children) to smile at. And me? Well, I laughed but I'm beginning to think that very little amuses me these days, particularly when finding myself laughing at 'Allo 'Allo.
Presented by 2 Entertain in 1.78:1, this, alongside Oliver Twist, probably looks the best of the BBC television series reviewed this week. There's still some very obvious television fakery about it, not least of which is how the picture has been slightly dimmed and given a blue rinse to make the Christmas episode feel like it's actually set in winter, and there's always the feeling that this is as staged a production as any Lloyd and Croft sitcom but the DVD presents all of this rather well. Neither the picture nor the soundtrack are what you might call exciting but both are more than a match for the plain looking and sounding series. The source material is in good condition with the only problem coming with some obvious encoding problems on the first disc, wherein seven half-hour episodes have led to things being squashed into the available space. As a result, there's a softness to the picture that 2 Entertain could have avoided had they just moved a couple of episodes onto the second disc. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
Audio Commentary: I suspect this features John Challis and Sue Holderness given how they're talking about their characters but without any introduction or even a hello, one must cut through their own accents - Challis sounds absolutely nothing like Boycie in real life - to ascertain just who they are. There's a certain amount of in-character chatter to this, as though Challis and Holderness were a couple of toffs expressing surprise at the farmhands being allowed into the kitchen but there aren't a good many laughs.
Making Of... (16m28s): This short feature picks out two scenes - one in which Tyler is trodden into the mud on a rugby pitch and another in which Boycie loses all of his hair - as well as a look at the supporting cast to note how this second series has moved on from the first. Having never actually watched the first series, it's hard to tell if what they're saying is true or not but the evidence would suggest otherwise given that no episode ever passes up the opportunity to make the point that Mrs Cakeworthy is so very, very lazy. However, other than it's brief running time, this explains something behind the making of The Green Green Grass if not why it's as popular as it is.