Farm living is the life for me!”
Thus begins what is arguably one of the most recognizable theme songs in television history (written by Vic Mizzy, who also wrote the delightfully catchy Addams Family theme). Green Acres ran from 1965-1971. The first three seasons were previously released by MGM, but Shout! Factory has compiled the entire six season run into a new boxset. (And to those of you that have those old sets, don’t panic. Shout! plans on releasing the fourth through sixth seasons separately.)
The premise of the show (just in case you didn’t get it from the theme song) is that New York lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) has always longed to be a farmer, so he uproots his wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) and moves from their penthouse to a dilapidated farm in Hooterville. Each week is another adventure of Oliver’s poor farming skills, Lisa’s inept cooking (usually involving some variation of “hotscakes”), and the crazy cast of characters that populate the town. These include their naïve young farmhand Eb Dawson (Tom Lester), conman Mr. Haney (Pat Buttram), addle-brained county agent Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore), clumsy carpenters Alf Monroe (Sid Melton) and his “brother” Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield), Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper), and their pig Arnold (which they treat like their son).
But what made Green Acres truly stand out (and what makes it one of my favorite TV shows) was the writing. Oliver would do his umpteenth speech about the Importance of the American Farmer while a fife and drum version of “Yankee Doodle” played on the soundtrack. After a while, the rest of the cast could hear the music as well. The opening writer/director credits might appear on the eggs Lisa is gathering or the food she’s cooking, or fly around a character’s head. (In one episode, the Douglas’s faulty generator started displaying cartoony sound effects. I thought this might have been an homage to the Batman TV show, but this show came out two months earlier. I guess they were ahead of their time!) It put an unusually meta spin on what could have been just a typical fish out of water sitcom. My favorite example of this is when they performed a play of The Beverly Hillbillies with Mr. Kimble as Jed, Lisa as Granny, and Oliver as Jethro!
Green Acres was doing well in the ratings (as was its sister show The Beverly Hillbillies), but in 1971 CBS decided to cancel all its rural oriented programming in what became known as “The Rural Purge”. Green Acres actor Pat Buttram was quoted as saying “It was the year CBS canceled everything with a tree—including Lassie!” While it may have been sad to see many of these popular shows go, it did lead the way for shows like All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so I guess it was a fair trade off.
Also included with the set is commentary on the pilot episode by Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball, “Green Acres Is the Place to Be” featurette with The Hooterville Handbook author Stephen Cox, an appearance by Gabor and Albert on The Merv Griffin Show from 1966 (where Albert gets into quite a spirited discussion with TV critic Cleveland Amory about the quality of Green Acres), a photo gallery, an audio discussion of “The Rural Purge” from “Inside the Box: The TV History Podcast, and a few episodes of the radio show Granby’s Green Acres (upon which the show was loosely based). As great as these extras are, I wish they could’ve included the crossover episodes they had with Petticoat Junction, but I’m sure they don’t have the rights to that show. And the completist in me kind of wanted them to include the 1990 reunion film Return to Green Acres (although the Green Acres fan in me was glad they didn’t because it wasn’t very good). This wonderfully silly show holds up quite well all these years later and is highly recommended.