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Old 08-28-2015, 10:16 AM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 28, 2015
Posts: 12
Default In Defense of Return to Green Acres

I remember watching this TV movie when it aired in 1990 and liking it. At the time, the reruns were popular on Nick, and as a relatively young person then, the show was new to me. Now the show is back again, on Antenna TV. I’ve been DVRing it and remembering how awesome it was, how clever, surreal, and unique. So I ordered Return for $5 on Amazon and watched for the first time in 25 years. The picture quality is very good. As for the content, I totally get why so many people didn’t like it … yet I just can’t hate on it.

The reason for its perceived failure is obvious: Jay Sommers & Dick Chevillat (the brilliant creator/writers of nearly every episode of the series) were dead, and Richard Bare (director of nearly every episode of the series) was not involved. Instead, William Asher, a familiar name to anyone who watches 60s TV, directed, and the script was penned by relative unknowns (a soap opera writer – really?). With a completely new creative team behind the scenes, things were bound to be different: the result is much more Mayberry than Hooterville. All of the sudden, surreal has been replaced by sentiment. Eb Dawson, who I don’t think ever had anything approaching a serious moment in the series, is suddenly preaching about family & the love of one’s land. The plot also follows a clichéd pattern – the old ‘rally the team and save our town’ concept. In spite of all this, IMO, the movie is not a failure. Let’s take a look at what worked.

First, that new opening sequence – just terrific. You’ve got Eddie & Eva singing again, you get a nice look at the updated Hooterville (including the final resting spot of the Ziffels), and how cool is it that the supporting cast were introduced by entering through the infamous sliding bedroom closet door (always one of my favorite running gags on the series)? I love the roll call where each character appears as Eddie sings out their name. Speaking of the music, the great Vic Mizzy was not brought back for this, but the score is nonetheless well done.

Let’s talk about the cast here – Alvy Moore, Mary Grace Canfield, Sid Melton, Tom Lester, Frank Cady, and Pat Buttram all came back, and not only that, but this really is an ensemble film! Every character is there from the beginning of the story to the end, and each gets at least a moment or two to shine. Haney’s role is especially big, and Buttram is as watchable as ever. Of course I agree that the cheesy “love story” between the 2 new characters took up valuable screen-time, but the original characters do not seem short-shrifted here. They all look good considering their age, all act within character (except for maybe Oliver & Eb, more on this later), and Eddie (over 80 years old) & Eva displayed wonderful chemistry again.

Production values. CBS actually spent some money on this! For the first time, we see Hooterville as it would look in reality, as opposed to the fake country backdrops they could get away with on 60s TV, and it looks gorgeous, much better than its old self. Drucker’s store looks like we remember, and as for Green Acres itself … just beautiful. It tickles me to no end to see that famous house out there in a real outdoor setting, faithfully adapted from the original design. From the stained glass windows to the peeling wallpaper to the elaborate gold headboard of Oliver & Lisa’s bed, the house is a loving homage to the original.

I for one found it satisfying that Oliver’s attitude has changed. After decades of life on the world’s most bizarre farm, he seems to have finally mellowed and embraced the madness. He finds Arnold amusing instead of aggravating, and he admits in his farewell speech that although his crops never grew, his love for his “friends” (a word he probably wouldn’t have used in the series) did. When the helpless, child-like Hootervillians travel to New York (shot on location – again, production values the old show couldn’t afford) to ask for his help, I found it moving that, in spite of all they put him though over the years ("every kind of human indignity," as he says at one point), Oliver agrees to stand up and fight for them. His competence & intelligence, always overlooked and never enough to protect him in the old days, is what is necessary to save everyone now.

As for Eb, as the family man/father of this story, he doesn’t get to behave as silly as he did in the glory days, and I wish he had been allowed to be more ridiculous. And yet, his marriage and litter of kids (9 by the time the movie ends) is a natural progression of where he was in the series. He always sought family (hence Oliver being “Dad”) and was either engaged or trying to find a wife throughout the old show – so he wound up with the life he always wanted.

The biggest complaint against the movie is that it lacked that surreal quality, and that criticism is certainly justified. Imagine if young writers of the time, like Matt Groening (a big fan of the show) or Conan O’Brien, had a crack at the script?! It would have been a whole different animal, and maybe one more closely resembling the inspired lunacy of Jay Sommers’ original vision.

But when you consider how the series ended back in '71, with those 2 pointless backdoor pilots (ugh!), this movie at least put the characters back in the spotlight one more time and offered closure and a happy ending to the tale that began 25 years earlier. If you aren't smiling during the final scene, with Lisa & Oliver falling through the floor into the root cellar, and being welcomed home by Arnold … maybe Green Acres is not the place for you.

Last edited by Enzobar; 08-24-2016 at 10:58 AM.
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