Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Top Ten Episodes of "Are You Being Served?"

I knew it was probably inevitable, but it doesn't feel right that "Are You Being Served?" is getting a reboot.  The show was my introduction to British comedy, via reruns on PBS that ran when I was a kid, and it remains one of my favorite sitcoms.  I add the caveat here that it has been a very long time since I've watched any of the episodes, and my memory of the details is pretty fuzzy.  However, I certainly haven't forgotten why I love the show, and I am unanimous in that.  Picks below are unranked and ordered by airdate.  

"Camping In" - A transportation strike forces the employees to stay in the store overnight, so everyone ends up bedding down in the sporting department with camping gear.  The show was a favorite of mine for its outlandishness, and this was one of the earliest episodes that really showed how goofy the creators were willing to get.  They got so much mileage out of putting these proper, rigid, self-conscious characters into ludicrous, but often heartwarming situations.

"Diamonds Are a Man's Best Friend" - A valuable diamond has been lost at the store and a reward is offered for whoever finds it and turns it in.  The trouble is, several different employees find a diamond and nobody wants to turn theirs in.  Misunderstandings and miscommunications abound, as greed gets the best of our characters.  Everybody got their own little subplot to play and their own moment to shine, making good use of the entire ensemble.

"German Week" - Probably the show's most fondly remembered episode came in the third season.  Grace Brothers decides to feature German products as a big promotion, and the staff gets into the spirit of things with lederhosen and folk dancing.  And then they all get drunk.  It's some of the most hysterical physical comedy that ever came out of the show, and a good example of the creators' penchant for silly costumes - which also comes into play in the next episode...

"Christmas Crackers" - The first, and best of several "Are You Being Served?" Christmas specials produced over the years.  The holidays bring all sorts of new indignities, including an ugly new display, a skimpy Christmas banquet, and being forced to wear novelty costumes from a local theater company.  Still, there's fun with Christmas crackers, making fun of each other's costumes, and Young Mr. Grace comes in at the end to save the day with champagne.

"50 Years On" - When they discover that Mrs. Slocombe is coming up upon a momentous birthday, the Ladies' and Mens' Wear departments decide to help her celebrate.  Unfortunately, they quickly realize that they don't know anything about her, not even her first name.  It's a great spotlight episode for the show's most iconic character, and she's not even in all that much of it.  I especially enjoy some of Mr. Grainger's most cantankerous jibes at his eternal enemy.

"Oh What a Tangled Web" - Many of the show's famous innuendos went over my head as a kid, but they were hard to ignore in this episode, where Captain Peacock is suspected of having an affair with a co-worker.  In the end, his reputation is upheld, but the gossip is a lot of fun while it lasts.  Captain Peacock always had my sympathies, as the most mature and responsible of a loony lot, and it was nice seeing him get his due and a happy ending too.

"A Change Is as Good as a Rest" - Mistakenly believing that he's about to be replaced, Mr. Grainger quits.  This triggers a series of promotions and organizational shuffling that upends the usual hierarchy of the Mens' Wear department, to amusing effect.  This is also the episode where our characters are sent to run the toy department temporarily.  The scenes with Mrs. Slocombe and the dollies and Mr. Humphries and the Wibbly Wobblies are priceless.

"Goodbye Mr. Grainger" - Mr. Grainger experiences several sudden reversals of fortune that result in the old grump's employment in danger of terminating multiple times for different reasons.  We get him at his best and at his worst, and it's easily the most touching portrayal of the character and his relationships with the other employees. Of course, there's also the added poignancy of this being one of the last times we'd get to see Arthur Brough onscreen.

"It Pays to Advertise" - I don't remember much about the storyline with the mannequins that featured in this episode, but I definitely recall the particulars of the other story about the commercial that Mr. Humpries directs for Grace Brothers, starring his fellow employees, that comes off in a very different way than he intended.  Innuendos upon innuendos pile up in one of the show's funniest finales, and introduced me to several new anatomical terms to go look up.

"The Pop Star" - "Are You Being Served" went through several cast changes and retoolings in its later years, bringing down the quality of the show considerably.  However, I have a soft spot for the very last episode, where the newest employee, Mr. Spooner, lands a big opportunity to pursue a recording career.  His delightfully demented performance of "Chanson D'Amour" with the other employees as backup singers is still a treat to watch.


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