Friday, November 29, 2013
'First of the Summer Wine' DVD: Brilliant Britcom Prequel of 31-Season Series About Nothing
As the recent review of the 31-series (my people call them seasons) Britcom "Last of the Summer Wine" promised, this review focuses on BFS Entertainment's DVD release of the first series of the equally good prequel series "First of the Summer Wine."
"Last" primarily revolves around the adventures of idle 60-something childhood friends who, ala "Seinfeld," largely wander around their Yorkshire village annoying those who lead more productive lives. The inaugural series of "First" brings these perpetual boys of summer back their 18th year during May of 1939; the impending world war replaces old age as the source of their musing about their lives.
The fun of this vastly superior quasi "Muppet Babies," "The Flintsone Kids," "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo," etc. show includes enjoying younger incarnations of truly legendary characters and particularly seeing Clegg as an awesome kid. The important elements of good writing, directing, and acting make this attempt to expand the "Last" lore truly "must-see."
Britcom god Roy Clarke, who created both "Wine" series, adds more of a touch of his fellow classic program "Keeping Up Appearances" to "First" if only in the form of the highly pretentious characters who this review will address.
Further, the frequent "mind the gate" directive in "First" is very reminiscent of the haughty Hyacinth Bouquet of "Appearances" constantly telling husband Richard to "mind the" horse, pedestrian, house, etc. each time that they take a drive. A friendly warning is that doing this even in jest can seriously irk a driver.
"First" is also similar to the early seasons of the classic nostalgic American sitcom "Happy Days" in that it does a nice job focusing on the daily life of an ordinary middle-class late-teens boys in a well-depicted prior era. In the case of "First," these tales are mostly from the perspective of "Last" central character Norman Clegg; Peter Sallis who plays Norman in "Last," plays Norman's father in "First."
Young Norman's life consists of living with his parents, working for the very officious (think Captain Peacock from the long-running Britcom "Are You Being Served") Mr. Scrimshaw in the "lino" department of the local co-operative department store, hanging with his co-workers and friends, and contemplating going to war.
Said co-workers consist of boil-infested lino department colleague Sherbert and gent's department salesman Seymour, who plays a central role in many "Last" seasons. Norman's friends include Compo from "Last," who raises ferrets and gleefully embraces his highly quirky hobo-like persona as much as he does in his adult incarnation; the primary difference is that Compo is more endearing as a teen.
Seymour's twin passions are his very cool three-wheeled red roadster and the somewhat pretentious Deborah Norbury, whose mother channels Hyacinth to an even greater degree. Great humor regarding Mrs. Norbury's attitude includes chastising the housekeeper regarding her handling of Deborah's gentleman callers and insisting that Norman park the delivery van down the street so that the neighbors do not see that Mrs. Norbury is purchasing items from the co-op.
The adventures of Norman and his entourage include hunting for (and messing with) Scrimshaw's secret supply of snuff, taking a fall-on-the-floor hilarious camping trip with current soldier-in-training and future veteran Foggy also of "Last," and talking their way out of trouble when Scrimshaw discovers their previously secret retreat in the store's basement.
The boys spend the rest of their time creating mayhem at the local movie theater, patronizing the fish and chips shop that will become the cafe where they hang out as adults, and engaging in their life-long habit of just walking through the town and the surrounding woods. Having "Last's" Ivy around adds to the fun.
The only proper way to wrap up this "First" review is to jointly express hope that BFS will release Series Two on DVD soon and lament that the BBC did not produce more series beyond that one.
Anyone with questions regarding "First" or "Last" is welcome to email me; you can also contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.