Sunday, November 17, 2013
'Last of the Summer Wine' DVD: 31-Season pre-'Seinfeld' Britcom About Nothing
BFS Entertainment recently releasing the complete first series (my people call them seasons) of the prequel series "First of the Summer Wine" prompted reviewing BFS' 4-disc 2-film and 6 episode set of the 1973-2010 31-series classic Britcom "Last of the Summer Wine." The presentations in the DVD set are from "Last's" first two series.
Unreal TV will post a review of "First" before the end of 2013.
Roy Clarke, who also brought us the classic Britcoms "Keeping Up Appearance" and "Open All Hours," created "Last." That program holds the record for the world's longest running sitcom.
The central theme for much of "Last's" run was the activities of three rather unlikable men who had been friends virtually all of their relatively numerous years and discussed mundane aspects of their lives and their community roughly 15 years before Jerry Seinfeld co-created his show about nothing.
The rather uptight leader of the "Last" gang Cyril Blamire is the Jerry of that group, and the very odd and crude in appearance and behavior ferret raiser Compo Simmonite is indisputably Kramer's counterpart; the parallel between the not-so-bright or compassionate George Costanza of "Seinfeld" and the quiet and sensible Norman Clegg is not as strong, but both are definitely more often than not the third wheel of the group.
Additionally, both the "Last" and "Seinfeld" groups spend a great deal of time hanging around a local cafe. The unemployed "Last" boys devote most of the rest of their days to wandering around their Yorkshire community simply conversing and wasting time.
Additionally, the "Last" gang enjoys teasing each other about their youthful indiscretions and other embarrassing moments growing up; Cyril being stiff even back then provides a great deal of fodder for those conversations.
A scene in which the "Last" group has a rather lengthy discussion in their cafe regarding whether referring to a man's "person" refers only to his sexual organ is one of the first clues that the program has elements of "Seinfeld." A scene from another episode in which Compo hilariously disrupts a visit to a historic home further validates this theory.
Another episode in which Norman tries to return a bicycle that he bought decades before also could have been a "Seinfeld" episode despite a fall-on-the-floor scene in which the bicycle goes wildly out-of-control while all three men are riding being much more reminiscent of "The Honeymooners."
The common element of a "get-rich-quick-scheme" that often snares Kramer and Kramden alike is an element in the cleverly titled episode "The Changing Face of Rural Blamire" in which Cyril's "scheme for full employment" ends up involving him and his companions peddling a clearly and uproariously funnily defective product; the final minutes of this episode are truly "must-see" TV.
Elements of the first "Last" film, which is titled "Bringing Sam Home," in the BFS set is reminiscent of another popular American comedy and does a perfect job introducing newcomers both to "Last's" main characters and the other locals in their village.
The first portion of the film is relatively low-key and involves the group both visiting the titular character in the hospital and consoling his long-term (not-so-secret) mistress who loves him but is not allowed to visit his sickbed. A scene from this portion of the film apparently inspired the famous "Basic Instinct" scene.
The middle portion of "Sam" involves hilarious scenes involving Sam's shrewish wife and the Gang of Three's efforts to sneak the titular character out of the house to visit his mistress on his first night home from the hospital.
Sam somewhat predictably dying in his mistress' bed then transforms the film into a wonderfully British-styled version of the cult classic 1989 American comedy film "Weekend at Bernie's," that largely involves two 30-something guys furtively dragging a corpse around.
That element repeats itself in a less gruesome manner in the "Who's That Dancing With Nora Betty Then" in which Compo's crush on a neighbor who is emigrating to Australia leads to the gang locating and then moving a piano to have it for going-away party for that woman.
The second film, which shares the program's title, seems to be three episodes strung together; a common theme regarding this is Compo's best buds trying to convince him that he is possessed. This leads to threatening a local woman with exposure of her affair, crashing a private function, and irreverent behavior in a church.
The fact that "Last" ran 31 seasons speaks for itself; BFS starting with a great "tasting" of this series, and hopefully will follow up with more releases provides a good chance to sample this classic vintage.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Last" is encouraged to email me; you are also welcome to contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.