Monday, December 26, 2011

Roper vs Roper: Christmassy George & Mildred

There once was a great series called Man About the House. It was about a man named Robin who lived with two women Chrissy and Jo (some guys have all the luck). In the house they lived were George and Mildred Roper. They were Robin’s, Chrissy’s and Jo’s landlords. When Man About the House came to an end, two series spun off from this show. One was Robin’s Nest and the other was about George and Mildred called, well, George & Mildred in 1976! Does this story sound slightly familiar? Do some of these names ring a bell? Well, Man About the House was remade over in the states as Three’s Company in 1977. When that series ended, Jack Tripper went on to star in Three’s a Crowd which lasted for 1 season in 1984. But back when Three’s Company was finishing up season 3 in 1979, Helen and Stanley Roper were given their own series called, The Ropers. This only lasted for one season while George & Mildred lasted for five but if you look at the episode count, The Ropers had 26 and the George & Mildred had 38. That’s something that took me a long time to get used to when I got into British television. A season (or series) in the UK had a run of between 6 and 12 episodes per season while in the US was on average 26.  The funny thing now is that most cable stations who make their own first run programs will run episodes at intervals of 8 – 13 episodes which is very similar to the UK model.
Just like Man About the House, this series is just fun. The word play between the characters is inventive and smart. Mildred is just like her US counterpart Helen, sex starved, wants constant attention and domineering. George is pretty close to Stanley. He’s a homebody who has no interest in anything Mildred has an interest in. Even though I make a sort of comparison between the Ropers of Three’s Company and the Ropers of George & Mildred, there really is no comparison. In my mind, they are both great. The actors from each series brings something unique to the part. For example, one of my all-time favourite character reactions in a TV series is whenever Stanley gets a zinger in on someone; he always turns to the camera and has this fantastic smile and holds it for a few seconds. I love, love it, love it!  This week I look at 2 episodes from George & Mildred and in keeping with the holiday spirits, one of them is Christmas themed. Can you guess which one, I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out…..or not.
The Mating Game TX 27.01.81
Mildred wants her dog Truffles to have puppies and thinks it is a good idea for Truffles to get to know Mildred’s sister’s Yorkie Pomeroy better so they can get it on…or however dogs do it. George isn’t that keen on the idea until he realizes he can get money for the puppies. Mildred’s sister and brother-in-law are very well off. Ethel is constantly looking down on Mildred and especially George. George is very common but clearly is someone who is pretty easy to get along with, if you like past his insanely selfish side, as he generally gets on with his brother-in-law Humphrey.
It’s funny how the concept of two dogs mating is so difficult for the characters to articulate. While Truffles and Pomeroy are getting it on in the back garden, George and Humphrey are nervously making small talk to pass the time and allow the dogs to have their privacy. This also makes way for good comedy as it leads to misunderstandings. While at the vet, the vet asks George how old the puppy is but he asks it as, “How old is she?” Of course, George looks at Mildred and says, “Oh I don’t know, she’s getting on a bit” turns to Mildred, “How old are you?” The vet needs to make a house call to the Ropers and I see he is wearing a tweed jacket, yellow vest and a hat just like Siegfried Farnon. Is this what vets would traditionally wear in the UK? I ask because I really don’t know! I find it very interesting.

The other characters of this series are the Ropers’s next door neighbours. They are the Fourmiles. There is Jeffrey, Ann and their son Tristram plus a little infant.  Generally, Jeffrey is constantly irritated by George for all the stupid things he does and always borrows Jeffrey’s things. This episode the Fourmiles don’t appear too much but their storyline revolves around smoking. Tristram is found smoking in the shed basically because he sees is father doing it. So, Jeffrey decides that he will quit. Of course, I need to mention the obligatory Doctor Who reference. After Tristram was caught, Jeffrey punishes Tristram with no TV for five days. Tristram then says, “Five days, then I can’t watch Doctor Who. You and I always watch Doctor Who together.” Then Tristram goes on to say that they are right in the middle of a story where Doctor Who is fighting some kind of monster. Jeffery pauses, realizes that if Tristram misses it, he will miss it to and says, “ Alright, no TV for four days!.” This was actually made in 1978, can you imagine being a kid and Tom Baker as Doctor Who! How cool! So, obviously The Mating Game is not the yuletide episode which means it must be…

On the Second Day of Christmas 27.12.78

Nobody wants to see George or Mildred on Christmas. No one stops by. Not even Ethel or Humphrey. Even Mildred’s mum is having a saucy party at her own place with other old people. Completely annoyed, George opens up Ethel and Humphrey’s gifts and starts to consume them. Lucky for them to kill the boredom, Ann from next door stops by and invites them over for a drink. Over at the Fourmiles, Tristram received the old video game system Pong for Christmas. Do you remember Pong, that very primitive system where you volley a ball back and forth on a screen and you try to stop your opponent scoring on you? Anyway, Tristram is just learning it and loses to his dad as the Ropers stop by. George challenges little Tristram to a game. George, who always loves a bet, asks Tristram to put 5p on the game. Just as Jeffrey comes back into the room, he sees that George has won and Tristram sadly hands over the 5p. It is a little sad to see George make Tristram pay up for losing the game on Christmas! Jeffrey decides to play against George on Pong to get Tristram’s money back  and to make it lively, they decide to put a pound on per game. Even though George easily won against Tristram, because Tristram wasn’t very good, now George is playing against Jeffrey who is a natural at this game. Jeffrey is simply killing him in the game. Jeffery doesn’t even have to watch the screen to beat George; he doesn’t even need to really play. George keeps scoring on himself he is so bad! Every time George loses, he challenges Jeffrey to another game, double or nothing. By the time they are done, George owes Jeffery somewhere in the region of over £140,000!
Before George can lose any more money, Mildred gets George back to their house because they see Ethel and Humphrey have arrived. It’s very awkward for George and Mildred since George drank and ate Ethel and Humphrey’s Christmas gifts! So the Ropers excuse themselves to the kitchen to find some gifts for the Ethel and Humphrey. While the Ropers are in the kitchen, Ethel is looking around the living room, eyeing the decorations. Decorations on one or two cards held up on string going from one side of the wall to another and she glances and some other knick knacks. She turns to Humphrey and says, “It’s all a bit Blue Peter isn’t it?” Very, very funny! George and Mildred return soon enough with Ethel’s and Humphrey’s gifts, items found in the kitchen, a block of cheese for Ethel and some oven mitts for Humphrey!

So does George owe Jeffrey money by the end of the episode? Once Jeffrey told Ann how much George owes him, Ann tells him he has to let George win or they will never be left alone because George will never stop coming over for re-matches! Finally, when George comes by to ask for another game, Jeffery suggests tossing a coin double or nothing for everything. Jeffrey tosses it and of course George picks the wrong side. So, Jeffrey suggests two out of three. This time George picks right and they are all happy, until George reminds him it’s two out of three. Jeffrey asks George  to pick heads or tails for the final flip, George not the brightest Christmas ornament on the tree says, heads……..and tails. How could you lose with that?

It’s another fun episode of the series. It is interesting how both episodes really do not have Mildred baring down too hard on George. Actually, in both episodes, Mildred is just as much caught up in the action as George. I think a big part of this is that George doesn’t have some kind of scheme going that is going to wind up Mildred. These episodes really miss out on George’s friend Jerry (played by Roy Kinnear) who is very unreliable and constantly screws over both George and Mildred. Just earlier in the series, Jerry install a shower in George and Mildred’s bathroom. It would work well if it wasn’t for the fact that the pipes were made in Korea and do not fit with any shower heads made in the UK or Europe for that matter! Both George and Mildred are very reactionary in these episodes. In The Mating Game, Mildred is almost too worried about truffles to focus on anything else. Even On The Second Day of Christmas, I would have thought she would have gotten all upset after George was dipping into her sister and brother-in-law’s gifts. At the very least that George owed Jeffery over £140,000. Maybe she mellowed with age?

I have to say though; I am really not a fan of the theme music or the opening title sequence for the show, at least from series 2 onwards. In the first series, the theme by Johnny Dankworth, was very lively almost jukebox like, maybe a bit of a vibe from the 1960s. The title sequence was also more designed, stylised and fun including a actual logo for the series. I think either series two or three, the theme music changed to the new version by Roger Webb. It is almost some sort of crappy soft porn sound music and the title sequence got less and less interesting. For these episodes, the titles were just a silhouette of George and Mildred with that awful music. There is no logo at all either, just some really bad superimposed credits. Why bother? For some reason, it really dampens the show for me. It’s such as slow and boring start to the series. Maybe if the original better version never existed then I wouldn’t have been so annoyed.
As for The Mating Game, maybe we should call it The Dating Game. On my viewing of episodes, I base things off of episode guides online and the order of how they appear on the DVD sets I have. Everywhere I look has The Mating Game right before On the Second Day of Christmas both part of series 4. Yet, Kaleidoscope lists On the Second Day of Christmas at the end of Series 3 and The Mating Game the series 5 opener in 1981. I know Kaleidoscope is correct because that is what they do; they are always right about British television. From what I am gathering is that production on the series stopped in 1979. There was some episodes held over but there was a break to make the George & Mildred feature film. There were plans to make more episodes of the series but Yootha Joyce who played Mildred died in 1980. The series came back for a very limited run of 3 episodes in 1981. An abrupt end to a fun series and two iconic characters. Now, I just looked at the inner sleeve of the DVD set and it says that The Mating Game aired on 21/12/78 and On the Second Day of Christmas was 27/12/78. I am confused. By no means do I write these articles as someone who is an expert. I like to take information and synthesize it to create a fuller picture but I am stumped on this. If anyone knows what the story is please feel free to chime in. Your knowledge is requested!
I watched these from the Network complete series DVDs. I was worried about perhaps too much DVNR applied to the episodes but they looked alright yet I thought On the Second Day of Christmas was a little overly compressed. It was almost immediately obvious. No work was done to the 2” masters as this is one of those series just lives on and on and no one ever thinks there needs to be work done to it. It is clear that these episodes may be a little too compressed on the discs. One true sign is slight shimmering around objects. This is very obvious on the lettering of the opening and closing credits.
Although maybe not the best authoring, I have heard previous releases of these episodes on DVD were even worse. I love this series and am just happy to have them!

I post articles a week after I view the episodes. So I have another week of Christmassy viewing to post even though we will be past Christmas , I just want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday! Have a great day!

Next week: the last of the Christmas themed episodes for December and 2011 as I move from Thames Television to London Weekend Television, I look at two episodes of On the Buses. Christmas Duty and Boxing Day Social! These are two great Christmas themed episodes.


Dave G said...

I always thought iwas funny how Three's Company spawned the same two spinoffs that MATH had. Still, the UK set of programmes exhibit more well-developed characters than the US versions. I never realy cared for the Ropers as characters, especially Stanley - he just seemed too one-dimensional. It is also interesting to note that while Three's Company kept the whole "Jack pretending to be gay" theme through the whole run, MATH dropped it very early on.

When I first watched MATH, I wasn't sure how well George & Mildred would hold up on it's own, but I really grew to enjoy the series. Again, the charcaters are well-developed, more than just a look or a catchphrase.

Anyway, another fun read - I look forward to On The Buses.

Greg said...

Three's Company is interesting in that there is a real sort of cultural movement to it. I don't mean it as deep as I make it sound but there is a sort of look and feel to the characters and the sets that almost give the whole thing an alternative lifestyle feel to it. I think it is more obvious when Furley joins because he wears the chains and acts the act but is so woefully out of touch. I still have a soft spot for this show because I remember watching it when I was young. How my parents allowed me to watch this is really weird. I would have been 4 or 5 when it started.
I think MATH is a lot stronger than George & Mildred. I rewatched some other episodes of G&M this week and saw some real great episodes but just doesn't gel as well for me as MATH.

Toby said...

This is gorgeous!

Mr Straightman said...

George and Mildred is hugely underrated. Great writing, powerhouse performances, amazing chemistry between the stars and a top-notch supporting cast.