This past Christmas my wife surprised me with the DVD set Are You Being Served? The Complete Collection. I have been a fan of this show since I was a kid (see my review of The Two Doctors). For those who haven’t seen the show, it revolves around the lives of the sales staff and management of a central London department store, Grace Brothers, a somewhat downtrodden shop still clinging to past glories. Archaic even when produced in the ’70s, the shop is a reminder of days when staff would wait on each client, and service was paramount. The show is farsical, with broad humor, misunderstandings, sexual innuendo, and crude jokes. In short, it is everything that a modern sitcom like The Office or Modern Family isn’t. And yet, the show has a certain charm, a familiarity that breeds affection. The actors on the show seem to truly enjoy their work, and inhabit the admittedly one-dimensional characters well, giving them surprising amounts of depth at times.
I recently started watching the DVDs after catching up on a backlog of Doctor Who stories. Rather than starting at the beginning of the set, I indulgently went for an episode that is a favorite of mine, and of many fans of the show: “German Week.” Featuring the original cast, including Mr. Mash, this is one of many episodes where the cast dresses up in costume and does a dance. Yet this episode seems to balance the crazy and the fun quite well, creating a satisfying mixture of physical humor, clever jokes, and something resembling a plot. Captain Peacock in leiderhosen, The German band with the Cockney accents, and the German tourist all provide memorable moments that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. All the actors are at the height of their comic powers, and the one-liners come fast and furious.
It’s hard to review an episode of Are You Being Served? using any standard metrics such as plot, acting, set design, effects, etc. Plots are non-existant, acting is broad and pantomime, the set is clearly a set, and there are no effects to speak of. The quality of an episode has to be defined based on some indefinable quality, and whatever that quality is, “German Week” has it in spades. It is funny and fun, biting at times, warm and friendly at others. If it were a food, it would certainly not be a rich main course, but it does make a perfectly sweet dessert!