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A joke too far...
On The Buses - Series 6 (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
On The Buses - Series 6 (DVD)
Advantages: Same old characters, slapstick humour
Disadvantages: It's wearing too thin now
In this sixth series of the hit sixties/seventies comedy, Stan and Jack are still working on the buses, trying to get the better of Inspector Blake whenever they can. Stan is still living at home with his mother, sister Olive, and her husband, Arthur, but things are getting difficult - Olive and Arthur seem to be arguing from noon to night and the atmosphere in the house is so bad that he is glad to go to work! On top of that, he is trying to stop smoking, which doesn't do much for his temper. Union trouble and strikes mean that he has to spend nights at work too - will his time away result in better relations between Olive and Arthur? And will Stan finally find the money, and the strength, to move away from his family?
The most successful comedies, as far as I am concerned, are those that know when to stop. That way, they are remembered for being still at the height of their popularity. Others carry on until they die a painful death - and unfortunately, On the Buses was one of them. In this, the second to last series, it is clear that the jokes are wearing very thin and, resorting to ridiculous slapstick comedy, the quality of the humour has become juvenile in the extreme. Nevertheless, there are saving graces for fans of the show in particular - the same old characters are still there and, judging by the popularity of the show at the time, there are probably still a lot of fans out there.
Reg Varney plays Stan, and is very much the face of the series. He is funny, provided that you like lots of gurning and slapstick, but in this series, I found him more annoying than anything else. It isn't all his fault - the writers are a lot to blame for trying to make the same old situations funny when they've already been done to death. And I think that, whereas when he appeared younger, he got away with being a bit daft and still living with his mother, in this series, he is looking too old for such silly behaviour. I'm probably being overly critical, but I certainly found him a lot less funny in this series than in earlier ones.
Stephen Lewis as Blakey is also wearing a bit thin in this series. His drawl and laugh are unnecessary most of the time; even worse, his role seems to be expanding. He is still funny, but, like Reg Varney, is becoming less so. I do like Bob Grant as Jack though. Perhaps it is because his role in the show is generally secondary to that of Stan, so the viewer doesn't have quite as much opportunity to get sick of him. I think he is a much more natural comedian; he makes me laugh anyway. Sadly, his entire life seems to have revolved around Jack and On the Buses - when it ended, he found it hard to find another job and eventually committed suicide.
Anna Karen is also funny as Stan's sister Olive. She manages to carry off being daft much more efficiently than the other characters, although her acceptance of Arthur's taunts are hard to take at times. It's been great to see her occasional appearances in Eastenders as Peggy Mitchell's sister recently. Arthur (Michael Robbins) is downright obnoxious - in this day and age, it wouldn't be tolerated by most people - but I suppose it is important to remember that the series was made in another time. Doris Hare, who plays Stan and Olive's mother is her usual scatty self - sometimes her delivery of lines is a bit off and I found myself wondering if the role was too much for her.
Despite my criticism of the characters, the humour is still there, albeit more sporadic than in earlier series. The rivalry between Stan and Arthur is responsible for many of the laughs and I'm always happy when Jack appears. It is interesting to note that Stephen Lewis and Bob Grant wrote half of the episodes themselves, whereas George Layton and Jonathan Lynn wrote the others. I found that those written by the latter were the funnier episodes though - it felt as though those written by Lewis and Grant were forced, as if the humour was becoming secondary to the characters. Perhaps ego was getting in the way of noting what was important for the audience in this case.
One of the reasons I enjoy watching sitcoms from this period is to remind myself of a simpler time, one in which I was growing up. It is somehow comforting to have this reminder occasionally. However, there is also the reminder of a time when women were treated like secondary citizens. Arthur's treatment of Olive is disgusting - he's always calling her a big fat lump and the like - and by this series, I was finding it deeply distasteful. The 'clippies' or bus conductresses were also treated badly - mainly as sex objects - and in this day and age, it can be hard to watch at times. Apart from this though, the humour is fairly clean, which is a minor bonus.
There are seven episodes in this series. Probably the funniest is 'Bye Bye Blakey' - Stan and Jack believe that Blakey is suffering from an incurable disease and is about to die. I think the reason I liked it is because it was a pleasant change from the usual Blakey taunts. The final episode, 'The Prize', where Mum wins a holiday abroad is also good, and Doris Hare seems a bit more on the ball. 'Stan's Worst Day' is worth noting, because there are a few flashbacks and we get to see how Stan met Jack and Blakey and how Arthur comes into the family. The most annoying episodes are the couple that are dedicated to Arthur and Olive's arguing - just because of Arthur's aggressive behaviour. All in all though, the good episodes don't really make up for the bad ones, unlike in previous series.
I was delighted to see that there were a couple of extras with the DVD - something that is sadly disappearing from most sitcom DVDs of this era. The first is a selection of clips from The Reg Varney Comedy Hour, or The Other Reg Varney as it was originally known, televised in the early 1970s. The show was obviously put together as a result of Varney's success on On the Buses. The clips are quite funny and it is good to see Varney as himself, rather than as a character - he is definitely less annoying, although he still isn't as funny as he seems to think he is. The other extra is made up of two clips, showing how popular the show was in the early seventies, with the actors being asked to open shops etc on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the clips are without sound - you can get the general idea though.
I really enjoyed the first two series of this show, when the comedy was fresh and we were still getting to know the characters. Each series thereafter has gone slightly downhill, so that by this one, it really is only something that big fans of the show or those who haven't seen it before at all will find funny. For me, it was a reasonably pleasant reminder of a show that I have enjoyed in the past, but it has made me realise that the show is dying a death - it is just as well there is only one series after this one. Obviously the characters realised the same thing - Michael Robbins doesn't appear at all in the next series, and Reg Varney leaves half way through. It's a shame the show wasn't cut before this. Just about recommended, but don't expect to be rolling around on the floor. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £7.99.
Running time: 175 minutes (minus extras)
Summary: The show should have ended a couple of series ago
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