Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HOGAN'S HEROES (1965-1971 series originally aired on the CBS television network, now seen on TV Land weekdays from four to five in the afternoon and perhaps during prime time as well!)

HOGAN'S HEROES has never been one of those tee-vee series that aloof, "in-the-know" people ever looked fondly upon, but I can remember when it was whatcha'd call real he-man kick up yer feet in the evening viewing for more than a few guys who looked like James Arness and spent their working days inflating truck tires with their lungs. As for wee-little me, I didn't know what to think of it...HOGAN'S HEROES, at least to my underdeveloped six-year-old mind, seemed like yet another war drama in the trend of sixties-period World War II-based programs that began with COMBAT and continued for a good five or so more years with TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH and THE RAT PATROL. Like all of these well-remembered (yet try to find 'em on your tee-vee screen) sixties programs, HOGAN'S HEROES had that dark adventure series look to it that would make a casual observer think it could be another GARRISON'S GUERRILLAS, but the laugh track and more than obvious stabs at humorous storylines amidst the sabotage and explosions made what would otherwise be a standard WW II series for nostalgic veterans a comedy which only added to the confusion a tee-vee loving chile like myself was going through regarding the true nature of this show! But whatever, the mix of adventure and sitcom sure made for a winning combo with a whole lotta people besides my Battle of the Bulge-surviving uncles who were spending their free time between betting on horses and doing household odd jobs front and center for this 'un.

Naturally, the youngsters that I knew who also ate up tough-kid fodder like DANIEL BOONE while I was raving about THE LUCY SHOW to anyone who would listen seemed to think that HOGAN'S HEROES was the tops. One actually told me, and his parents at the exact same time, that because of HOGAN'S HEROES he thought the Nazis were cool because they wore great-looking uniforms and drove around in neat tanks and guys like Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz were really cool once you got down to it, and he would've have minded fighting for Germany had he been around during the war, staunch HOGAN'S HEROES fan he be!

That unsolicited testimonial naturally led to a whole slew of "lectures" with me (and I guess a whole generation of kids born long after the war) being subjected to talks about how evil the Nazis really were and how they mass murdered Jewish people who were related to our neighbors and how the allies just hadda go and put an end too all that carnage or else who knew what would happen! And, while HOGAN'S HEROES was still being regularly viewed in the abode even after all of this, it was impressed upon me that the program really wasn't an accurate portrayal of those aforementioned Nazi atrocities (flashback to THE TWENTIETH CENTURY with shots of bodies piled in mounds and a closeup of some kid's face). It all went over my head...after all, when I was in the first grade "Jews" didn't seem like anything that my neighbors were but people straight out of the Bible (I didn't have any concept of them still being around...after all, how many Pharisees do you see on the streets these days?) and really, it wasn't like I was that hot on these army shows anyway, unless you count GOMER PYLE USMC!

Dunno why nobody is rerunning that underrated Jim Nabors comedy these days but the at-times play-it-safe TV Land is once again airing HOGAN'S HEROES after a good umpteen years of neglect bringing this show to my, and a whole load of unsuspecting television viewers', attention. Now, I must admit that I eventually did more or less become a follower of the series when it was being rerun as pre-primetime fodder for many a local station (after being subjected to school it was great looking forward to seven in the evening when one could settle back and relive some good television for once!) and I even recall sneaking a peak once when a tornado warning was drawing in channel 55 from Akron in the late-eighties, but now that I'm older and more, ahem, mature what do I think?

Well, I could state the OBVIOUS and say that I do get a fine tingling joy watching HOGAN'S HEROES since this is the series that really riles the snobbish, PBS-viewing PC crowd who thinks that there are "good" wars (ones that serve their own concepts of international brotherhood singing in perfect harmony) and "bad" ones, usually of a capitalistic nature. After all, to these nabobs of (television) negativity (some of may have even served in the armed forces), there is more or less this "human" side to conflict that seems to be one part collectivism and another humanitarianism with a good load of pap tossed in. Thus we have Studs Terkel's THE GOOD WAR and Tom Brokaw's THE GREATEST GENERATION (which Lew Rockwell said should have been titled THE STATIST GENERATION) and a lotta historical rehashing that comes off (after a fashion) not unlike the concept of the Soviet "Patriotic War" brouhaha that I guess older Russkies are buying into even at that late stage in the game. It mostly seems like sick romanticizing through red-colored glasses if ya know what I mean, and pretty much about as unreal (and perhaps as evil) to the hard truth of it all as an old gung ho war comic rotting away somewhere in the collection!

And after a good four decades of decision I have come to the conclusion that HOGAN'S HEROES is pretty good...I wouldn't say that is was great in a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER/TWILIGHT ZONE sense but who but an ardent hater of this blog would think that the show wasn't way beyond "passable". Not only with its nice enough mid/late-sixties feel, but with the general comidramatic premise and natural ability to zone one back to a pre-relevancy non-controversial feeling of suburban goo. Bob Crane may not exactly be another William Holden (obv. model which would figure since this show was lifted hook line and sabotage from STALAG 17) but he plays it smarm sleazy enough as the mastermind behind the undercover operations going on at the camp. The rest of the prisoners are pretty much straight from central casting (Richard Dawson as the smartass English guy, Robery Clary as the short French teddy bear for the teenage gals who might tune in [the Davy Jones role], Larry Hovis as the loveable dumbo and Ivan Dixon just the token black even if they do try to give him meaningful roles) and hey, I gotta admit that it sure was a stroke of genius to have Jews play the roles of the generally stupid, nieve Nazis. I mean, what better way to rub salt into the wounds of the losers!

And yeah, this show is about as "real" as GILLIGAN'S ISLAND but it's almost as fun. True, the writers really do stretch boundaries when they have Commandant Klink (played to perfection by Werner Klemperer) cozying up to prisoner Hogan who seems to be playing nursemaid one minute while plotting the destruction of strategic targets the next plus the badskis are so stupid that they trounce the whole "master race" concept in one single bound. However, all I say to that is so what? because once you get way down to it is anything on tee-vee (even the news once you get down to it) "real", or at least is it supposed to be? Was NORTHERN EXPOSURE (as an example of early-nineties "quality" television) "real"? How about those hard-edged cable dramatic shows that snoots like to view for their bared-knuckleness??? Naw, at least HOGAN'S HEROES plays it for mid-Amerigan excitement and laughs and if you can't dig that then may I suggest a good workshop for you to vent your woes over???

And really, are the Nazis on HOGAN'S HEROES any "nicer" than the ones on 'ALLO 'ALLO, another good Nazi-laden sitcom which I believe has avoided all of the barbs and slings that HOGAN'S HEROES has dodged over the years. (The only criticism of 'ALLO 'ALLO I've encountered was that the limeys who are playing the krauts on this show do horrible German accents that sound English no matter how hard they try!) Of course that 'un had loads of fun double entendres and some pretty snappy writing, so maybe that's why it avoided what I would have thought was inevitable controversy. Maybe they aren't as socially conscious in England as they are here? Or maybe people are too busy roughing it out with the abysmal mess that is taking over all of Europe (rampant Third World immigration, nutcase fringe types...) to care. Who knows?

So forget all of those critiques that MAD used to dump upon this show. With network prime-time tee-vee at an even lower low than their already early-eighties dump and independent television pretty much eaten up by the new smaller networks, shows like HOGAN'S HEROES really are to die for. And what better way to digest your pork rinds than to watch this 'un 'stead of anything broadcast after 1979, eh?


Anonymous said...

What about strudel?

Christopher Stigliano said...

Und liverwurst!

Anonymous said...

PC was one of those US imports that came late to the UK, but the straight A students are living up to lessons taught by their teachers. The episodes of Til Death Us Do Part with Spike Milligan as a Pakistani can't be shown anymore, and there was even controversy about re-running Benny Hill.

On another topic, isn't it WEIRD that Vietnam was never mentioned once on Gomer Pyle, despite the show running from 1965-72? Even Leave It To Beaver mentioned Korea once ("Wally, remember when the Korean War was popular?)