Are You Being Served? [1977]

The later series of definitive British sitcom Are You Being Served?--set in the hierarchical world of the sales staff of a department store--lost several of its original cast members, but this only gave more room for the antics of its most popular characters: The not-so-ambiguously-gay Mr. Humphries (sterling John Inman) and the multi-hued Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sugden, as regal and petulant as Queen Victoria), ably supported by lecherous floorwalker Capt. Peacock (wonderfully snooty Frank Thornton), affable Miss Brahms (helium-voiced Wendy Richard), and woefully incompetent Mr. Rumbold (jug-eared Nicholas Smith), who form a squabbling dysfunctional family within the strict rules, bowler hats, and neck frills of Grace Brothers store. Though the plots grow more absurd--one episode has the staff forced to sleep on a giant waterbed in the store basement, dressed like albino Teletubbies--the comfortable but never complacent rapport of the cast keeps the show sharp. Even the most groan-inducing sexual double-entendres (and there are many) gets carried off with aplomb; no matter how many times Mrs. Slocombe refers to her poor pussy (that is to say, her cat, Tiddles), it still gets a laugh from Sugden's unbeatable poker face. And though the writing occasionally wears thin, some episodes are among the series' best: When Mrs. Slocombe is temporarily given a managerial position, the overturning of the established order is comic gold; the staging of a Punch and Judy show lets everyone indulge in some topnotch slapstick. Are You Being Served? is a twinkling star in the Britcom firmament, guaranteed to turn any viewer into a delirious fan. --Bret Fetzer

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