Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bad Art: “Heil Honey I’m Home!”

You know how sometimes, a really bad idea can be really, really good? I often think of this whenever I think of bacon-covered jelly donuts. And then there’s the idea of the Holocaust being funny, which at first I found hideous until I saw Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful.

And then there’s the idea of a sitcom starring Adolf Hitler.

In 1990, the British Satellite Broadcasting system had the bright idea to turn Hitler and Ava Braun into a 1950s-style tag-team comedy called Heil Honey I’m Home!. Ava sported a New Yorker accent and was constantly harping on Adolf not being home to have dinner in their stylish Berlin apartment because he’s too busy hobnobbing with members of the Gestapo and plotting to take over Czechoslovakia. Feeling neglected and wanting more time with Adolf, and possibly relishing being in the spotlight itself, this ill-fated comedy was clearly based on I Love Lucy and even had a pair of nosy neighbours-cum-best-friends to match. What’s that, you ask? Is it a good idea to make them Jewish and call them Arvy and Rosa Goldenstein? No, but the makers of this sitcom made them so, anyway. And they banter and kvetch and all of those good things with each other and even with the Hitlers, who aren’t portrayed as being anti-Semitic but as competitive neighbours. Will hilarity ensue?

Lasting but a single episode that aired on September 30, 1990, this forgotten comedy has a bit of life on YouTube as a testament to all things regrettable. The pilot focused on Ava flitting about in a dizzy with Rosa over a star coming to dinner. In this case, that would be Neville Chamberlain (what, was Wallis Simpson not available?). Ava, being a show-off, slips this secret dinner guest to Rosa just to show how high up in the world she’s climbed, and they proceed to do jumpy claps like teenage girls on opening night of the last Twilight movie. Rosa tries to set up her young niece with Neville, who is given to corny, hammy little quips.

The comedy is unfortunately forced as if to wring as much irony and comedy out of the film’s high concept. The acting across the board is so over-the-top, it’s no wonder the actors in it were never heard from again. Neil McCaul, as Hitler, sounds like he’s channeling Cliff Claven on Cheers (that better not be John Ratzenberger in disguise). Denica Fairman, as Ava, plays her like a bored 50s hausfrau (never thought I’d use that term literally) who wants to just throw good house parties, dammit! (Is she auditioning for a Real Housewives of Berlin series?)

It’s not the first time that the Hitlers were spoofed in comedies, given Hogan’s Heroes, and his incarnations as 1) a hippie and 2) a mincing homosexual in the original and 2005 versions of The Producers. However, the shock was just a bit too much to overcome its high concept and what might have worked as a provocative ten-minute play at a fringe festival is instead a drawn-out half hour. I’m still not entirely certain how they managed to obtain funding for an entire series dedicated to this shocking premise and admittedly pale, tame comedy trivializing a peace accord (Neville says it’s to stop Adolf from “being a naughty boy!”) oversteps the boundaries of good taste. I’m also not certain how this kitsch exercise could possibly have been sustained over the course of the war, but thankfully no episodes aired beyond the pilot.

To be horrified, then simply bored to tears by predictable comedy, click on the links below to catch the one and only episode of Heil Honey I’m Home! If you’d rather watch how the legacy of the War was better spoofed, why not click on the classic “TheGermans” episode of Fawlty Towers instead?