BOOTLEG FILES 653: “Heil Honey I’m Home!” (1990 British sitcom that ran for one episode before being cancelled).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: One of the most notoriously bad productions in British television history.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nein.
Imagine “I Love Lucy” with Adolf Hitler as Ricky Ricardo, Eva Braun as Lucy and an obnoxious Jewish couple as the Mertzes. Welcome to the production that makes “The Day the Clown Cried” seem like the pinnacle of fine art: the 1990 British sitcom “Heil Honey I’m Home!”
Of course, this was not the first sitcom to make fun of the Nazis – “Hogan’s Heroes” got there first in 1965 and ran for six seasons. And using humor to deflate the Third Reich took on a greater degree of brilliance with Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” and the classic “Fawlty Towers” episode “The Germans.”
But “Heil Honey I’m Home!” took a wrong turn by trying to place characters from Nazi Germany into a 1950s American-style sitcom. In this go-round, Adolf and Eva cohabit an apartment in Berlin in 1938 – we’re not certain if they are married – but they sound like New Yorkers out of a Neil Simon comedy. Their next-door neighbors are Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, who have more pronounced New York accents. Adolf hates the Goldensteins because he thinks they are noisy, crass and overbearing people who fail to respect his standing as Fuehrer. Arny is especially boorish, referring to Adolf as “Shorty” due to his considerable lack of height.
“Heil Honey I’m Home” opens with a curious intertitle card that explains this sitcom was the work of “Brandon Thalburg Jnr,” an American sitcom producer who commissioned the show. The presentation is billed as an offering of “lost tapes” found “in a Burbank backlot.”
The show opens with a bouncy tune based on the title that sounds much like the cheery but disposable themes used in American sitcoms from a bygone era. The entrance of Adolf (played by Neil McCaul) and Denica Fairman (as Eva) are greeted with applause on the soundtrack, another riff on old-school sitcoms. From the start, comic tensions arise: Eva is furious at Adolf’s late arrival home, because she was making schnitzel that wound up being ruined by his tardiness. “What a joik!” Adolf exclaims, slapping himself on the forehead for stupidly forgetting to be home on time. When Eva complains that he’s been late for dinner every night, Adolf insists, “I’m a very busy man. I just can’t walk out the job at five o’clock.” Eva angrily pounces, yelling, “Let me tell you something, Mr. Schicklgruber! You may be big stuff in Germany, but I knew you when you were just a house painter.”
Adolf surprises Eva by telling her that Neville Chamberlain is coming to their apartment tomorrow night for dinner, but Eva is not impressed and guesses that Adolf “finally went one step too far” in regard to Czechoslovakia, hence the British leader’s sudden arrival at Chez Hitler. But Adolf warns Eva not to tell “those putzes” the Goldensteins that Chamberlain is coming. “You saw how they were when the Mussolinis was over here,” he bellows, adding that they are terrible busybodies. “When I finally get to invade Poland, who’s going to be the first to know? The Poles? No, Rosa Goldenstein.”
We then visit the Goldensteins – large, bald, roly-poly Arny (Gareth Marks) and tiny but loud Rosa (Caroline Gruber). “Arny Goldenstein, you’re a slob,” Rosa complains. “Whatever happened to the glamour? Where did the romance go?” Arny’s response: “How should I know where you put things? I can’t even find my shirts.”
However, Eva and Rosa get along wonderfully, and Eva happily lets slip to her neighbor that Chamberlain is coming for dinner. Even better, Chamberlain is coming by himself – and Rosa has an awkward young niece that she would like to introduce to the British leader. To Adolf’s horror, the Goldensteins crash his party with Chamberlain, with Arny helping himself to Adolf’s cigars and creating a drunken conga line with the visiting leader.
The problems with “Heil Honey I’m Home!” were greater than the laughs. Geoff Atkinson, a respected and versatile television writer who penned gags for British television icons as the Two Ronnies, Cannon and Ball and Lenny Henry, came up with the idea for this stinker, which he polluted with rotten punchlines and unlikeable characters – and the ensemble strangely worked in unison to create some of the worst acting in British television history.
And although the words “Jewish” or “Jews” are never mentioned, the Goldensteins represent some of the dreariest stereotypes ever put on a television screen. Yes, Arny always gets the best of the flustered Fuehrer, but the humor is so stale and the characters are so irritating that the shtick fails upon impact.
In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Atkinson acknowledged his error on this point. “With 25 years of hindsight, I think I would have made the Goldensteins more aware of the situation,” he stated. “Their dilemma in 1938 is, should they leave Berlin? There’s a genuine, dramatic tension there, and I don’t think we got that. We could have underplayed the comedy with the Goldensteins and let the true drama come out a bit more.”
Incredibly, eight episodes of “Heil Honey I’m Home!” were shot, but only the first episode saw the light of day. The British satellite channel Galaxy broadcast the episode on September 30, 1990, and it was greeted with hostile reviews and condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews as trivializing the Nazi anti-Semitism that preceded the Holocaust. The other episodes have never been publicly screened, as Galaxy immediately cancelled the show.
Not surprisingly, “Heil Honey I’m Home!” has not been made available in any home entertainment format. Copies of the only episode to air can be found on YouTube, and Atkinson told Entertainment Weekly that this bootlegging did not bother him.
“I’ve certainly never felt embarrassed by it because I know the motives were good,” he said. “If we were trying to make fun of what happened in the Holocaust, we’d deserve [the hate]. I never felt we were trying to belittle that at all. But to not get it right, that was frustrating. It was fun, but it came at a price, and I wish I could do it again. If as a result of it [being available online], Netflix phoned and said, “Okay, you can do six more episodes,” I would be the happiest person in the world.”
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