After reviewing my personal top ten episodes of four family TV shows, three British sci-fi puppet shows and an American family-based sitcom, I thought I’d try something a little different. For this post, I’m reviewing my top ten episodes of a British sitcom which is a little less family friendly that is One Foot In The Grave. Not to say that the show isn’t child friendly whatsoever, I remember first watching One Foot In The Grave when I was seven years old. Though if you compare it to the other shows whose episodes I previously ranked, it’s much more adult.
For those who don’t know, One Foot In The Grave is a series about an elderly couple who live in a Southern English suburb. Victor Meldrew, a former security guard, is forced into involuntary retirement after being replaced by a box which plays recorded messages and struggles to cope with the modern world, basically hating being retired, while his wife Margaret is stuck in the middle of the mishaps.
The series was written by David Renwick, the sort-of Vince Gilligan of British comedy. And such writing! One Foot In The Grave is as intelligently written as Law & Order, The X-Files, some to name. It’s known to include MacGuffins, a plot element also known to be used in most of Alfred Hitchcock’s feature films, which describes a minor plot point that later becomes important to the synopsis. David also combined elements of farce and tragedy with the comedy.
A few months ago, Richard Wilson, the actor of Victor, turned 80, so a late happy birthday to him. So without further ado, I shall be ranking what I personally consider The Top 10 Episodes of One Foot In The Grave.
The Broken Reflection (S03, E03)
The Broken Reflection introduces Victor’s brother, Alfred. In this episode, Alfred travels from New Zealand to visit/stay with Victor and Margaret for a fortnight vacation. He brings some pictures and some strange items which link to the history of the Meldrews. While that’s going on, next door neighbours Patrick & Pippa Trench also have a vacation and Victor is at war with a bunch of hooligans.
At first, the relationship between Victor and Alfred starts off not so well; when we at first see them together, they’re having some dinner conversation. Victor points out that Alf already said certain things in previous letters. Alf struggles to hear what Victor’s saying, forcing Victor to repeat what he’s said and causing him to be exasperated. We know that sort of thing can tick people off, but then as you get older, some of your body parts or mobility begin to function less.
This brings me neatly onto my favourite part of the episode; Victor’s view of the modern world. It begins with a scene where he has a technician round his house in order to enact revenge on him in regards to some road related incident. The man is using a dicta-phone to record memos. This presumably gives Victor an idea; to get a dicta-phone himself, so that he no longer has to repeat himself every time Alfred mishears. At first, the dicta-phone proves useful to Victor, but then as the episode progresses, the technology turns against him when he realises he forgot to switch the item off while talking to Margaret about his rocky brotherhood.
I should also mention Alfred’s artifacts; one of them being his and Victor’s great-grandpa’s skull, surprisingly striking a resemblance to Victor. And also Victor’s lawn being trashed by two hooligan women, leading to Victor to trash their doorway and the hooligans to put something really nasty in his letterbox, unaware that they’ve got the wrong house, leading to a hilarious finale.
The Trial (S04, E05)
The Trial is Victor’s solo episode and the only one where we don’t see Margaret (if one excludes that Comic Relief sketch).
Victor has been selected to take part in the jury for some unnamed court case. Nobody know what crime’s been committed, who the defendant is or when the session takes place, which means Victor must stay home for the day in case he gets an important call.
Try and imagine if you was selected for jury service and had to wait a while till you could step into a court and know what the case is. My dad’s experienced it as have some of my friends. This is exactly how Victor feels in The Trial, and yet he’s trying to find something to pass the time, such as writing a thank you letter to his brother and having a go at a cryptic crossword puzzle.
Speaking of the crossword, that is one of my favourite scenes. The questions i.e. “Mad poet mugged by banjo player sees red when eating pickles”, hilarious, but also shows how impossible such crosswords are to complete. Even Victor’s pen leads to amusing consequences. My other favourite scene is when Victor finds his newly delivered yucca plant is literally in the downstairs lavatory!
The Valley of Fear (S01, E03)
And this is the episode that stirred up a lot of controversy due to the fact that there was a frozen cat in it. Why is it that I always love the controversial episodes?
The Valley Of Fear sees Victor, who, while photographing the sunset, gets mugged and finds graffiti sprayed on his house. As a result, he begins a Neighbourhood Watch meeting. Meanwhile, he and Margaret are having to deal with central heating problems, a woman in the attic and a cat which they find in their freezer.
The controversy that occurred in the first place was due to the fact that the cat looked real and as a result may have angered the RSPCA. Of course, it’s no different to the fact that the horse Francis Ford Coppola used when he filmed The Godfather was real and its head was detached from its body (though in Francis’ defence , that horse was already dead) and I once mentioned the concerns Gerry Anderson had when he filmed that Thunderbirds episode with the alligators.
The cat scene is my favourite bit in The Valley Of Fear. The scene is both very amusing and farcical. Seeing the way Margaret panics says it all, as does Victor’s slight annoyance over the fact that Margaret didn’t close the freezer door properly and his sarcasm (Margaret: “how long do you think it’s been there”, Victor: “I don’t know, I’ll look for its sell-by-date”).
But there’s more to it than just the cat scene. The Valley Of Fear was released a couple of episodes after the pilot, which saw Victor being involuntarily retired at an early age. We can easily empathise with Victor as he’s trying to adjust to retirement. Things certainly don’t get better for him when he experiences the mugging and the slight vandalism to his house. We therefore can’t blame him for heading the Neighbourhood Watch meetings.
Dreamland (S03, E02)
Dreamland is a well-scripted episode. Most of it is told in flashback through a story Mrs. Warboys is telling some women at a cafe.
Margaret experiences some nightmares she has in which she kills a man that resembles her husband. Victor, meanwhile, is bored of Margaret’s fussing over some items Victor intends to purchase, i.e. black shoes, and his obsessions with them. One day, when Victor returns home, Margaret ain’t home. He and Mrs. Warboys discover she’s been missing for some time and it’s feared she could be dead.
Dreamland signals One Foot In The Grave as one of the most dramatic sitcoms ever to have been produced. One expects to have a good laugh whenever one watches a comedy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t shed a tear or cover serious issues, hence The Simpsons, Bird Of A Feather, The Thin Blue Line, some to mention. One Foot In The Grave is no exception and Dreamland proves so. We get some amusing moments such as when Victor finds that the shoes he purchased are from a corpse, then he disposes of them, leading to the scene with the hobo.
But then, there are moments of sadness. As soon as Jean (that’s Mrs. Warboys by the way. I don’t want to keep calling her Mrs. all the time. It’s frustrating and Jean’s her first name anyway) reports to Victor that Margaret never showed up for work that day and none of her work colleagues saw or heard from her since. Then when they receive a call from the cops reporting that they found Margeret’s raincoat by a canal, that’s when we start to really feel for both Victor and Jean. It’s like “oh no, Margaret’s dead”. Even during the bit where Victor turns down Jean’s offer for him to come round for a cup of tea, I was unable to keep a dry eye.
Now I’m afraid I’ll have to spoil the episode at that point, so I’d advise anybody who ain’t seen this one to skip this paragraph. Dreamland does have a happy ending. While Victor is spending a quiet night in and still grieving, he notices Margaret in the bed, alive! That’s when the laughter kicks back in. Seriously, seeing Victor in surprise at that moment is just great. Then again, we do have a bit of a quiet moment when Margaret reveals that she needed to escape for a bit (following her nightmares of course) and recalls a story of when she was five years old; she had two budgies, one of them accidentally killing itself when she offered to let them out of the cage for a bit, and then had a bad experience at school with an unsympathetic teacher. There are a couple of moments of giggles of course, especially when she states how she wanted to basically kill him, but we can easily sympathise with Margaret. I’d be in that position if I was humiliated like that in front of other people.
Dreamland, a well recommended ep!
Love and Death (S02, E05)
In this one, the Meldrews visit a couple of old friends of theirs, Vince and April, in their boarding house of the south coast. However, some unfortunate coincidences nearly put Victor and Margaret’s marriage in danger.
Ain’t it lovely visiting old friends? I certainly jump for joy when I see some people I ain’t seen for a long time. Though often, you do experience some changes. And it appears that Victor has a bit of a bad start, apparently noticing a seagull in the bog, and of course, cheerful April offers him breakfast in bed, including a runny egg. Geez, not my kind of breakfast.
Love & Death is one of the funniest episodes of One Foot In The Grave. We get a lot of memorable moments; including Vince introducing Victor to his gravestone (a very unusual gift). Victor ending up chatting up two Romanian ladies, much to Margaret’s annoyance, Victor getting a beer glass super-glued to his forehead and let’s be honest, April’s wig.
But the best part of the episode is the finale; (spoiler alert!) the Meldrews pay their friends back for causing them trouble; Victor literally providing April breakfast in bed and a bad hair day!
We Have Put Her Living in the Tomb (S02, E02)
If you thought The Valley Of Fear was the only episode of One Foot In The Grave that involved dead animals, than you ain’t seen much yet. And if you thought the only time we saw a tortoise was during the intro, again, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Meldrews are set to look after a family’s pet tortoise while the family are on vacation. But disaster strikes when the tortoise wanders around and Victor is burning some garden trash. Meanwhile, their wallpaper has been stripped, considering that somebody has used TCP.
We Have Put Her Living in the Tomb was the second episode of the second season following In Luton Airport No-One Can Hear You Scream which saw the Meldrews moving house after their previous one is destroyed. And in this episode, they’re attempting to adjust to the house they have now and are already having trouble with their wallpaper.
One Foot In The Grave most certainly never steered away from dark humour and We Have Put Her Living in the Tomb is no exception. It goes to show that one must take great care when looking after pets and that there are strict rules. The Meldrews do their best when they look after Kylie (the tortoise that is) and when she wanders off, they look for her. Victor at one point finds Kylie on the road with a road marking painted on her shell. Then we get to the biggie; the tortoise wanders off again. Victor is burning the garden trash, while Margaret is searching for Kylie. Then they realise that Victor has clumsily dumped Kylie in the burning basket, unaware that she buried herself in the trash.
This brings me onto my next point, the truth vs the lie. Victor tells the family the dark truth via phone call, ensuring he doesn’t mention that he was the culprit, while Margaret, being more light-hearted, makes amends by buying them a new tortoise and hiding the evidence. And this is what the mix of the two elements leads to; a truly dark ending! I won’t give too much away, but it’s black comedy at its best!
The Return of the Speckled Band (S01, E06)
The one that introduced Victor’s catchphrase “I don’t believe it”, but that’s not the only reason why I placed this episode on the list.
Victor and Margeret are set to spend a vacation in Athens. Before then, they must deal with Victor’s fear of flying, Mrs. Warboys’ food-poisoning and a snake which has escaped from a garden centre. Plus they are unaware that the snake is in their house.
The title, The Return Of The Speckled Band, is a reference to one of the Sherlock Holmes novels, The Speckled Band, which included a snake. That’s probably why they called it Return Of The Speckled Band, because one of the plot points includes a snake which escapes from the same garden centre Victor visited. Speaking of plot points, this is what I was getting at when I briefly spoke about the fact that David Renwick included MacGuffins in the episodes.
The main plot explores the Meldrews’ planning for their vacation and Victor attempting to get over his fear of planes. First time we learn that is through Margaret’s conversation with Mrs. Warboys near the start of the ep (“he’s terrified. But this year I put my foot down”), which also brings up the off-putting things about Athens Jean points out. In another scene, Victor and Margaret are in the lounge, Victor states “Sometime tomorrow, we’ll be up in the air” and Margaret’s like “I wish you’d be told. It’s as safe as crossing the road”. Then we hear a violent car skid, which shocks Victor. That bit I love! Both hilarious and contributes to Victor’s aviophobia.
Okay, on to the MacGuffins! These include:
- a hat which Jean has kindly donated to Victor and originally belonged to a dead relative of hers. Victor feels put off by that fact, because after all, he’s old and as Eric Idle’s theme tune goes. He attempts to get rid of it, but always seems to get it back.
- Jean feeling sick, due to food poisoning. The Meldrews give her some videos to keep her entertained, including Alien, Victor’s idea (smiles). Yes I mean the Ridley Scott movie. The next time we see her is when Victor gives her some eggs for breakfast, which came from alligators.
- The snake, which I briefly mentioned earlier and my favourite one. I would presume when its cage wasn’t properly shut and therefore it escapes, it may have sneaked into Victor’s car, hence why it ends up in his house. The Meldrews remain unaware of its presence, despite Victor feeling it on his leg the night before they set off. When Margaret calls for Victor to get up, we hear Victor screech “Oh my God, no!”, as if he’d seen the snake. But then we discover he freaked out at a TV show which he despises. Then the snake crawls into their suitcase. We then see Margaret carrying the case down and complaining about its weight. Then as they’re in the cab to the airport, Victor thinks he forgot to pack something and briefly unzips the case, but then remembers he did pack it and closes it again, once again ignoring the fact that the snake is present. Lol.
- A Scottish dustman who comes to the Meldrews’ door. He brings some of the MacGuffins together: the hat which he apparently finds in a crusher and gives back to Victor. Then the man discovers the snake slithering up the stairs (keeping in mind that Victor does not notice it) and says he knows someone who is a reptile expert. Next morning, Margaret explains to Victor that the man came round and kindly donated alligators’ eggs, speaking of the eggs Jean eventually has for breakfast and oh gee that scream she gives when she cracks one of the eggs open!
Return Of The Speckled Band; one of the best written episodes in comedy history.
Things Aren’t Simple Any More (S06, E06)
Yes folks, the final ever episode of One Foot In The Grave, if one of course excludes that Comic Relief special which came out the following year. And unfortunately I can’t talk about Things Aren’t Simple Anymore without spoiling it.
The episode begins with Margaret talking to a solicitor via phone in relation to an incident which saw Victor throwing a syringe in a man’s butt and asks them to withdraw Victor’s conviction considering that a, the man was deliberately provoking Victor and b, Victor’s been dead for sometime, so it’s too late to charge him. Some of the episode is told in a series of flashbacks; Victor is invited to a works reunion, but it turns to be a disappointing one. Afterwards, while waiting for Margaret to pick him up, Victor is killed in a hit-and-run accident. In-between the flashbacks, Margaret is attempting to get over her husband’s death and swears vengeance on the culprit. She meets a new friend named Glynis Holloway, who has also recently been widowed. It is not long until Margaret discovers who is responsible for Victor’s killing.
Things Aren’t Simple Anymore may be the last episode of One Foot In The Grave, but it’s also very differently written compared to the previous ones. It’s like watching a comedic episode of Breaking Bad, considering the various flashbacks used. Actually, it’s more like an episodic version of Reservoir Dogs. Of course, if the episode was written entirely in chronological order, it would’ve probably ended up as either a two part ep or a feature.
Many of us can easily relate to Margaret’s mournfulness and revenge and I’m sure those who was widowed following their partners’ killings would agree. It does indeed take time to get over losses. But then anybody could be the killer. Suppose if it turns out to be one of your friends? Speaking of which, I should also point out, and I’ll try not to give too much away, Glynis is also widowed and her husband happened to die on the same day Victor did, due to some unknown cause.
I also admire how Victor demonstrates his concerns about his health and fitness sometime before his death. He has an appointment with a physiotherapist, who doesn’t seem to be concentrating when he’s instructed to jog up and down the stairs. We also have the Meldrews clearing some old junk and Victor purchasing an old cordless phone much to his wife’s annoyance. The finale is also spectacular; a montage of some of Victor’s finest moments, including him stumbling across a Christmas-themed advert being filmed in the month of June and the incident involving the yobs and the syringe. Also, through a really clever bit of writing, we never find out whether Margaret completed her intention to kill the culprit when she finds out.
Things Aren’t Simple Anymore is a splendid, yet emotional and one of the greatest endings to a TV show in TV history. However, we haven’t reached the end of this list yet.
The Pit and the Pendulum (S04, E01)
Not to confuse readers with the Roger Corman movie. Speaking of, that’s what the Pit & The Pendulum is named after and gee it was a fantastic start to season 4.
Victor believes that the Trenchs’ cherry tree is damaging his garden, so he hires a Neanderthal gardener to deal with the stray roots. However, the gardener’s antics annoy Victor so much they have a heated argument which alerts the gardener to an alternative use of the pit. Meanwhile, Patrick has bought a new pet dog and Margaret receives tragic news.
I remember when I was doing one of my college courses. We looked at TV genres and The Pit & The Pendulum was the example our lecturer showed to us. Then we was set to write an essay on the episode. Before then, I had no idea what a MacGuffin was. Of course now I know. Return Of The Speckled Band also demonstrated such plot devices, but I believe The Pit & The Pendulum demonstrates much more.
Let’s point out the MacGuffins;
- Patrick’s dog and how small it is and the fact it wanders off
- The unwanted sack full of seaweed delivered to Victor
- The phone calls Victor receives
- A crab which nips at Patrick’s testicles
All of these keep the episode flowing and link loosely to the gardener, his incompetent tasks and his quarrels with Victor. My favourite parts of the episode are when Victor receives a phone call and accidentally picks up the dog instead of the phone (which makes me cackle every time) and when we see Victor buried in the soil with only his head showing.
We also come across a moment of sadness and there’s one more MacGuffin; Margeret’s phone calls to her mom without an answer. We soon find out that the mother has died. Even Victor’s sorry to hear the loss.
Too much to say about this episode.
Before I reveal the number one pick, here are some Honourable Mentions:
1.1 Alive and Buried
2.6 Timeless Time
4.4 Warm Champagne
5.2 The Affair Of The Hollow Lady
5.5 Hole in the Sky
And the Number 1 episode of One Foot In The Grave is;…
Hearts of Darkness (S04, E03)
And Thunderbirds are go! Hearts Of Darkness is the darkest, one of the most well-written episodes of One Foot In The Grave. And I believe some of the themes are so darn relatable.
Okay what’s the story? Victor, Margaret, Mrs. Warboys and Nick Swainey are spending a day out in a countryside. However, they end up lost, so Victor decides to go and get help. The nearest place he finds is an old folks’ home, where he soon learns that the place is run by abusive nurses. It falls up to Victor to rescue the old residents.
What to say about this episode… The reason is not because it’s at the moment the top rated episode of One Foot In The Grave according to IMDB. Though in a way, it’s an honour. We begin with a montage of humorous events demonstrating what David Renwick does best when it comes to humour. We see the Meldrews and their friends heading to their trip and Victor getting into a variety of scrapes with passers-by i.e. Victor telling some drivers off for holding them up and then at a bar and him cheering at some sports result a bit so much he hits a table plank which catapults a beer glass into a nearby customer, on both occasions, Victor getting a nosebleed. Gee, I sense elderly abuse, which is pretty much the main theme of the episode.
But before we get to that, we have to deal with the foursome attempting to get home or at least some place they recognise. Try and imagine visiting a place you’ve never been to before and ending up in the middle of nowhere. We of course come across hilarious consequences such as Victor and Mrs. Warboys getting their feet trapped in a heavy bag of cement while sheltering themselves in an abandoned van from the rain. Eventually they do get help from the yob drivers, but unintentionally, the cement bag eventually comes off. But they still need to find a way out. And this leads to the best part of the episode.
And here’s what I was talking about when I mentioned elderly abuse. Victor stumbles across an old folks’ home. The residents kindly give him a shower and the staff gives him directions, but before he can leave the place, Victor realises he forgot his watch and notices that the staff are beating up the residents. This episode debates what kind of staff members the National Health Service hires. I’m not saying that the whole NHS is a hellhole. It’s a great service and there are some good staff members who have made a positive contribution. But others have demonstrated incompetence, abuse and betrayal to the service. The nurses in this episode are a prime example. And it’s happened in reality as well. There were some news articles about it.
Apparently, Hearts Of Darkness was heavily edited after broadcast, because many viewers moaned about the violent content included. But they’re clearly unaware that the episode demonstrates awareness in such an act. It does indeed go by its title. The nurses are not the kind of people you want to come across. They’re neglectful, they take harsh control over the elderly residents and schedule their lives and they booze. But it does have a happy ending. Victor maybe a grumpy old guy, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. He does. He questions the nurses actions and does his very best to liberate the old folks. Of course, he’s one himself. It goes to show that people deserve dignity and respect, no matter what their age.
So that was my personal top ten list of One Foot In The Grave episodes. If there was an episode I missed from the list, I apologise for the disappointment, but you can feel free to comment below. It’s just my personal opinion.
Thank you for reading.