Have a look at Noel Murray’s “very special episode” column on Green Acres.
The interesting thing about that show’s reputation is that it sort of exists on two tracks. There has, right from the time it was on, been a sort of underground following that recognizes it as a surrealist work of art; Murray quotes one such article, by a young Armond White, but there have been many attempts to analyze the show as a subversive piece of television, and place it within the traditions of Theatre of the Absurd and and other comedy trends of the era. But Green Acres has never quite crossed over into being a fully-recognized, worshipped classic. It’s still routinely lumped in with the other comedies of the period – and more importantly, has always had many fans who enjoy it as a nostalgically goofy comedy. Eddie Albert may have been the first person to use the term “surrealistic” in connection with the show, in an interview while the show was running. He called Jay Sommers’ writing “wonderfully surrealistic,” using as an example a gag where an orange falls out of an apple tree. But then in the same interview he said that this was probably over-analyzing the show: “In a way I’m just answering the critics about whom I don’t give a damn,” he said, pointing out that many fans of the show were kids who just loved the cow and the pig.
One of the strengths of the show is that its jokes often work perfectly well whether you want to analyze them, or as silly jokes for their own sake. It’s not a show that works on two levels, like Batman, which has different jokes for different fans. It’s a show whose jokes are equally satisfying if you look at them in an “adult” way (asking what they mean or why they’re there) or a “kid” way (just accepting silliness without questioning it).
In terms of its topical relevance to the ’60s, I think one point Green Acres makes is that the idea of a simple rural paradise, unencumbered by modern problems, is a lie. The ’60s were a time when the rural/urban cultural divide had vanished in a lot of ways. People could remember a time when living in a small town meant that you were culturally isolated from the big city, but that was a long time ago. So rural TV comedies sprang up to demonstrate that that hazily-remembered world still existed. Petticoat Junction was based on the reminiscences of Paul Henning’s wife, whose grandparents used to run a little hotel in rural Missouri. So it was based on a memory of the way people’s grandparents lived in the ’30s – but set in the ’60s. The idea being that the world you remember from your childhood is still out there somewhere. The joke of Green Acres is that this is all wrong: small town people not only don’t have better values than big-city people, but they are products of the same culture. That’s why television, the great leveler of cultural differences, is a big presence on Green Acres (no one watched TV on other rural sitcoms, and the Petticoat Junction hotel didn’t even have a working phone) and why the petty rituals of Hooterville people are often ghastly parodies of the petty rituals of big-city people. The theme of the show is that Oliver was an idiot for thinking that there is some kind of escape from the values and culture of the modern world, and the only way to enjoy yourself and not go crazy is to be like Lisa, and accept that people are pretty much the same everywhere.