by Jef Burnham
Available in the U.S. for the first time on DVD April 8th from Acorn Media.
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Two-time Golden Globe-winner Hugh Laurie (House, Blackadder) stars in and directs half of this six-episode British series based on a novel by Nigel Williams. Until Fortysomething, I categorically loved everything I had seen Hugh Laurie in. The series has some brilliant comic moments and one stellar episode in particular, but it has a few too many problems to work out effectively in six episodes.
Laurie stars as Paul Slippery, a man in the midst of a bizarre mid-life crisis. He can’t seem to remember anything, occasionally hears the thoughts of others and his children are having infinitely more sex than he is. The primary story arc revolves around Paul concocting various schemes that he may once again bed his wife, who has grown distant since going back to work. Paul only hears others’ thoughts on a handful of occasions, and then it seems that the writers forgot about it until the last episode. It’s never explained, not funny, and doesn’t add anything to the series except perhaps a bit of disappointment.
Each episode chronicles one entire day in the life of the Slipperys, opening with Paul waking up and closing with him going back to sleep that evening. The third episode is utterly brilliant, and the best in the series, which comes as a surprise after the ramshackle farce offered up in the first two episodes. In his defense, this was a problem with the script, not Laurie’s direction. The script for each of these episodes is too relaxed, covering one bit of the story at a time, whereas a proper farce shows everything at once until all the elements come together in one riotous moment of embarrassment for the main character(s) (see Fawlty Towers for an example of perfectly orchestrated farce). After the second episode, the writers abandoned the standard farce, and it gets better from there. Unfortunately, they had already wasted a third of the series.
Hugh Laurie’s partner, Stephen Fry, with whom he costarred in Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, has a side-splitting cameo as a fish salesman in episode two. And though Laurie is also hilarious, my two favorite characters in the series are actually his son Edwin, who is always expecting a shipment of some sort, including 30 fridges or a large box full of sex toys, and Paul’s colleague Ronnie Pilfrey (Peter Capaldi of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), a slimy little bastard who will stop at nothing to secure a relationship with Paul’s wife, Estelle (Anna Chancellor). Estelle, however, is an awful character, reminiscent of the wife from Everybody Loves Raymond. Estelle is distant and uncommunicative and almost all of the problems in her marriage to Paul stem from this, though Paul ends up being the one forced to apologize in the end.
Enormous Hugh Laurie fans like my wife and me will enjoy the series for such moments as Stephen Fry’s cameo and Laurie’s brief, drunken song at the piano. However, I’m not sure how much the series has to offer everyone else, but I won’t deter you from watching it. It is still very funny. Plus, even if you watch the entire series and think it’s a waste of time, it is only six episodes.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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