Reviews

The Whole Bean

Jesse Hassenger

What comes through on this DVD set is Mr. Bean's staunch dedication to childishness, in the best possible sense.


The Whole Bean

Distributor: A&E;
Cast: Rowan Atkinson
Network: ITV
First date: 1989
US Release Date: 2003-04-29
Amazon

If I were more Anglophobic, I think I'd feel pretty grateful for Mr. Bean. British pop art has a history of one-upping the U.S.: the Beatles trump Elvis and the Beach Boys, Monty Python's Flying Circus towers over Laugh-In, and, thanks to the Sex Pistols, the U.K. can still claim the invention of punk rock as their own. Mr. Bean, though, is a straightforward little slapstick creation, well liked but not worshipped.

The premise isn't complex: Rowan Atkinson plays a man-child called Bean who embarks on simple, often wordless misadventures. Sight gags and mishaps ensue. Atkinson's physical comedy owes a lot to the great silent film comedians but, good as he is, the show doesn't make it into Keaton or Chaplin territory. Finally, a British pop icon that doesn't beat the U.S. at its own game.

But, then again, maybe it does. Mr. Bean is the essence of situation comedy. It is stripped of the stupid contrivances and banal dialogue present in almost all but the genre's best (The Simpsons, Seinfeld, maybe The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Think of it as a British I Love Lucy, minus Ricky and Ethel, but with lots of detachment: I've Grown Rather Fond of Bean. On these modest terms, the program is quite successful -- it certainly makes you laugh more than those old Lucy shows.

Maybe that's because Atkinson doesn't make droopy plays for our affection, like Lucille Ball (or even, for that matter, Charlie Chaplin). He doesn't seem to have the typical comedian's yearning to be loved. His Mr. Bean is an often selfish, usually solitary creature who will not hesitate to cheat on a test, cause car accidents, or disturb others for his own enjoyment. Emotionally, the show resembles a quiet, one-man Seinfeld: no hugging, no understanding. A run of Bean episodes yields no lessons learned, and only a teddy bear is hugged.

Which brings us to The Whole Bean, a DVD anthology containing every episode of the series, plus extras (as it's a Britcom, you'd expect that the entire run could fit comfortably onto a single disc, but no, it takes three). Watching Bean in marathon form is somewhat daunting, but the DVD chapter function fits perfectly with the show's sketch-based structure. You can skip directly to the test-taking scene during the first episode, and avoid some forgettable adventures entirely, like the promisingly titled but poorly paced "Mind the Baby, Mr. Bean."

Episodes that have less need for the skip button include "Goodnight, Mr. Bean," which features not only Bean's bedtime ritual, but a marvelous bit in a hospital waiting room, and "The Trouble with Mr. Bean," which highlights his talent for dressing himself while driving. You can also try to count how many times he runs that poor little blue car off the road (I lost count).

The extras are modest, but appreciated: some stray sketches, previously uncollected or unreleased, and a documentary on the genesis of Bean, which is to say, a documentary on Rowan Atkinson. It's dry and tv-ish, rehashing a lot of material visible elsewhere on the collection, but footage of a young Atkinson clowning in theatrical sketch comedy is a minor treat. The 1997 theatrical feature that originally inspired this documentary is missing in action, but much of the film is sort of a greatest-hits-or-misses collection anyway.

What comes through on this DVD set is the Bean character's staunch dedication to childishness, in the best possible sense. Sitcoms have long indulged in this kind of infantilism (from Lucy and The Honeymooners to Perfect Strangers), as if nothing could be funnier than a woman mugging helplessly, or men acting like dim 10-year-olds (later sitcoms added sassy, wisecracking kids as a peculiar complement to this behavior, not to mention to increase the hug quotient).

Mr. Bean, however, remembers the important ingredient of childish malice, a comedic trope usually only displayed at length in animated form (The Simpsons, South Park). When Bean, in "Good Night, Mr. Bean," is waiting in line at the hospital (the reason is given a hilarious reveal about a third of the way into the segment), he does not hesitate to switch call numbers with a helpless woman in a body cast. Although Bean does not always get his way, he never really gets his comeuppance, either; at worst, his childish ploys don't quite work out. But just as often, they do.

Somehow, this isn't obnoxious. The only-child economy of the show is refreshing, thanks mainly to Atkinson's physical prowess. I imagine the relief offered by such excess would've been more obvious when the series first aired in the late '80s and early '90s, a time when the Saturday Night Live cast started to balloon past a dozen and the number one sitcom was Cheers, featuring a large ensemble.

The Bean DVD set will appeal mostly to hardcore fans, but it's also available as separate volumes, if sitcom fans want a somewhat less comprehensive look. A disc or two of Bean may be the perfect tonic for those disappointed by Friends' newfound status as soap opera.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image