A&E // 1990 // 1150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 3rd, 2009
Join Jeeves & Wooster for an enchanting romp through the drawing rooms and diversions of Britain's tweedy elite.
I wish America had the comic equivalent of P.G. Wodehouse...or at least one I could think of. His work on the Jeeves stories is one of those rare bits of genius that can poke the kind of fun at a group that anyone can appreciate. His portrayal of the British upper class is that perfect mix of truth and fancy that shows their foibles up gently enough that everyone can get a laugh, but very few (if any) readers end up offended. It's a precarious path to walk, and Wodehouse traveled it for sixty years. Although there have been numerous adaptations of Wodehouse's Jeeves stories (most notably on the big screen by Arthur Treacher), it was the comedic pair of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the iconic roles who gave us the definitive portrayal of the famous gentleman and the gentleman's gentleman. Although the series has been available in numerous configurations from A&E Home Video, Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series appears to be a reboxing of the previously available complete collection. Despite the set's barebones nature, it's a must for fans of British comedy or stars Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.
Bertie Wilberforce Wooster (Hugh Laurie, House, M.D.) is a well-heeled young man of the leisure class. His only cares in the world as his own amusement and keeping in the good graces his Aunt Agatha (played by Mary Wimbush for three series and Elizabeth Spriggs for the last), lest she find some way to marry him off to an undesirable woman. Each episode finds Bertie Wooster in some predicament, usually involving marriage or money. Luckily, Bertie has a brilliant and resourceful valet, Jeeves (Stephen Fry, Wilde) who can apparently maneuver out of any scrape that Bertie might find himself in.
All 23 episodes of the four series of this show are presented on eight discs:
* "Jeeves Takes Charge"
* "Tuppy and the Terrier"
* "The Purity of the Turf"
* "The Hunger Strike"
* "Brinkley Manor"
* "Jeeves Saves the Cow-Creamer"
* "A Plan for Gussie"
* "Pearls Mean Tears"
* "Jeeves in the Country"
* "Jeeves the Matchmaker"
* "Bertie Sets Sail"
* "The Full House"
* "Introduction on Broadway"
* "Right Ho, Jeeves"
* "Hot Off the Press"
* "Comrade Bingo"
* "Return to New York"
* "The Once and Future Ex"
* "Bridegroom Wanted!"
* "The Delayed Arrival"
* "Trouble at Totleigh Towers"
* "The Ties that Bind"
Jeeves and Wooster has two chief strengths, and they are mightily impressive. The first is the source texts from P.G. Wodehouse. Each episode typically blends ideas from more than one of the Jeeves stories to tell a 50-minute tale. These stories are the stuff of farce, with miscommunications, missed opportunities, and mistaken identities, with the target usually the tweed-encrusted upper class of England. On paper these predicaments are sound enough, but that brings us to the show's second strength: Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Filmed in tandem with their brilliant sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, these four series showcase a slightly different side of the actors. Although these personas would not be entirely new to viewers of Fry and Laurie, here both actors take the idea to the hilt. This is (as far as I'm aware) the most empty-headed character Laurie has played regularly, and this is the most titanically disdainful performance in Stephen Fry's repertoire. Fans of House should probably beware: once you've seen Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, it might be a little bit harder to take your favorite pill-popping diagnostician so seriously.
It is also the brilliance of Fry and Laurie that make this DVD set somewhat disappointing. Aside from a simple text biography/bibliography, there are no extras here. I know both actors are very busy, and have been for a number of years, but even a few words from the stars would make this reissue a must-buy. In addition, the creative team behind the camera, including adaptor Clive Exton, would make excellent interview or commentary subjects to discuss the difficulties in adapting such exquisitely witty material. But no, we get a short bio on Wodehouse, which may be useful to some fans (especially Americans), but will only whet the appetites of most.
The audiovisual presentation is passable, but not particularly impressive. Unsurprisingly, the show's look got better as it went on. It's almost certainly the source (which looks like video, or perhaps a video transfer in the past), and I didn't see any significant compression problems. The series is watchable, but don't expect anything particularly spectacular. Similarly, the stereo audio gets the job done, but doesn't impress with clarity or anything.
These characters aren't terribly dynamic, which is to say that Bertie doesn't seem to learn much from his exploits. Add to this the fact that each story is fairly similar in terms of plot (Bertie gets in trouble, Jeeves rescues him), there's very little to be gained by watching all of these episodes at once, which is a rarity with good television. Instead, these shows are probably most enjoyable in small doses, like the short stories -- pick one up on a random night and then not watch another for a few weeks.
The DVD set loses some points for fit and finish. I can understand the lack of extras, what with Fry's and Laurie's schedules, but the lack of subtitles is pretty annoying. It'd be really nice to see the spelling of some of Wodehouse's more imaginative names without having to check a book or the Internet. Also, the ability to easily skip past the intro music and credits would have been nice. The song is catchy, but watching it over and over again gets tedious.
Jeeves and Wooster is an excellent adaptation of Wodehouse's stories, anchored by the fantastic pairing of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. If you're a fan of British comedy, or of the stars, then you should give Jeeves and Wooster a rental at least. Those who've already purchased the complete set of the series will find nothing new here to upgrade except slimmer packaging.
Wooster: "By Jove, I believe we're not guilty, Jeeves."
Jeeves: "Very good, sir."
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1150 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated