Appellate Judge James A. Stewart plans to elope.
"We've got a bit of a do on…I'd love to skip it. I can't. I mean, it's my son's wedding."
Ted Simcock (David Jason, A Touch of Frost) might have been wise to skip that wedding, since it sets off a lot of events in his life. Not just life events, but events, or "dos" in British English. Each episode of A Bit of A Do is centered around some social event: an anglers' Christmas party or a charity horse racing night, for example. The same principal characters all end up at the same event. Hilarity is interrupted often by deep dramatic character speeches, just in case it looks like it might ensue. It's a comedy by David Nobbs (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin), adapted from his own books.
Facts of the Case
As Series One begins (there were two series, for a total of thirteen episodes), Paul Simcock (David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is marrying Jenny Rodenhurst (Sarah-Jane Holm), and the guests are figuring out that Jenny's putting on weight. Their brothers, unemployed philosopher Elvis Simcock (Wayne Foskett) and irritating estate agent Simon (Nigel Hastings), are sniping at each other immediately. Paul gets one last lecture from mum Rita (Gwen Taylor, Murder Must Advertise) about his long hair, sending him out for a haircut and leading to the first argument of the new marriage. The bride corners chicken king Rodney Sillitoe (Tim Wylton, As Time Goes By) to lecture him about the conditions at his farm, while Rodney's wife Betty (Stephanie Cole, Doc Martin) is getting smashed. Awkward friend Neville (Michael Jayston, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) is having trouble getting over the death of his wife Jane. In the midst of all this, no one notices when Liz Rodenhurst (Nicola Pagett, Upstairs, Downstairs), the mother of the bride, and Ted Simcock, the father of the groom, sneak upstairs for a quick tryst in a hotel room. Not quite; Liz's husband Laurence (Paul Chapman, As Time Goes By) suspects something's up between them. But does he really care?
Series One has six episodes, bringing these characters and a progressing soap opera of a plot to the following events:
• "The White Wedding"
Like Series One, Series Two begins with a wedding—at least it would if the bride showed up. Neville has remarried, but he still can't forget Jane. Ted's about to open a restaurant, and he discovers that Rodney and Betty Sillitoe are about to do the same. Rita embarks on a political career.
Series Two has seven episodes:
• "The Church Wedding"
There's some good stuff here. David Jason is excellent as Ted Simcock, the foundry magnate whose life takes a turn for the worse after his tryst with Liz Rodenhurst; and Gwen Taylor makes Rita, who becomes a stronger woman as she copes with her husband's infidelity, a likeable, believable character amid some outrageous doings. There are also good turns from several supporting players, most notably Tim Wylton and Stephanie Cole as the Sillitoes, who manage to be the stable center of the show despite their tendency for getting smashed at dos, Michael Jayston as Neville, the lawyer who can't seem to make his case in conversation, and Wayne Foskett and Nigel Hastings as the two sniping in-laws who become friends—or at least frenemies.
Where A Bit of A Do falls apart is in going for drama. Every episode contains a couple of revelations or speeches that are likely to elicit a "Good Lord!" from some character or another. They'll get the same from the audience, too. Trouble is, a "Good Lord!" isn't the same as a laugh or even a chuckle. The "Good Lord!" moments include a lot of adultery and unlikely couplings, a suicide, a financial liquidation, a car accident fatality, and a ring road (when the potential for adultery has almost been exhausted). The shifts between comedy and drama tend to be awkward.
I think what British audiences saw in A Bit of a Do when it first aired in 1989 was Nicola Pagett as Liz Rodenhurst, the snobbish wife with a ravenous sexual appetite and a dull husband. As Liz, she's shameless, full of sarcasm, sexuality, and snideness. The first series makes her the center of many of the episodes, but the second series mostly puts her on the sidelines. Instead, it concentrates on Ted's troubles with his entrepreneurial plans and Rita's growing political career, and lets supporting characters—particularly Rodney and Betty Sillitoe—shine. This actually makes for a stronger second series, but giving a major character only a bit to do probably was a big reason the series was done.
I'll also note one more quirk of A Bit of a Do: one of the performers seems to have quit after the first season, but the character remains very much in the show, simply not showing up at the various dos.
The staging is simple, mostly relying on interiors, and then mostly relying on the local hotel's event room. This simplicity makes for one of the best-preserved transfers I've seen in a while on a vintage British show.
Extras include interviews with Nicola Pagett, who speculates on the series' potential overseas (It didn't make it here, did it?), and writer David Nobbs, who seems to want to talk about his then-new play while the interviewer is more interested in A Bit of a Do. There are also text bios of the cast.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In a way, A Bit of a Do was ahead of its time, since the dramedy has come into its own in the past few years, and the shifts of tone between comedy and drama are more familiar for both writers and viewers. With a bit smoother blending of the comic and dramatic elements, this could have been a television landmark.
While watching A Bit of a Do, my opinion went back and forth a lot. Laugh-out-loud moments had me liking the series—until the next scene that sank like a lead weight. It's an ambitious series which had a lot of potential, but those scenes that go thud turned me off. Fans of David Jason or Nicola Pagett might like it better, though.
Guilty of falling just a bit short.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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