The misadventures of Mr. Bean, Mr. Hulot, and Mr. Monk make Appellate Judge James A. Stewart grateful that he has "Appellate Judge" as an honorific.
"Ecce homo qui est faba" ("Behold the man who is a Bean")
The world has been beholding Mr. Bean since his first TV appearance at the start of 1990 in Britain. The show never had a regular slot on British TV and it only produced 14 episodes, but it was a hit in its original airings and continues to be rerun—a lot! The show has by now been seen in more than 200 countries and a movie spinoff, Bean, was a global hit.
Why has the world embraced the man who is a Bean (Rowan Atkinson, Black Adder, Johnny English)? As Rowan Atkinson tells it in "The Story of Bean," the idea for the series came to him on holiday in Italy. Mr. Atkinson noted that English rock stars are global icons, while comedians don't fare so well overseas.
"Why does comedy not have an international dimension?" Mr. Atkinson asked himself. The answer, of course, was: Words. Words don't make it past language barriers. Even with translation, puns and gags that riff on a specific culture could get lost.
So Mr. Atkinson created a mischievous, nearly silent character who evokes memories of silent stars like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and Buster Keaton. His character also draws on the more modern Mr. Hulot—created by Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot's Holiday) in the 1950s—since Mr. Hulot often grappled with modern technology and communication barriers. Mr. Bean isn't totally silent, speaking with a sort of barely understandable, guttural growl when he has to, but the show would be readily understandable to people who don't speak a word of English.
It seems Mr. Atkinson was just the man to create a Bean worthy of beholding, since visual comedy has been a large part of his repertoire since he began doing college revues at Oxford in the 1970s. In "The Story of Bean," you'll see some early clips—some with dialogue, some without—that show that Mr. Atkinson took to silent humor as easily as Charlie Chaplin himself. Even when he does verbal material that reminded me of Beyond the Fringe, his unique expressions and mannerisms make for more laughs.
The Best of Mr. Bean features five of the 14 episodes from the series.
Facts of the Case
As with the recent Star Trek Fan Collective: Klingon, Bean aficionados selected the five episodes included in this collection:
"Mr. Bean"—Mr. Bean prepares to take an exam in trigonometry, but he hasn't calculated on a calculus paper. He then looks for a place to change at the beach and tries to stay awake during a boring sermon at church.
"The Return of Mr. Bean"—Mr. Bean goes shopping, bringing a potato and a fish to test paring knives and frying pans. He also goes out to dinner and nervously greets royalty.
"The Curse of Mr. Bean"—The high-diving board is a curse for Mr. Bean, who'd back down gracefully if there weren't two kids behind him. After that, he gets around a carpark fee and goes on a date to a scary movie.
"Merry Christmas Mr. Bean"—Mr. Bean decides that Godzilla and a Dalek are the perfect additions to a Nativity scene at Harrod's, then discovers that failing to heed a girlfriend who expects a ring can make the holiday less than merry.
"Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean"—Mr. Bean tackles a painting project himself, but getting a recliner home and planning a New Year's Eve party turn out to be greater solo challenges.
Rowan Atkinson describes Mr. Bean as an adult with a nine-year-old's mentality, acting without regard to consequences. Though that's part of it, I'd go a little further. Most of us occasionally have the everyday shocks that Mr. Bean encounters—finding out that you've been filling out the wrong test paper, worrying about whether you've flossed before meeting someone important, or running out of food while hosting a party. The rest of us don't drop our pen so we can grab the next guy's paper for a peek, steal a loose thread from a waitress's apron to floss our teeth, or dip twigs clipped from the tree outside our window in Marmite, though.
Mr. Bean also fights a constant loneliness and isolation, since he's the guy whose New Year's Eve guests turn the clock ahead to midnight so they can sing "Auld Lang Syne" and flee to a neighbor's wilder party. Sometimes that makes him unaware: He doesn't understand that Irma (Matilda Ziegler, Eastenders) wants him to propose when she points out a ring in a jeweler's window. Other times it adds a nasty edge: Though he's using the popcorn bucket to hide his eyes at a scary movie, Mr. Bean teases Irma before and afterwards as if he wasn't scared to cover his feelings.
While fortunately we don't act on our feelings like Mr. Bean does, we know the feelings he acts on: gut-level feelings like embarrassment, frustration, boredom, loneliness, anger, and hurt. He's the lonely or awkward side of all of us, so we admire the way he perseveres. Thus, the way Mr. Bean wakes up to Christmas morning with his teddy bear is funny and a little sad, but it's an odd sort of triumph that he perseveres, making the best of things in his loneliness, and we're rooting for him.
Since these episodes started out with a fairly high-quality video production, they're still in good shape. Sound isn't that much of an issue, since there's little dialogue, but the music and ambient noise come through well.
"The Story of Bean" is 48 minutes long, not a mere 40 minutes as listed on the back cover. It's a good overview of the character's appeal, but it's obviously done shortly before the movie Bean was made back in the last century, so some updating would have been nice for a new DVD release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though—or perhaps since—Mr. Bean is a character with a nine-year-old's mentality, you'll probably want to check under the plates to make sure your kids haven't hidden any mashed cauliflower after seeing these episodes. One episode, "The Curse of Mr. Bean," also features some discreet nudity, since Mr. Bean loses his trunks during a fall from the diving platform.
I suspect that many Bean aficionados have already purchased complete sets—leaving sleeping bags filled with balloon men at the department store's entrance so they can cut in line and get to the limited-quantity sale merchandise first, of course.
If you're already sold on Mr. Bean, a complete set isn't that much of a stretch, since there are only 14 episodes. I suspect this one will be a popular impulse purchase at the checkouts. If you like Mr. Bean from Bean or the TV show but don't need to own the full set, the episodes chosen here provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. If somehow you've never heard of Mr. Bean, this DVD is an easy way to check out the character.
Not guilty. Don't worry, though. It's not "farewell to the man who is a Bean" forever, since there's a second movie, French Bean, coming up in 2007.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Story of Bean" Documentary
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