Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is going into the dog biscuit business.
Our review of Blandings: Series 2, published November 8th, 2014, is also available.
"Forget the pig. Administrate the family."—Constance, to Clarence
Actually, Clarence—Lord Emsworth—is never going to forget that pig; the Empress is a prize winner, or at least that's his perennial hope. The Care of the Pig is his most treasured volume, and when he falls for a woman, it's her love of pigs that seals the deal. He'd spend his days tending to the Empress, but his sister Connie has other plans.
Clarence comes from the pen of the late P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves & Wooster), whose writing is still very much alive in Blandings, a current British comedy series.
Facts of the Case
Blandings: Series 1 features six episodes on two discs:
• "The Go-Getter"—Clarence hasn't lost his marbles, but he's none too happy about his new secretary Baxter (David Walliams, Great Expectations) rearranging them. Connie wants to impress a visitor she doesn't like. Freddie (Jack Farthing, Posh) flogs dog biscuits to win a lady love.
• "Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend"—Connie throws away Clarence's battered-but-beloved straw hat, but it comes back—on the head of a London Fresh Air Fund child.
• "The Crime Wave at Blandings"—Freddie brings home a dancer again, but this time she's there to help her brother collect a gambling debt. She's also taken to butler Beach (Mark Williams, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), who hasn't taken to her. Baxter's back, and he's due for a shot in the rear.
• "Problems with Drink"—The women who come to Blandings are interested in Clarence this time. One's a rival's niece who wants to help prep the Empress; the other has fallen for him—and the Empress, or so she says.
Interestingly, the first character who's introduced, in the very first shot of Blandings, is the Empress, Clarence's beloved pig. It gets the series off to a most undignified start. It's fitting because Clarence makes a most undignified Lord Emsworth. He likes tending his pig and his roses, but he's not keen on speeches. His favorite hat doesn't look out of place on a ragamuffin (and yes, a poor London kid looks straight out of Charles Dickens here). When he shares a drink with his butler, Clarence grabs a mug and gives Beech the glass, telling the butler that his higher position calls for more decorum.
Timothy Spall gives Clarence a warmth that P.G. Wodehouse might have surprised by. He turns out to be a caring guardian for two Fresh Air Fund kids, a supporter of his various nieces in their battles with sister Connie, and a knowing soft touch for his perpetually broke son Freddie. Otherwise, the characters are rather cardboard: Jennifer Saunders' Connie is reduced to a thin-lipped scowl, Freddie crashes his car every week and has a cowlick that flips up anytime he likes a woman, Beech has a formal nature that he puts back on the shelf when it's not needed. Nothing else in romance is more subtle than Freddie's cowlick. Spall's performance gives Blandings something grounded to get viewers past all the cliches of Wodehouse's writing.
Blandings is a broad comedy full of slapstick and farce, with people running in and out of slamming doors. A jazzy score keeps the frenetic activity going throughout, while reminding everyone that this is the twenties.
Blandings Castle and its surroundings, actually filmed in Northern Ireland rather than England, has a beauty that's captured well on the video: a niece in pastel pinks stands out clearly against the lake on the Blandings estate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some viewers might find things like Freddie crashing his car into a tree every week too predictable. If you think you'd be one of them, don't visit Blandings; the show thrives on that sameness. It also expects a little familiarity with P.G. Wodehouse, at least at the start.
If you watched on PBS, there's little extra to rate a purchase, although I suspect there were slight edits.
There are no extras on the DVD set. Given Wodehouse's legacy and the 1920s setting, the show could have used some context.
As I watched Blandings, the first couple of episodes felt a little bit too predictable and farcical. After a while, the extra bits that Spall puts in to humanize his performance make the series work.
Not dignified, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.