Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why ‘Mr. Bean’ Is a Work of Comedy Genius

Mr. Bean is one of my most favorite TV series of all time.  Next to the Blackadder series, it is the best small screen production (best big screen production is, of course, The Lion King) that Rowan Atkinson has involved himself in.

It only has 14 (or 15, depending on how they are presented) episodes made between 1990 and 1995.  But I only got to see them when a local channel, ABC 5, re-aired them (which even as a kid, I already recognized are far superior to the movie) after the first movie’s release (1997).  Because there were only a few of them, ABC 5 ran the episodes over and over again during its block.  Thus, I was able to see these episodes many times over during that time.  But no matter how many times I had seen them already, the show had me laughing so hard.  Maybe it was so because, as a 90’s kid, I had simple tastes.  But the thing is, aside from the Looney Tunes, I can’t remember considering anything else funnier than Mr. Bean back then.

I watched Mr. Bean again as a teen.  The popularity of the Mr. Bean animated series – which was fun in its own right – led Disney Channel to re-run the original live-action series.  During that time, it made me chuckle, but I was no longer laughing aloud like I used to.  It’s not really because I had developed “sophisticated tastes” then and didn’t think of it as funny and amusing anymore.  I still did.  It was probably because I had seen the episodes so many times before as a kid that I had grown “numb” to it.  Fried chicken is delicious, but eat one too many, and you probably won’t find eating it as pleasurable as the first time.

Recently, I decided to binge all episodes of Mr. Bean – something I’ve never done before.  Going into it, I did my best to condition myself as if I’m watching the series for the first time with a critiquing eye.  And you know what?  I enjoyed myself immensely; I laughed my pants off.  I rediscovered what great comedy this show really has, and why the 90’s kid me loved it.  And no, it’s not only because I had undeveloped tastes for entertainment back then.  Choosing to watch it in a fresh perspective, Mr. Bean genuinely stands out as comedy gold.

I know that there are those who find Mr. Bean corny and dumb.  Now, it’s either I have a substandard sense of humor compared to these people or I actually have a more refined one, capable of “getting” it.  Either way, I think it’s actually genius work.

I understand where the notion that it’s “dumb” is coming from.  But I think there’s some error in this idea.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that if the character is engaging himself in dumb antics, such as Mr. Bean, the show is automatically “dumb.”  Though Mr. Bean is very much behaving idiotic at times, I find nothing dumb in how the character’s sketches are set up.  In fact, I think thought and creativity were applied in bringing them about.  Many of the situations that Mr. Bean finds himself in – going to church, doing the laundry, checking in a hotel, throwing a party, playing golf, making a sandwich, sending out mail, etc. – are by themselves banal.  But Mr. Bean brings out hilarious and outlandish happenings from out of these ordinary, commonplace occurrences just because its titular character is part of them.

In addition, Mr. Bean is not at all a total idiot.  Sure, he tends to do childish or moronic things, but he also shows a somewhat ingenious side.  Many times he is able to solve problems with eccentric but bright ideas – which actually result to as much laughs as when he’s being a clumsy, silly buffoon.  He wonderfully shifts from being a fool to being clever, and vice versa.  In one scene, he’ll win a “guess the weight of a turkey and get it for free” contest by secretly standing on a weighing scale, subtracting his actual weight from his weight when he’s carrying the turkey; and then in the next scene, he’ll accidentally get his head stuck inside it (see “ Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean”, easily the best episode in the series.  I could argue for the genius of Mr. Bean by just analyzing that episode alone, which I might still do, sometime in the future).  This mix of cleverness and idiocy is what makes the character very appealing and entertaining.

Even those who don’t like the show would acknowledge (if objective) that the character of Mr. Bean is not boring.  He’s full of color and energy.  That’s all thanks to Rowan Atkinson’s incredible talent in physical comedy (he’s also pretty good in other forms of comedy as well.  Just watch Blackadder or his other sketches.  Atkinson is a very versatile comedian).  He’s one of the most terrific pantomimes I’ve ever seen perform.  There’s not much talking going around with Mr. Bean, thus Atkinson creates most of the character’s comedy by means of his impeccable sense of timing, facial expressions, and body language.  It’s an art.

Mr. Bean’s kind of comedy is a sort of throwback to how performers like Charlie Chaplin did it in the past.  Since films were mostly silent back then, they have to articulate comedy through facial and bodily expressions.  Seriously, Chaplin did the same thing with his character, The Tramp, as Atkinson has done with Bean.   Now, if you get Chaplin’s kind of comedy, what Atkinson has accomplished with Mr. Bean is basically the same thing, and thus, deserves appreciation.  There are very few modern comedic characters who have succeeded in purely physical comedy, and Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is arguably the best of them.

Lastly, another thing which I liked about what Atkinson did with Mr. Bean is that he makes people laugh at him, rather than at the expense of others.  If such a thesis as “the demeaning of someone is required for successful comedy” is true, then Atkinson’s Bean took it upon himself to be demeaned rather than another person, race, sex, or party.  He’s okay with making himself ridiculous so that everyone else can have an enjoyable time.   In a time wherein the popular trend of humor is to resort to needless crudity or distasteful insults, I find this aspect refreshing.

Indeed, Mr. Bean is a work of comedy genius.

No comments: