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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems almost impossible to mention writer Annie M.G. Schmidt without
using words like 'legendary' or 'genious' because of her impressive
body of work writing children's books and musical comedies for stage
and screen. Naturally the 1989 TV series "Beppie" was heralded as a
classic in the making, especially since it featured music by Schmidt's
frequent and always successful collaborator Harrie Bannink.
Unfortunately the series proved to be a bit of a dud and was quickly
and almost completely forgotten. Annie M.G., who had a reputation for
being a very difficult person to work with, collaborated with her son
Flip van Duyn and comedy writer Haye van der Heyden on the scripts. She
later went on record saying that working with Flip had been a mistake.
Still, when the series was shown in Januari of 2008 on HilversumBest
for the first time in 20 years, anchor Han Peekel nonetheless couldn't
refrain from calling it 'the legendary' Beppie.
At the start of each of the dozen episodes that make up this series, we are treated to the same introduction scene (though it was substantially longer the first time around): an elderly couple, Jaques (Johnny Kraaykamp) & Beppie van de Broek (Sylvia de Leur) have just been in a car crash and subsequently kicked the bucket. Beppie is allowed into heaven, but Jacques has broken too many commandments. He gets one last chance, a whole year in fact to make amends. His task is to return to his former home at the West Einder Plas, which is now being occupied by psychiatrist Norbert Leeflang (Rijk de Gooyer), his wife Maddy (Adèle Bloemendaal) and their 15 year old daughter Carolien aka 'Pips' (Nada van Nie), and make sure Norbert and Maddy don't get a divorce. As usual in these kind of fantasies involving ghosts (referred to in the opening titles as 'a modern fairy tale' - as if!) the writers make up their own rules about what ghosts can and cannot do. Although Jacques is in effect a spirit, and wears the pasty white make-up to prove it, everyone can see, hear, and even touch him as long as he remains inside or around the house. As soon as he steps outside the garden gate, he evaporates. Title character Beppie stays close to her husband to give him advise, mainly because she's stuck in a between Heaven and Earth until he completes his task. This means that apart from the aforementioned archive footage scene that starts each installment, we only hear Sylvia de Leur's voice in the bulk of the episodes.
It is made quite clear from the beginning that Jacques only has a specific amount of time to get Norbert & Maddy back together again. So in effect, the series should have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately the middle part is made up of a series of not terribly amusing guest-stars of the week who are obviously trying way to hard be funny (I'm looking at you Gees Linebank & Loes Luca) and merely end up being extremely annoying instead. Another problem is that it is very hard to identify with any of the characters. Jacques never seems to learn from his mistakes and is more concerned in trying to get his shipment of 300.000 condoms in Abu Dabi back on track then anything else (condoms were all the rage in comedy back in the late Eighties). Norbert the shrink is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown himself (not very original) and his wife Maddy is continuously acting too hip for her age, using all kinds of silly abbreviations in her speech. Being of a higher class than most people, all she wants to do is sing and play the piano. Yes, well who wouldn't? Coming off the highly successful but much lower key comedy series "De Brekers", Johnny, Rijk & Adèle must have been glad to swap the silly wigs and funny voices for fancy clothes but the bulk of the viewing public most certainly was not. The youngest member of the cast, 22 year old Nada van Nie had to play 7 years younger still as Pips and could certainly get away with it. Unfortunately her character remains the least developed of all, just the butt of another couple of condom related gags.
By the late eighties, musical comedies were on the way out anyway, but despite of this there was still a compilation produced featuring all the songs sung during the series. Unfortunately, the next to last installment seems to have been mislaid sometime after that, as it is not in the archives of Beeld & Geluid and thus could not be screened when the series was reran. In the final episode however, everything turns out alright for Norbert & Maddy, and Jacques is allowed to enter heaven's gate with his Beppie, even though he doesn't seem to have learned very much at all. Almost every guest star from the previous 11 episodes return for a party scene, including the ones we hoped never to have to see again (Gees & Loes) and when Jacques says a tearful goodbye to his extended family, the scene isn't quite as touching as it should be mainly because we the viewers never got to invest in these characters the way we should have. Still, I guess Annie M.G. wouldn't have shed a tear for them either.
6 out of 10
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