Jeeves and Wooster (1990–1993)
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But the original P.G. Wodehouse books are, it should go without saying, better. Bertie Wooster's narration of his own adventures is hilarious, and much of his bizarre "wit" is inevitably lost in translation to TV. Thankfully, though, Clive Exton's scripts do retain an enormous amount of Wodehouse's original dialogue, which really can't be beat.
All the plots are the same, of course; Wooster is either helping a friend get married, or trying to avoid getting hitched himself. Somehow, though, this repetition doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the series; in fact, it's sort of a wacky bonus. I find that, if anything irks me, it's that some of Wooster's friends are total jerks or weeds who really don't deserve his help - though I suppose that's part of the joke. The oily Gussy Finklenottle drives me absolutely nuts, especially in the first two seasons!
The production values are surprisingly lavish, especially for British TV (though there is a rather lame recreation of the Empire State Building in one episode). The period detail is impressive, and the music is great. The casting is mostly spot-on, too, though some of the guest actors perform a little too grotesquely, and certain very important characters are re-cast midway through the series. It's quite distracting when a major character like Madeline Basset is suddenly played by a new actress, especially when the original Madeline later shows up playing another character, Florence. Thankfully, some of the best cast members stay the course.
There's a definite change in tone after the first two seasons. The show gradually becomes weirder, and when you get to the later episodes Wooster is suddenly getting shot at, jumping off boats, etc. But there's plenty of great material throughout the whole run, and I highly recommend picking up the whole set on DVD. I don't even mind the American characters, who seem to take a lot of heat on this site; aren't the bad accents silly on purpose?
Ultimately, what makes this series so memorable is its offbeat combination of different elements - it's like a comedy of manners, a musical, and a goofy slapstick routine rolled in one. I didn't really get it when I was a kid, but I think it's a hoot now, and Wodehouse's commentary on the laziness of privileged people and the fickleness of love still feels very relevant. Great stuff.
i) Wodehouse was a highly prodigious writer ii) All of his stories feature upper class idiots iii)There is always a happy ending iv) The plots are never plausible v) None of the first four points will prevent you from enjoying his work vi) Wodehouse is one of the greatest ever writers of English prose.
A surprising variety of humourists have been influenced by Wodehouse, including Peter Cook, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Ben Elton, Spike Milligan, Woody Allen and even Billy Connolly.
Television and film adaptations are rarely as good as the original book, but this production is about as good as it gets. Apart from Stephen Fry being rather too young at the time to play Jeeves, the casting is nearly perfect, particularly Hugh Laurie as Wooster.
There are time constraints on television programmes that books are not limited by. There is also the problem that Wodehouse was at his best in narrative passages rather than with dialogue. Nevertheless, this programme will still make you laugh out loud. Great music too.
Better still, read the books. Not just the Jeeves and Wooster titles, but also the Blandings series, Psmith, Mr. Mulliner and Ukridge books.
Whatever your taste in comedy, The Fast Show or Last Of The Summer Wine, Dad's Army or Monty Python, the chances are that PG Wodehouse will make you laugh.
'Jeeves and Wooster' still crops up on satellite and cable channels. It is well worth a look.
Some people (few people) scoff at this version for being too visual. In fact, they scoff at any visual version for trying to interpret what in essence are novels driven by wonderful narrative. However, the charm comes in the perspective as well as the aesthetic.
Yes it's a beautiful show. It uses locations perfectly and remains diligent to those halls as to their fictitious namesake. You eventually come to know these halls and manors yourself as Bertie once again is called out to Tottley.
The music is a beautiful pastiche of all things 20s. Incidental score, while fairly repetitive (you'll hear the same motifs and themes pop up regularly) just adds to the warm familiar atmosphere. It adds charm and period distinction. The actual songs in the show are fun as well and made for a wonderful soundtrack.
The acting as well is perfect. It characterises the pomp without anyone seeming awkward. The scripts flow and the pace always complements the stories. Fry and Laurie were born for this part and never once slip from character or wither in the spotlight.
But as I was saying, the beauty comes in perspective. Some people have grumbled that Laurie's "Wooster" is too much of a fool compared to the beautiful prose he's meant to have jotted in "his" books, yet I think it adds, as I said, perspective. We all write and dictate experiences from a personal perspective, what the show does is offer similar instances (and they are similar not exact in most cases) from a third party perspective. What we write in hindsight is rare to what objectively happened. This warm hearted Oxford gentlemen is educated, but not over gifted in the sense department. He writes and plays beautifully, but he's not quick and we see that demonstrated perfectly through Laurie.
Fry is masterful as Jeeves. Younger than what some would prefer, nevertheless you don't doubt his presence for a second.
The stories are a mix of accurate rendition and loose interpretation. The final fourth season especially has a couple of episodes which don't really feel quite on the ball as the rest, possibly because the divert too far from Wodehouse's material, nevertheless, the fourth season does sort of tie up the loose ends yet has a finale which keeps Jeeves And Wooster feeling as eternal on the TV screen as it does in book form.
A wonderful compliment to Wodehouse's masterful books. Miss at your peril.
I remember watching this series every Saturday on TV for quite a long time. And my view on both Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry is still marked by this. Both are in my opinion perfect in their parts. Laurie with his rather silly and foppish British looks, his accent and his voice. And of course Stephen Fry who looks every bit the aristocratic manservant.
The stories presented are usually both silly and with little reference to reality. But they are entertaining nevertheless, and why watch something like this if not to be entertained? The silly aristocrat and his wise servant is a classic theme, and rarely is it done better than here.
5 stars, check it out!
There are a few notable differences between the two mediums, none of which hamper the viewer/reader's pleasure any. In the show, for instance, Jeeves seemed to be more warm-hearted than in the books, where he seemed to me to be more of an untouchable impressive figure, almost cruel at times to Bertie, though always pulling him out of trouble in the end. Fry's portrayal was preferable to the books' character, for me, because I enjoyed the more casual relationship. In the books, Jeeves was almost a father figure, not nearly so close.
One reason i enjoy the show so much is the way it ignores pressing world issues. The prohibition is in full swing over in America, but that is only referenced in one episode. The depression is about to hit, and the entire world is going to feel it, perhaps even Bertie. I've always found this fact to make my viewing all the more interesting, because Bertie and his friends take their wealth so casually. The books are written from Bertie's perspective, and as it's plausible that he would ignore socialism and other radical reform movements, economic disputes, prohibition, and other strife synonymous with the 20s, then so would the show. It's a wonderful departure from reality, into a world where your only worry is how to weasel out of unwanted engagements to less-than-admirable girls, or how to avoid your overbearing aunt.
It's all of these things that really put the Wodehouse stories and their subsequent television adaptations close to my heart, but it's the lovable characters and the flawless portrayal of them by each respective actor that keeps me drawn to watching this show over and over again.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
On the good side, the series captured an essential characterization from the stories that, in my experience, many readers of the original stories miss. That is, Bertie isn't the stereotypical upper-class idle rich twit. While he's lacking in book knowledge, he's not stupid; he has a flair for expression. While he often appears to lack sense, it's frequently because his helpful, generous, loyal nature takes priority over his personal dignity or common sense. He's a product of the class system, yet as a rule he's genial, generous, and non-condescending toward all. Laurie's portrayal captures the fact that Bertie is a "good egg." One complaint I had is that the later episodes sometimes descended into cheap, uninspired slapstick. Also in the later episodes, Jeeves did some very un-Jeeves-like things, like enthusiastically learning to play the same sorts of music he sniffed at in earlier seasons. The final episode of the final series stooped to a Benny Hill ending.
And isn't it ironic that the show hired all those British actors who couldn't do American accents, when Hugh Laurie has demonstrated that he does them very well? I've known people who've seen "Stuart Little" or "House" who can't believe Laurie isn't American.
Of course, each episode has the same basic plot:
1. Bertie encounters an uncomfortable social situation amongst his wealthy early 20th century British friends and relatives. 2. Bertie asks his butler Jeeves' advice. 3. Jeeves' advice gets him into much deeper trouble. 4. Bertie thrashs around to extricate himself but fails. 5. Jeeves comes to the rescue with a risky but brainy solution. 6. Bertie escapes by the skin of his teeth. 7. Jeeves quietly takes credit for the escape and escapes blame for
creating the trouble.
So, you probably wouldn't want to watch 5 or 6 of these in a row. But, in small doses, these are great!
Sadly some of the best secondary roles are cast with multiple actors and the changes along the way, especially in the third and fourth seasons, are highly inferior to the original actors. Notably, the loss of Mary Winbush's gorgon of an Aunt Agatha is a great loss to the whole series. Also, the 2nd Madelyn Bassett (Diana Blackburn) is much preferable to the TWO other actresses employed to play this all-important nemesis of Bertie's. Blackburn's facial expressions and her low voice are perfect for the vapidly dreamy Madelyn. Her cousin Stiffy, as done by Charlotte Attenborough, is hilarious with her nasty little black Scottie dog, Bartholomew, which is inexplicably changed to a white terrier with the introduction of a blonde actress in another episode, a great loss.
The most grievous cast change is the switch from the perfect Gussie Fink-Nottle of Richard Garnett to someone else for the balance of seasons 3 & 4. This is the final nail in the lid of the coffin as far as comedy goes. In fact this series should have stopped after the second season as the director, Ferdinand Fairfax, does not seem to be able to carry off the dotty humor as well as his predecessors in the first two seasons. The episodes become more slapstick and silly, though not as funny. The stories become repetitive and boring, especially those set in New York.
The New York episodes are severely hobbled by British actors attempting to sound "American" with their over-exaggerated "r"s and attempts at U.S. slang. These performances fall like rocks in a tar pit and become very annoying in the end. I'd skip the third season altogether when viewing. The fourth season is slightly better but a pale shadow to the first two. The last episode is ineffably silly and the ending is just plain stupid.
If you can find seasons one and two on their own grab them.
The best Wodehouse adaption out there right now is 'Heavy Weather' set at Blandings Castle and starring Peter O'Toole as the pig-loving Lord Emsworth and a large cast of brilliant comedians in a masterful adaption of a very funny book.
'Jeeves and Wooster' - based on the P.D. Wodehouse stories - is more a comedy of manners and a subtle class satire than a laugh-track supported sitcom we're normally spoonfed with, which makes it even more interesting.
Laurie plays Bertie Wooster, a well-meaning, but ultimately dim man of society (who doesn't really seem to do anything of notice) and is more interested in fooling around with friends and defying his meddling Aunt Agatha. Fry plays his valet Reginald Jeeves, a man with reserved manners, address and decorum who has an at-times acid tongue and always seems to save Wooster and fix his many mistakes. In a way, Wooster is similar to Laurie's Prince George in 'Blackadder the Third'. While George's stupidity was more obvious, and used as a deliberate comic tool, Wooster is more of a well-meaning buffoon, who wants to do the right thing but has an inflated view of his own intelligence, while still remaining endearing. Stephen Fry's Jeeves is the star of the show. His quick wit and subtle sarcasm provide the majority of the laughs and his calm demeanour reflects the conservative setting.
While the main plots revolve around Jeeves cleaning up Wooster's latest disaster, the hour-long duration gives you time to get to know the characters, which is important for a relatively "gentler" comedy.
If you're a fan of Fry and Laurie, then check out 'Jeeves and Wooster', you won't regret it.
For those who don't know the story, Wooster is the stupid aristocrat who leaps into turbulent waters without looking and his valet, Jeeves, must rescue him from drowning in bad judgment. However, Jeeves is incapable of instilling any kind of good sense into his employer, although he always tries. In many ways Jeeves and Wooster is a modern day "Marriage of Figaro", however here the lower social class mentors the upper and even saves them for themselves.
Bertie is not the only fool populated in Wodehouse's world. Much of the young male English upper-crust is portrayed as bumbling inept fools who have too much time on their idle hands, conniving and scheming in strange and frivolous exploits. And Bertie Wooster is the quintessential heir to not only stupidity but a large family fortune. In short, Bertie is a scatterbrain's scatterbrain who would bet (and lose) the entire family estate on the local sack race and then have to explain to his Aunt Agatha that it was a sure thing. But his plans do not end with monetary exploits. Bertie would push a young boy off a bridge in order that one of his colleagues would rescue him in order to impress a young woman, only to have it backfire. It is Jeeves who always comes to the rescue. Jeeves is far more worldly. His understanding of human nature is in direct proportion to Bertie's lack of good sense. Wooster and Jeeves go together in much the same way as Kirk and Spock.
Some in the aristocracy apparently complained of Wodehouse's portrayals of the upper classes which is to be expected. The unspoken and yet apparent message of Jeeves and Wooster, aside from the entertaining comedy that monopolizes the forefront of the stories, is an interesting criticism of privilege. Whether or not this was Wodehouse's intention is debatable, but the underlying message appears quite apparent.
Although harmlessly benign (except being his own worst enemy), Bertie Wooster is a cherry short of a fruitcake, and yet is bestowed with all the advantages of a young aristocrat. He studied at Eton and Oxford University, yet little of his studies remains with him, except for his aptitude at sophomoric pranks. Jeeves, on the contrary, has much practical knowledge to boot and can quote Shakespeare with ease. But Jeeves is from the working class. Jeeves might have excelled at a place like Oxford but would not be accepted because of the social status of his family. He can only secure a job as a valet to an idiotic aristocrat who was handed these things to him on a gold-rimmed platter and takes for granted the status given to him. And yet, with all the tom-foolery exhibited by Bertie Wooster, the Jeeves tales may have in fact re-enforced class distinction in Great Britain although it was often scorned by the upper classes. The lower classes needed Jeeves to remind them of the oft inferiority of the upper class. Jeeves gives them an outlet to express the unfairness of privilege and its inherit hypocrisies. I hope these stories not only entertained but have given the middle and lower classes reason to insist on changing the hierarchical landscape: a meritocracy instead of an aristocracy. Jeeves would have definitely approved.
In the very first episode, we are introduced to Bertie Wooster, who is portrayed to perfection by Hugh Laurie. He is the sort of man who is rich, but somewhat dim-witted. Just when it looks like he can't take care of himself, a valet appears at the door, by name of Jeeves. Jeeves is a very smart man, who, no matter how bad a situation Wooster finds himself in, Jeeves always finds a brilliant way to save him. He also played to perfection by Stephen Fry. In fact, most of the characters in the series are perfectly portrayed. I don't mean they're legendary performances, but for the most part, they're done very well. However, the first season does fall short of good segues between plot lines. You see, each of the episodes have more than one plot line, which is part of what makes the series so entertaining. However, in episodes 2 and 3 of the first season sort of feels like two separate stories in each half of the episode. This isn't necessarily bad, but it does tend to catch you off guard, if you think that the episode is over, but is actually halfway through. However, the season did redeem itself in the two-part finale, which not only has multiple plot lines that fall perfectly into place, but the ending is beyond hilarious.
The second season was much more refined, with better construction, more interesting characters, and hilarious twists. Not much more to say about this, but it's great. In fact, around this time, some of the episodes were set in America, which is a nice change of setting.
The third season was also good, but around the end of the season, the humour could get a little over-the-top and silly. It just didn't have the witty charm that Jeeves and Wooster is so good at.
By the fourth season, the silliness was about as much as it could get. Even though some of the episodes stood out as great, the finale's ending was just outlandishly silly, despite being enjoyable.
To sum up the entire Jeeves and Wooster phenomenon, it's really a very well-done show, which does capture the spirit of the original stories by P.G. Wodehouse. The backdrop for the show is perfect, and makes you believe that the characters are in the 1920s. However, the best thing about it is the theme music. Not only is it very 1920s-style, but it's so catchy you'll never get it out of your head. So, on the whole, it's a very enjoyable and well done show, and I find it's often overlooked.
So, Bertie Wooster is on of those young English aristocrats of the first third of the XX century, who get all their money from their parents, so they can spend time in all kinds of entertainment instead of work. So Bertie is. Of course, he got Iton and Cambridge education and we from time to time see him recall some citations of philosophers and writers, always incorrectly however. Because of his not quite smart mind he gets in trouble in every novel and without help of his servant Jeevse he would not have solved any problems.
And Jeevse (his name isn't mentioned) is Bertie's servant. It's a type of ice-cold polite gentle English servants, outlined with love. He seems to be well-educated and to have a sharp mind. He can find the way out of every difficult situation using his knowledge of human psychology. He also succeeds in attempts to get a desired himself result from Bertie (e. g. to force him not to play the trombone annoying Jeevse).
This duet seems to be one of the best comedic duets in comedy films. Fans of «House M. D.» indeed will be pleasant to look at his idol in the youth. And other spectators may just enjoy the series. I don't give «10», because there are no ideal films, sad but true.
Bertram Wooster is a wealthy gentleman who manages to get himself into trouble whenever he tries to solve other people's problems. Then it is the time for his smart and psychological butler, Wooster, to help to resolve all the troubles.
It is even difficult to say what it is so nice and exciting about the plot, but for some reason it works perfectly. The whole storyline can be summarized as "wealthy people have their own kind of entertainment" – it is difficult to imagine ordinary people getting themselves into the sort of troubles we see in Jeeves and Wooster. And the troubles that we see don't even look like troubles to us, making the series pretty entertaining and relaxing altogether. The good mix of jokes, particularly concerning the habits of the characters, makes you feel home in Britain of Jeeves and Wooster.
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who play the lead roles, are absolutely brilliant. It is particularly fascinating to see them there young, without the weight of House or Holmes pulling them down. Poker-faced over-polite Jeeves and energetic big-eyed naïve Wooster make the whole series shiny and fantastically charming. Mary Wimbush, who plays Aunt Agatha, is as stereotypical of the wealthy aunts as it can possibly get.
The word of warning though: only the first 2 seasons are of the high quality. Unfortunately, the actors change pretty quickly, the interest of screenwriters wanes, and the series become pretty boring. Nevertheless, the first two seasons are outstanding and a great fun.
VERDICT: good old-fashioned British TV series featuring humorous Fry and Laurie.
WATCH: if you want to get back in time, enjoy some nice British humor or simply observe the life of wealthy.
Stephen Fry was born to play Jeeves, but Hugh Laurie's Wooster is too broad for my taste. His mugging and 'silly ass' mannerisms are overdone, particularly in the first two seasons. However, he does tone them down after that and the shows benefit as a result.
Surprisingly, this appears to be only the second attempt to televise what is undoubtedly one of the great literary double-acts of the Twentieth Century. There was a series in the 60s, with Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael, but Wodehouse was scathing about Carmichael's 'middle-aged travesty' of Wooster, so it probably wasn't much good.
There may be a reason for this relative neglect. Good books don't always make good dramas and I think Wodehouse gave the screenwriter (Clive Exton) a couple of problems which he never entirely solved.
Firstly, the material doesn't really fit the fifty-minute format. The short stories are slightly too short and the novels are far too long.
Exton's approach to the short stories is to intertwine two (or more) into a single episode. This is usually done quite adroitly, but often the individual stories lose crucial scenes and fail to build up their full comic momentum. In most cases, I think it would have been better to stretch single stories to the required length rather than to condense them in this way.
With the novels he took three different approaches. Some he pared down to the bare bones, retaining the central story elements but stripping away all the sub-plots. In others, he pulls the different sub-plots apart and reassembles them as two separate, consecutive, stories. Neither approach really works. Wodehouse took great care with his plot construction. Much of the humour in the novels is in the way that incident piles on incident, so that poor old Wooster's life becomes 'one damn thing after another'.
Only once does Exton simply break the novel in half and present it as a two-part story. Even here, he has to simplify too much (there is probably enough material for three episodes).
The second problem is more fundamental and may be insoluble. While the incidents and the characters are funny in themselves, the genius of the books lies in Bertie Wooster's unique narrative voice, with its evocative slang and its elaborate hyperbole. The books are not just about what happens, but how Wooster perceives and relates it. He turns 'making mountains out of molehills' into high art.
It is the same with characters. No actual Aunt Agatha can possibly be the intimidating old dragon of Wooster's imagination. This is even more true of the wonderful Madeleine Basset. She can be depicted accurately and amusingly (Elizabeth Morton has a good stab at it) but no performance can hope to be as droll as Bertie's designation of her: "a droopy, soupy, sentimental article."
Of course, Exton could have given Wooster a voice-over, but there would be a danger of making the shows too wordy. As it is, he obviously felt that some of the stories were a bit short on physical action. To strengthen them visually, he makes radical changes to the plots and adds scenes and bits of physical comedy that have no counterpart in the books. Sometimes these amendments work well and the slapstick elements integrate seamlessly into the general tone of the stories, but on other occasions he is less successful. There are a couple of truly terrible ideas that Fry and Laurie should simply have refused to sanction. In particular, putting Wooster in drag was deplorable enough, but Jeeves in drag was unforgivable: shame on you, Mr Exton.
The great Jeeves and Wooster series has yet to be made. However, if P G Wodehouse is to your taste, then this series has more hits than misses.
Only the most uncompromising Wodehouse purists will fail to get enjoyment out of it.
PS: If any actor wants to know how to play Bertie Wooster he should check out the audio books read by Jonathan Cecil. He is spot on.
I personally love Wodehouse's writing, and I have but one complaint: Americans. In the second series (season for us in the US) a few American characters appear and it is painful to hear them speak. For all his talent, Wodehouse could not write American dialogue to save his life.
Britain and America are, as someone once said, two countries celebrated by a common tongue. And our respective patterns of speech are in contrast. Therefore, certain words and phrases do not sound right with an American accent. Praise must go to the actress playing Miss Stoker in the Second Season. She tries so hard.
Other than that, I recommend this series (and the books, come to that) to anyone.