28 June 2005 | dr_foreman
great fun, if inferior to the books
"Jeeves and Wooster" is a wonderful showcase for Hugh Laurie and Steven Fry, two of my favorite comedians. Their performances carry the series even when the writing starts to falter in the final season.
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.