Saturday, March 17, 2012

With Only Six Episodes, It's Tough To Get Excited About Fortysomething - The Complete Series!

The Good: Acting, Moments of humor.
The Bad: Largely unfunny, Characters are hardly interesting, Lack of DVD bonus footage
The Basics: With only six episodes, Fortysomething does very little other than talk a lot about sex and present Hugh Laurie as a different doctor than House.

The year before he became Dr. House, actor Hugh Laurie was over playing a doctor for the BBC. I had been acquainted with Laurie's work from the British comedy Black Adder (reviewed here!) and when he began House, M.D. I watched for him. As the show became more and more formulaic and repetitive, my interest waned (though I managed to suffer through and review the DVDs). So, when a copy of Fortysomething - The Complete Series landed on my desk, I decided to try to renew my love of Hugh Laurie.

Laurie stars in Fortysomething as Dr. Paul Slippery, a middle aged man who begins to hallucinate and question his sanity when his wife re-enters the workforce and his sexually active children leave home. It's a Bristish comedy and . . . largely it is not funny. In fact, the best moments in the six-episode series involve Paul fantasizing over his fellow doctor, Surinder. The sexual tension in those scenes is wonderful, realistic and compelling. But, of course, the series instead aims for the cheap laughs as opposed to making a conflicted dramatic piece.

Because the series is so short, it's easiest to describe the plot of the show in terms of the actual episodes. As a result, Fortysomething - The Complete Series involves:

Episode 1 - Paul Slippery hunts for a patient and friend, fearing he might take a lethal dose of Viagra. His wife, in the meantime, gets a new job when she loses her old one. Their son, Daniel, steals Rory's (his older brother) girlfriend, despite having a girlfriend of his own.

Episode 2 - While Paul plans a romantic dinner with his wife, Daniel's girlfriend arrives and Paul becomes involved with trying to keep the two girls from finding out about one another. As well, Paul's coworker, Dr. Pilfrey begins to romantically pursue Paul's wife, Estelle.

Episode 3 - Pilfrey literally goes insane trying to get it on with Estelle, which happens when the National Health Service arrives to do an inspection. Paul helps speed his mental demise along by allowing Pilfrey to believe that his youngest son, Edwin, is actually the health inspector and is in league with him.

Episode 4 - Estelle delivers a speech at a conference for women only. Feeling jealous and left out, Paul dons a burka and sneaks in to listen and offer his own brand of moral support. This is set against the youth of the house convincing Paul that an herbal supplement he thinks is fake, Erogin-8, actually works.

Episode 5 - Paul mistakes Estelle's attempts to keep a surprise party for him secret for her having an affair, which he soon comes to believe is a series of affairs with about twenty old friends. This is exacerbated by Paul meeting up with one of his old friends at an A.A. meeting and taking everything he says entirely the wrong way.

and Episode 6- Paul and Estelle's sons Rory and Daniel move out after both of Daniel's girlfriends leave him. While they get into a drunken stupor in their own flat, Paul allows Dr. Pilfrey, who has returned from his state-mandated vacation, hypnotize him - with disastrous results.

Fortysomething is, at best, entirely average. Indeed, the show is surprisingly slow for a comedy and predictable in the worst possible ways a comedy can be. So, for example, in Episode 6, Pilfrey abusing Dr. Slippery using hypnotherapy techniques is one of the most obvious potential plots ever to hit comedy. In fact, the only thing that saves that whole aspect of the episode is Hugh Laurie's acting. While the plot is dull and the character development is completely stale (that Dr. Slippery so readily trusts Pilfrey after despising him so much in the first few episodes is utterly unrealistic), Hugh Laurie's ability to enthusiastically cluck like a chicken is marvelously played.

And to his credit, Hugh Laurie has moments where we are reminded just how funny he can be. He has a pretty amazing sense of comic timing and he plays off costars Anna Chancellor and Lolita Chakrabarti expertly. Chancellor, for her part, illustrates that she can play a character who has some expressions of inner turmoil, unlike her monolithic character in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. She plays the straightwoman to Laurie's often outrageous facial expressions and in Episodes 4 and 6 she illustrates some real gravitas when expressing her character's feelings about the direction her life has gone in.

The supporting cast is not nearly as good, though Chakrabarti is consistently good in her role as Surinder. Unfortunately, her character is brought in to play the straightwoman to Dr. Slippery in the professional setting scenes. Unlike Chakrabarti, Peter Capaldi illustrates no talent for making the viewer care about Pilfrey at all. His entire time on screen, he appears only to do schtick acting and, frankly, it's not terribly funny from the outset. He keeps trying, though and during Pilfrey's absence from the series, he goes largely unmissed.

The rest of the cast is young actors and they are pretty universally bland. This is a tough distinction to make, though because the bulk of their time on screen, they are lounging around talking about sex. Fortysomething is largely about a middle aged man who wants sex (and a good sandwich) sitting around watching young people swapping sexual partners and wondering what happened to the vigor in his life.

But more than that, the characters never truly develop and instead, this seems like a very average, very British comedy, absent the wit. Usually, British comedy at least has wit. This . . . this has a few moments where the viewer might smile, but largely it's a chance to see Hugh Laurie play a different doctor.

For me, that's not quite enough.

For other one-season comedies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.


For other television reviews, please be sure to check out my Television Reviews Index page for an organized listing of all the television DVD sets I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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