I was jazzed to write the following snappy introduction for this review – "Before Hugh Laurie was 'House,' before Stephen Fry was 'Wilde'," but regrettably, the folks putting together this first season on DVD beat me to it. No matter – long a cult favorite of those who indulge in humor from the other side of the Atlantic, A Bit of Fry & Laurie lasted only 26 episodes from 1987-1995. Both men, skilled verbalists whose vermouth dry wit lent a sophisticated air to the silliest of sketches, made their name in the United Kingdom via this short-lived but fondly remembered series.
Most startling is seeing these two well-respected actors in the early days of their career, long before Laurie was appearing in Hollywood fare like Stuart Little and Mouse Trap and Fry was Tinseltown's go-to erudite Brit (whether in grim fare such as V For Vendetta or films on the lighter side, i.e. Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story). The pair generate a palpable chemistry that fairly propels every brief sketch tackled; rarely is a false note hit or joke muffed – penned with an eye towards that old chestnut "Brevity is the soul of wit," Fry and Laurie revel in the flexibility of language, bending it to their whims, often resulting in tongue-tyingly memorable sequences that will have you hitting the rewind button.
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: Season Two features six episodes comprising the second season. Broadcast between March and April 1990, it's clear from the opening segment of the first episode that production values have gone upscale a bit – which, of course, the lads waste no time lampooning. These roughly half-hour segments of knowing hilarity are quickly paced and always good for a chuckle – channeling that distinctly British off-kilter sensibility from the likes of Monty Python, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, A Bit of Fry & Laurie has aged well and will tickle the funnybone for those who prefer an Anglophilic giggle.
A Bit of Fry & Laurie is presented in its original ratio of 1.33:1, as first broadcast on the BBC. No real effort has been made to clean up the image at all, resulting in a somewhat faded look, with plenty of glare, ghosting and other fleeting instances of print damage. It ain't pretty, but then, those who've clamored for this on DVD will likely just be glad to have the show in hand.
As goes the visuals, so goes the audio – bare-bones Dolby 2.0 stereo is here, with the repartee heard clearly and free of distortion, with no drop-out or audible damage. The laugh track never overwhelms the rapid-fire jokery and optional English subtitles are included.
The 45-minute special "The Cambridge University Footlights Revue" (curiously misspelled on the DVD menu and whose time is exaggerated by roughly 10 minutes on the DVD case) is a grab bag of Fry & Laurie sketches, culled from, according to the case, "early Fry & Laurie material." It's just as humorous as the rest of the duo's efforts, even featuring a glimpse of the pair's pal Emma Thompson as Julianna Talent.
While there's little to be found here beyond the sketches, the, well, bits are of such unimpeachable quality that I can easily recommend this disc to the unfamiliar and fans alike – it's nice to have A Bit of Fry & Laurie available to pop it every now and again. Recommended.