A&E has released six more episodes featuring that hilarious little grotesque, Mr. Bean, in The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2. Episodes included are Mr. Bean Goes to Town, Mr. Bean Rides Again, Back to School, Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean in Room 426, Tee Off, Mr. Bean, and Goodnight, Mr. Bean. I would imagine die-hard Bean fans already have the complete set of Bean antics, but this two-and-a-half hour trip (with a few funny extra skits) with the amazing Mr. Bean might be good way for newcomers to get acquainted with the repulsive little toad.
I've watched Mr. Bean for years, but I'm always surprised when I see how small his reach appears to be here in the American pop culture. Most people I've spoken to, outside of Anglophile TV fans, draw a blank when I mention Mr. Bean, although a few seem to know him by sight once I show them an episode from his TV series. Rowen Atkinson, the creator and performer who brings Mr. Bean to life, has released two feature films starring the obnoxiously funny Mr. Bean - both of which, significantly, didn't do nearly as much business here as they did internationally. I've always suspected that the slapstick nature of Mr. Bean's comedy - long derided here in America once film and TV criticism was taken over by humorless college eggheads - was perhaps the main stumbling block for viewers who have been told for ages now that such stuff is silly or juvenile or low brow (as with geniuses like The Three Stooges or Jerry Lewis), and that they shouldn't waste their time on it. Old-time silent film masters of the pratfall such as Chaplin and Keaton and Lloyd are immune from this kind of criticism now, because they've been enshrined within so-called "intellectual" film critiques; they're not just "funny," don't you know - they're "meaningful."
I suppose somebody could make an intellectual case for Mr. Bean's misadventures as stinging social commentaries on the cruelties of a technological, uncaring, unfeeling modern world - but I sure hope they don't. That would spoil the fun. Mr. Bean is funny, and that's all it has to be to make us laugh repeatedly despite the absolutely razor thin premise he inhabits. Mr. Bean, who could very well be taken for an alien dropped down to Earth (he is thusly introduced in almost all the episodes, appearing in a pool of light, as if dropped down from a spaceship), cannot seem to function properly in even the most prosaic situation without causing a major cock-up to his surroundings, his beloved "pet" Teddy (a stuffed bear), and his own person. And that's it. That's what happens in every Mr. Bean short. Taking a page from the celebrated Monsieur Hulot character created by Jacques Tati (unfortunately associated with far too many eggheads now), Mr. Bean remains (mostly) silent except for the occasional incoherent grumble or saying his name, "Bean" in an unlikely deep bass voice, a gimmick that reinforces the universality of the comedy (while making it exceedingly cheap for the producers to market Mr. Bean all over the world).
A perfect example of this otherworldly mess that Mr. Bean causes/creates/inhabits comes in the very first image in the first short featured, where Mr. Bean pulls up to his apartment in his 1977 lime green MK IV British Leland Mini 1000...where he's somehow managed to rope himself in with a TV box tied off on the car roof. How, or why, did he rope himself in? Did he get in the way he gets out, or did he manage to do it from inside the car? We don't know, but that's the surreal fun of Mr. Bean: outrageous sight gags and pratfalls with little or no real "meaning" behind them. And as with all great physical comedy, the "build" here, is everything. Like the early silent comedy masters, Atkinson and his writers understand that the simplest premise - such as Mr. Bean preparing for bed - can yield a tremendous amount of comedy material if the situation is allowed to patiently unfold. I could describe quite a few scenes in the The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2 disc that are transcendentally funny, such as Mr. Bean using jumper cables to resuscitate a man at a bus queue, or Mr. Bean putting small bits of paper on his eyelids and tongue, trying to make a sick boy laugh on a plane, or Mr. Bean illogically trying to race another hotel employee up and down in an elevator - but there's no way, with the written word, to convey the whimsy and the surreal, often cruel (Bean is far from a "wimp;" indeed, he's at his most hilarious when he starts dicking around with people for no discernable reason other than to cause trouble) humor of Mr. Bean without actually seeing him in action.
Here are the 6 episodes included on The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2:
Mr. Bean Goes to Town (1991)
Mr. Bean has to get naked to get proper TV reception; his camera is stolen (he repeatedly jabs the thief with a pencil to get it back); he loses his shoe on top of a car, and when he's rejected by his date at the disco, he turns the lights out on everyone else.
Mr. Bean Rides Again (1992)
Mr. Bean's Mini won't start, and he has to get to the post office. A man with a heart attack delays him. An upcoming vacation sees Mr. Bean reducing his wardrobe size to suit his tiny valise, while a loudly laughing train companion and a sick boy mar his travels.
Back to School, Mr. Bean (1994)
Mr. Bean causes havoc for everyone at a military school's open house day (by the way, Mr. Bean's alien hair refuses to attract static electricity).
Mr. Bean in Room 426 (1993)
Mr. Bean gets naked in the hallways of an expensive hotel...and decapitates his beloved Teddy. He holds a "No Entry" sign over his bum.
Tee Off, Mr. Bean (1995)
Mr. Bean drinks fabric softener at the launderette to avoid a beating, and then spends the entire day chasing down an errant putt-putt gold ball.
Goodnight, Mr. Bean (1995)
Mr. Bean visits the hospital (he has a teapot stuck on his hand) and a Queen's Guard, before he gets himself and Teddy ready for bed (he shoots out the bedroom light, but it's okay: he has a whole cabinet full of light bulbs).
The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2 look about on par for similar DVDs featuring British TV shows from this period. Video fidelity isn't the greatest, with noise and artifacting apparent, along with some possible PAL conversion jiggering. But you probably won't notice these usually minor imperfections, because you'll be too busy laughing at Mr. Bean.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track isn't half bad, with some actual directional effects in a few scenes. The audience laugh track is the most prominent sound on the disc, and that comes through clear. No subtitles are offered.
Four sketches featuring Mr. Bean, two of which came from broadcast on the UK version of Comedy Relief, are included here. Bus Stop, running 5:44, features Mr. Bean doing some particularly nasty mischief with a mother and her baby (he wants in front of her in the bus queue). The Library, running 9:11, has Mr. Bean destroying a rare book at the library. Blind Date, running 14:02, has Mr. Bean appearing on the British version of that venerable, venereal TV show, and Torvill and Bean, running 6:35, has Mr. Bean substituting for Christopher Dean by ice skating with Jayne Torvill.
Snotty, bizarre, grotesque, whimsical Mr. Bean. If you've seen him already, you know the appeal. If not, the The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2 disc might be a cheap way to get acquainted with the surreal slapstick lunacy of the seemingly alien Mr. Bean. I highly recommend The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.