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Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series
Clive Exton's adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's popular stories brought Jeeves & Wooster to a welcoming television audience when it debuted in 1990. Lasting twenty-three hour long episodes, the series understandably garnered a decent following that has lasted to the present thanks to some likeable and well written characters, fun storylines and star making performances courtesy of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
The series, set sometime in the 1920s, revolves around a young upper class man named Bertie Wooster (Laurie). Not the sharpest of dudes, Bertie is never the less a nice enough guy. He might have a natural tendency to get into sticky situations but he always means well. His life is changed for the better in many ways upon the arrival of his new valet, Jeeves (Fry), who seems to be a bit of a stuffed shirt in some ways but how also manages to have a natural tendency get out of sticky situations, making him an excellent foil for Wooster's rather oafish exploits.
As the pair begin to get to know one another, Jeeves winds up helping his new boss though all manner of odd predicaments, many of which seem to involve his odd Aunt Agatha (Mary Wimbush in the first three seasons and Elizabeth Spriggs in the fourth) or various other eccentric relatives and quite a few more of which also seem to involve various romantic entanglements. Though the series does verge on the predictable far more than it really should have, that is in one way half of the fun. We know that Jeeves is going to save Wooster from himself as required, but seeing exactly how he'll manage to do it is what makes the series interesting.
Fry and Laurie make an interesting pair here. Hugh Laurie mugs for the camera in that same sort of 'human cartoon' way that an early Jim Carey film might call for and he's about as goofy as one man could possibly be. Those familiar with him only through his popular Fox series, House, might be surprise to see him hamming it up as blatantly as he does here, but it works. As the foil to his sometimes childish behavior, Fry's Jeeves has a much dryer and more sarcastic wit to him, one that exemplifies that stereotypically British sense of calm, cool and perseverance you would expect from a 'gentleman's gentlemen' such as he. They play off of each other very well here, and in many ways prove to be extensions of one another.
Adopted from their literary sources by Clive Exton (the same man who brought Poirot to British television with great success), these episodes in many ways do feel like wacky old books rather than crazed television comedy. The essence of classically comedic literature is obviously still very much a core of the series and it helps to set the show apart from the countless other British comedy series that have come and gone since. There's not so much a snootiness or sophistication to the material as there is a slightly highbrow if unpretentious sense of cleverness to it all, even when Bertie is dealing with a hangover or belting out a musical number on a trombone or a piano and looking all the more ridiculous for it.
The first season contains five episodes while the second, third and fourth seasons contain six episodes each. Here's the breakdown:
Disc One: Jeeves Takes Charge / Tupper And The Terrier / The Purity Of The Turf
Disc Two: The Hunger Strike / Brinkley Manor
Disc Three: Jeeves Saves The Cow Creamer / A Plan For Gussie / Pearls Mean Tears
Disc Four: Jeeves In The Country / Kidnapped! / Jeeves The Matchmaker
Disc Five: Bertie Sets Sail / The Full House / Introduction On Broadway
Disc Six: Right Ho, Jeeves / Hot Off The Press / Comrade Bingo
Disc Seven: Return To New York / The Once And Future Ex / Bridegroom Wanted!
Disc Eight: The Delayed Arrival / Trouble At Totleigh Towers / The Ties That Bind
Not all of the episodes work as well as the others and honestly, aside from the debut, the first season is probably the weakest. Later episodes, which place the plots in the city but also take the characters on trips to the countryside or even to America prove to be a little more interesting, as they allow the characters to step outside of the box just a bit and make for some interesting fish out of water situation comedy. As the series winds to a close in its fourth season, the plots are tied up quite satisfactorily with Bertie having had to deal with all manner of woman and family members wanting to marry him off despite his obvious wishes to the contrary. Jeeves is there, with him, to help him out until the very end, just as it should be. The spirit of the books is there, the humor is constant and entertaining, and Fry and Laurie are in top shape here - all of which adds up to a rather enduring and timeless series, still funny after all these years.
Jeeves & Wooster is, like most television shows, fullframe and for the most part, this is a very nice picture even if at times it's a bit soft. Colors are nice and accurate without any real print damage or compression problems to speak of and blacks are nice and deep. There are some moderate shimmering issues in a few episodes but they don't take away too much from the experience and overall everything looks reasonably good here.
Presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, pretty much the entire sound mix is coming at you out of the front center speaker with only some mild channel separation occurring at times where some sound effects are required. Overall, things are pretty clear without any real issues like hiss or distortion occurring. There's not much to report in the lower end, but then again, there's really no need for it. The stereo mix here is quite adequate and suits the material just fine. No alternate language dubbed tracks or subtitles are provided on any of the eight discs in this collection.
The only extras in this set, aside from menus and episode selection on each of the eight DVDs housed inside the slim line case that fill up the cardboard case, are a text based biography and filmography for Jeeves & Wooster's creator, P.G. Wodehouse, a popular British comedic writer
While Fry and Laurie have made better programs both together and on their own, Jeeves & Wooster is still a great example of their comedic chemistry. The show is as charming as it is well written and it remains quite an entertaining series all these years after it first debuted. A&E's The Complete Series release won't wow you with extras but it looks and sounds alright for what it is and as such it comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.