Man vs Bee: Series 1. PG, 102 minutes, Netflix. 2 stars
Man on bicycle rides into gated property towards designer mansion in the modern style. The owners have been expecting someone to arrive from HouseSittersDeluxe and are all set to leave the moment he arrives. As they drive off, it is one of life's innocents they are leaving behind.
It's Rowan Atkinson's Trevor Bingley, gloriously home alone amongst a collection of priceless artworks, voice-activated keypads, swipe sensor taps, push latch drawers and a half dozen or so remotes, to figure everything out for himself. With a thick instruction manual. It's all in the manual, say Nina (Jing Lusi from Crazy Rich Asians) and Christian (Julian Rindt-Tutt) airily, as they push off. Well, mostly, except for the dates of English naval battles you need to be across to unlock the study in which an illuminated manuscript is on display.
Trevor is home alone but for Cupcake, the shaggy pet dog, and an uninvited bumblebee that has flown in with him. How to rid himself of the bee becomes an overriding obsession, although the pesky insect is only trying to find its way outside again. Right? Either way, the set-up is a recipe for mayhem that one of the finest comic talents of our era pulls off in nine short episodes. It transforms from a swatting contest to a mega-battle with the tiny harrier. A dose of laughing cure before bed, anyone?
Each episode, or chapter, in this sweet, slight entertainment details in excruciating detail Trevor's futile attempts to rid himself of his companion, a creature with more lives than seems possible, that quickly sends the hapless house-sitter berserk in no time at all.
Within a few moments since the couple left, Trevor has accidentally decapitated a statuette while swiping at the bee, locked the dog in the study, launched a hammer into a Mondrian painting, and made interesting additions to a mobile artwork. Inadvertently allowing Cupcake access to peanut butter brings on the predictable results. One by one, everything comes undone in one inventive way or another. We knew it would, we saw it coming, but oh what fun it is when it does, and a remarkable domino effect in action to behold.
Directed by David Kerr, Man Vs Bee was written in collaboration between Atkinson and Will Davies, one of the creatives behind the Johnny English spy comedies in which Atkinson played a secret agent like James Bond gone wrong. Those comedies were rather disappointing, but Man Vs Bee showcases the best in Atkinson, confirming he can deliver as brilliantly as he did with Mr Bean, and is still at the top of his game. With his particular brand of physical comedy and a minimal script, in pursuit of comic outcomes that are hilarious though telegraphed well in advance, there are moments when slapstick superstar Atkinson will make you laugh till your sides ache.
It's not hard to imagine that Atkinson, a graduate in electrical engineering with an MSc in the field from Oxford, made a substantial contribution to the swath of inventive ideas here for deconstructing the uber-rich couple's impeccable home.
Atkinson acknowledges the influence on his work from the late Jacques Tati. The character the wonderful French comedian created, Monsieur Hulot, was as befuddled and perplexed by modernity as Trevor, and has much in common with his English counterpart. Who can forget the trouble Hulot got into and the subsequent priceless comedy, when he visited a modernist, designer mansion in Mon Oncle, or when he went on holidays?
There are similar themes playing out here. That brand-conscious folk who live in geometric houses with lots of hard angles, who obsess about acquiring the materialistic markers of status, have it coming.
Atkinson's sweet Trevor Bingley might be slow on the uptake but he has no end of inventions for ridding himself of the pesky bee. However, his CGI co-lead has the ability of an escape-artist like Houdini to extract itself from each of Trevor's traps.
Bookending Man Vs Bee with courtroom and prison scenes seems entirely redundant, however. The movie in between already shows Nina and Christian up for who they are. So, there is little point in the extra add-on, as if the mayhem caused by lovable, bumbling Trevor and his airborne nemesis wasn't enough.
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