Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean Simply Hysterical
By Kristin Battestella
I’ve been watching the nineties British funnyman Mr. Bean for years, so when my husband offered to sit down and watch the entire series set Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean, I settled in and laughed until I cried all over again. Only afterwards did my usual thought process dawn on me: watched it, now review it!
Though seemingly an intelligent and respectable man doing trigonometry or going out on the town, the mostly silent or mumbling Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is a little inept at socialization, to say the least. Always wearing the same tweed jacket, brown pants, and slim red tie, he often misunderstands human subtleties and behaviors. Bean generally does simple tasks in absurd, roundabout, Rube Goldberg ways, and can be downright nasty to those that interfere with his person- the driver of a three- wheeled blue Reliant, for example, or a magician who takes his watch for a trick. As a direct result of his selfish and erroneous ways, Bean- whose first name and origins are not entirely known- has an unusual romance with Irma Gobb (Matilda Ziegler). He does, however, seem to love Teddy, his aptly named teddy bear - but that doesn’t save the stuffed animal from some of Mr. Bean’s most disastrous actions.
Writers Robin Driscoll (who also penned the feature films Bean and Mr. Bean’s Holiday), Robin Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually), and star Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, The Thin Blue Line) create a fun and even lovable little man who is somehow also an unforgivably destructive, cruel, and near vindictive character. Thanks to superb comedic timing in “Mr. Bean in Room 426” and “The Return of Mr. Bean,” the simplest of ironies from the debut episode “Mr. Bean,” and great physical performance in “Mr. Bean Goes to Town” and “The Curse of Mr. Bean;” it’s the absurdity of impending disaster at which we laugh and enjoy. To this day, my mother cannot make it through the dentistry hysteria in “The Trouble with Mr. Bean.” Some American audiences may find Mr. Bean slow, even boring and totally unfunny, particularly by the series’ final two episodes “Hair by Mr. Bean of London” and “Goodnight, Mr. Bean”. However, it is the slow build up of layering stupidity that sets the series apart from other gag or gross out comedy. How far will each sketch go? What is he going to do next? I can’t believe he just did that! Wait, wait for the topper! Mr. Bean’s mumbled speech and garbled reactions make it all the more amusing when he does say something of note as well. Once we know his humorously disturbing ways, we forget Mr. Bean is a largely silent program relying mostly on visual performance and physicality alone to achieve each punch line. Audiences of numerous languages around the world can enjoy The Whole Bean, because the tickling examination and absurdity of humanity gone awry is a hysterical rapport until itself.
After watching again with Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean, one must wonder how Rowan Atkinson did all the twisted things he did as the titular man himself. Appearing in a beam of light at the beginning of each show and sometimes being sucked back into the light at the end of several episodes; it is strongly implied Bean is of alien origin. We see Atkinson do the things he does as Bean in “Mr. Bean Rides Again,” witness his complete selfishness and utter disregard for others in “Back to School, Mr. Bean.” It makes us ask ourselves, ‘How can he not know the basics of human life?’ Perhaps it is cruel to say, but there are times Atkinson does look alien indeed; his voice, appearance, style, and mannerisms are absolutely awkward and incredibly funny. Sometimes, despite his ignorance, we even feel sorry for Mr. Bean thanks to Atkinson’s sad face and drooped shoulders. Who knew the laughter he caused could be so endearing? Even though it is incredibly ridiculous that a grown man would have a teddy bear, much less think it is a real pet, Bean’s askew abuse amid his devotion to Teddy helps create attachment for the viewer. Likewise, Bean’s woefully mistaken and immature relationship with Matilda Ziegler’s (Eastenders) Irma is great fun. What on earth could she possibly see in him?
Of course, a few saucy parts or humorous nudity may mean Mr. Bean: The Animated Series is better for super young viewers, but the series here is relatively tame compared to shows today. More things about Mr. Bean have become iconic instead; the great music and Latin lyrics by Howard Goodall (Red Dwarf, The Vicar of Dibley) for example. Oh, the Mini Cooper and good old Teddy are always there despite whatever disasters- like being run over by a tank or shrunk in the dryer- befall them. Bean also seems to have a different apartment every time we see it, yet he is perpetually short of money, or at the very least, extremely frugal or just a tightwad and cheapskate. Naturally, though a fairly recent video release, Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean looks old now to modern audiences. The series’ drab and cardboard design may be too poor and nineties Brit for some. However, the simplistic outdoor locations or sparse stage design are beside the point. Mr. Bean is about the purity of irony and comedy with as little else as possible. By making the simplest task or most familiar object comical, Mr. Bean remains fresh amid the contemporary gross out sequels and formulaic teen drivel.
The Whole Bean is actually a relatively short compilation. The series’ 14 half hour episodes, plus the extras and features on the set can be found for purchase affordably or rental and streaming for a quick one or two day marathon. Serious enthusiasts may go after the VHS versions or UK releases and other DVD editions, as ironically, there are several noticeable scenes missing from The Whole Bean – namely the guessing the weight of the turkey bit from “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean.” Annoying yes, but Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean suffices for its overall Bean fix. I feel like I’ve written so little on The Whole Bean, yet I’ve used a lot of big, abstract words in doing so. Truly, perhaps the written word can’t describe Mr. Bean. He has to be seen to be believed. New or young audiences can enjoy for the first time, and old school fans can revisit The Whole Bean again. Behold the man who is a bean, indeed.