Sunday, 20 January 2013

The first episode of "Blandings" ... I'm afraid that I have to say that it was ... an awful disappointement ... Tonight the second episode at BBC one ... Yours Jeeves .

“As television it wasn't bad at all. As Wodehouse, it wasn't quite good enough.”
TOM SUTCLIFFE  in The Independent

First Night: Blandings, BBC1, 6.30pm
A fine slice of Plum pie for Sunday nights – but did it need added sugar?

 SUNDAY 13 JANUARY 2013 in The Independent /

If you're adapting PG Wodehouse for the small screen, there's no way you can avoid competing with the gold-standard set by Clive Exton's versions of the Jeeves stories back in the 90s, which starred Fry and Laurie and captured the disciplined frivolity of the prose with a loving accuracy. But you really should avoid competing with the author himself.

Sadly, there were several moments in the first episode of Guy Andrews' Blandings where it seemed as if that was exactly what was happening. On this evidence, the series is a long way from a disaster. It has a fine cast and last night's opener included several very funny moments at which you caught the authentic glint of Wodehouse's comedy. But it was also padded out with extraneous incident in a way that made you feel they hadn't quite trusted Plum to do the business.

To be fair, a little like Lord Emsworth's pig The Empress, the original story needed some fattening to make it show weight. The tale on which it was based – "Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!" – is a slender affair that doesn't even feature Freddie Threepwood. So it wasn't completely out of order for Adams to add some bulk. And at its best it seemed likely that he was using peelings from other Wodehouse writings to do it.

"So persuasive", mused Lord Emsworth about his redoubtable sister Connie, "She once put forward such a forceful case for beetroot I actually put some in my mouth." I don't know whether that's Adams' line or Wodehouse's, but it has the authentic literate gleam of the master either way. As did Emsworth's sorrowful self-description at a low moment: "Behold your father Frederic. A toad beneath the harrow." Timothy Spall clearly relished the opportunity to wrap his assumed RP round those phrases. And while he's nobody's idea of a natural aristocrat, he can weight a funny line perfectly. Jennifer Saunders was on good form as Connie, too.

But elsewhere, there was the worrying sense that they felt Wodehouse needed a helping hand if he was going to make the audience laugh. There was too much laborious slapstick – mostly involving Freddie Threepwood bumping into things – and added plot complications which took up space that would far better have been given to missing gems from the original.

When Beach the butler refuses to perform the universal pig-call which will coax The Empress back to her swill, for example, the adaptation simply moves on.

In the story he's won round, but only on condition that they move out of earshot of the servants' hall. "If I were to be overheard by any of the lower domestics it would weaken my position as a disciplinary force," he says, grandly – a line Mark Williams could have delivered with a wonderful mullet-lipped froideur.

Most grievous of all, somebody had at one point mixed in a cartoonish comedy sound effect to underline a joke – as if Wodehouse's comedy is a comic-strip affair, rather than a lovely collision of the highest style with the emptiest content. As television it wasn't bad at all. As Wodehouse, it wasn't quite good enough.

“But the lively chat could not save what was ultimately an arch and rather empty effort.”
Ben Lawrence in The Telegraph

Blandings: episode one, BBC One, review
Ben Lawrence reviews the first episode of Blandings, BBC One's new period comedy series based on PG Wodehouse's celebrated stories.
By Ben Lawrence 13 Jan 2013 in The Telegraph /

It is easy to see why the interwar world of PG Wodehouse is irresistible to TV producers: ladies in cloche hats and gentlemen in Oxford bags having larks in capacious houses, sage servants, roguish bright young things, indomitable aunts. And in a country obsessed by Downton Abbey, a Wodehouse revival is timely.
The characters that fill Wodehouse’s work are untroubled by money, unfettered by society’s conventions, and perhaps, most importantly, unscathed by the Great War. In other words they exist in an England that never was.
Yet Wodehouse has a perspicacity and wisdom that prevent him from being mere froth. And that was the problem with Blandings (BBC One), a six-part adaptation of the Blandings Castle stories. There was no authorial voice, wry, gently mocking, poised with a sinuous metaphor or sprightly adjective. Instead we were on our own with Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall), his baleful sister Connie (Jennifer Saunders), vapid son Freddie (Jack Farthing) and beloved pig, the Empress, as they went about their lives in a crumbling English stately home.
You can’t invest psychological complexity into Wodehouse’s characters, the clarity and depth comes from the writing, and so the cast were all at sea. The performances weren’t bad exactly, but there was an impression that the cast had raided the charity shop and were merely having a spiffing time in vintage clothing.
Of course the benefit to Guy Andrews’s script was that the lovely dialogue remained intact, and no line felt cumbersome or inappropriately modern. “You’re a silly little nonsense aren’t you?” said Heacham (Brendan Patricks) as he pursued the reluctant Angela (Alice Orr-Ewing), Lord Emsworth’s niece. Angela was resistant because Heacham sported a moustache which looked “like a maggot crawled under his lip and died”. Later, despairing of the match, she declared: “I will throw myself from the battlements. All over the begonias. Splat!”
But the lively chat could not save what was ultimately an arch and rather empty effort. Never were you drawn into the world of Blandings and never did you get a sense of the precise and comic world which Wodehouse created. Jeeves & Wooster, filmed by ITV in the Nineties, failed on this level, too, but at least there, you were rewarded with two performances from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who knew each other well and understood perfectly the relationship between the hapless socialite and his capable valet.
Things may improve. Future episodes include appearances from David Walliams and pop star Paloma Faith, although it is hard to imagine how you could ramp up the camp much more.

Series 1 (2013)

1. Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!
First Broadcast: Sun 13th January 2013
Clarence has to get his pig eating again or he will lose the Fattest Pig prize to his fiendish rival. Meanwhile, Connie demands he put a stop to his niece Angela's love affair with cowboy Jimmy.

In-Depth Episode Guide

2. The Go-Getter - Next Episode
NEW EPISODE: Scheduled: Sun 20th January 2013 @ 6:30pm on BBC1
Connie hires a personal secretary, Baxter, to tidy up Blandings and Clarence, and impress the visiting Schoonmakers; but Freddie's attempts to sell them dog-food contribute to the extreme discomfort of the occasion. Guest starring David Walliams as Baxter.

In-Depth Episode Guide

3. Company For Gertrude
NEW EPISODE: Scheduled: Sun 27th January 2013 @ 6:30pm on BBC1
Clarence hopes to avoid dancing with his niece Gertrude by inviting a convenient blockhead to keep her company. Freddie meanwhile must keep his new Portuguese wife a secret from Connie.

In-Depth Episode Guide

4. The Crime Wave At Blandings
NEW EPISODE: Scheduled: Sun 3rd February 2013 @ 6:30pm on BBC1
Baxter returns as a holiday tutor for Clarence's grandson George. To Clarence's horror, Baxter plans to weasel his way back into permanent employment at Blandings.

In-Depth Episode Guide

5. Lord Emsworth And The Girl Friend
NEW EPISODE: Scheduled: Sun 10th February 2013 @ 6:30pm on BBC1
With the help of Freddie and some mischievous schoolchildren, Clarence hopes to dodge the double ordeal of having to wear a top hat and make a speech at the Blandings fete.

In-Depth Episode Guide

6. Problems With Drink
NEW EPISODE: Scheduled: Sun 17th February 2013 @ 6:30pm on BBC1
Clarence is forced to make polite conversation with the dowager Lady Daphne, but her interest in Clarence's pig arouses Connie's and Beach's suspicions.

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