thu 12/12/2019

Fry and Laurie Reunited, Gold | reviews, news & interviews

Fry and Laurie Reunited, Gold

Fry and Laurie Reunited, Gold

A flawed but entertaining 90 minutes in the company of a couple of national treasures

A bit of Fry & Laurie? In this instance too much

There’s a surreal sitcom waiting to be written about the often-told story of when Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse were Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s plasterers for a while in the early 1980s. Here’s the pitch: F and L would play caricatures of themselves in the mould of the posh twits they played in Blackadder, and – for extra comic frisson – H and W would play it straight while appearing (as the story goes) naturally funnier than their professional Oxbridge comedy-writing superiors.

If the old wags themselves didn’t have the time or inclination to knock up six episodes, The IT Crowd writer Graham Linehan would be an obvious choice for getting that tone of heightened unreality and knowing post-sitcom sitcom-ness required. The story even had a delightfully unfeasible ending: H and W bought the house from F and L and thus symbolically inherited the position of being the nation’s favourite cuddly comedy duo. This anecdotal gem was one of many amusing stories the reunited old friends dredged up under the glare of the TV lights as part of a celebration of the fact that they have known each other for 30 years.

However, if it hadn’t been for the overriding fact that Fry and Laurie are such good company this program, at 90 minutes in length, was definitely too long. For one thing, if you got rid of all the pointless highlights-of-what’s-to-come clips before the commercial breaks, and the story-so-far clips after the commercial breaks - not to mention the fact that the first 10 minutes were nothing more than a best-bits trailer for the next 80 minutes - the end result would probably come in at a far more sprightly and moistly lovely 15 minutes.

I exaggerate of course, but only because I care. You can’t help but love these two ex-Cambridge clever-clogs (even as you cynically contemplate which one gets a knighthood first) and so you want the best for them. But as narrator Alison Steadman laid it on creamily thick (while Mozart played away austerely and ecstatically in the background) with talk of what “national treasures” and “international megastars” our two unlikely heroes were - you couldn’t help but yearn for just a soupcon of critical perspective.

For example, for the purposes of research (prompted by the fact that Amazon currently have it reduced from 50 quid to under 15 quid), I got hold of a copy of the A Bit of Fry & Laurie box set to see if they were as funny as I recalled them being. Perhaps it was the rather stagy performances (presumably a hangover from needing to project during those Footlights years) or the fact that their particular brand of gentle surrealism and outright silliness hasn’t dated as well as, say, Monty Python’s edgier and bolder template (the pair both loved Python) but, disappointingly, much of the material was bafflingly unfunny.

I say bafflingly unfunny because not only did I love these shows when they first aired, but I also saw the Footlights show which won them the very first Perrier Comedy Award back in 1981. Ironically, the bits that still work aren’t the carefully honed two-men-in-a-shop/bar/restaurant sketches, but the often improvised faux vox pop interviews they did to fill in the gaps. Inevitably any comedy act is a product of its time, and so it was those quick throwaway bits to camera, which anticipated the pace and tone of much of The Fast Show and subsequent short-attention-span shows, that still seem fresh today.

But having said all that, there was plenty to enjoy in the program. The easy rapport between the two men remains undiminished, there are some well-chosen clips of some of the better moments from their sketch show, and there’s plenty of amusing and enlightening interjections from the likes of Emma Thompson, Ben Miller (of Armstrong and Miller), Caroline Quentin and the aforementioned Higson and Whitehouse (being refreshingly unluvvy). Plus you get to hear that Laurie once seriously considered joining the Hong Kong police, that Fry puts a certain amount of the success of their working relationship down to the fact that he never fancied Laurie, and that Laurie’s now the most successful TV leading man in the world as the star of House - despite we Brits being relatively indifferent to it. How fickle we can be towards our national treasures.

Watch a sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie that is still funny:

You can’t help but love these two ex-Cambridge clever-clogs (even as you cynically contemplate which one gets a knighthood first) and so you want the best for them

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Comments

Do your research--the vox pops were not 'often improvised'--they were written beforehand just like the rest of the show. Fry and Laurie have both stated that they dislike improv. Also, my friends and I (all American college students) find ABOFAL hysterical. Obviously it's aged a lot better than you see it. Finally, it's obnoxious and lazy to write F and L instead of the actual names. I loved the reunion, but this article needs some serious revision.

Not so, Katie, and do calm down. It was actually mentioned in this program that these sections were sometimes improvised. In fact Fry said he often took inspiration from whatever outlandish hats his female characters had been given. And isn’t the word “obnoxious” a little extreme and inacurate for what was simply a convenient abbreviation?

It never ceases to amaze me how confrontative and graceless many of the public comments are here. OK, so in many instances the attackers are fair game to be attacked, but do take a leaf out of their books, Kate and co, and do it with a good grace. Your points will be all the stronger for it. In any case, I too don't see what's wrong about using initials.

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