Man Vs Bee, the latest comedy series to star Rowan Atkinson, recently became available to stream on Netflix. As the first episode begins, we are introduced to his latest character, Trevor Bingley, who is standing before a judge in court. This quote from the opening scene perfectly summarizes the series.
Judge: Trevor Bingley, on all 14 counts of dangerous driving, the destruction of priceless artwork, criminal damage, arson, you have been found guilty. Do you have anything to say before you’re taken down?
Trevor: I’m just… really, really, sorry. You see, there was this bee…
The episode then takes us back in time to the moment Bingley arrives at the luxurious mansion where he will be house-sitting. As he stands at the large gate waiting to be let in, a bee flies down and distracts him. Bingley casually wafts it away but little does he know that this innocent-looking insect will be the eventual cause of his downfall at the end of the series’ 9-episode run.
Bingley is not unlike Atkinson’s Mr Bean character although he is kinder and more caring than that silent buffoon who went to war with a man in a 3-wheeled car for apparently no reason. This new character is polite and charming, even during his initial meeting with the home’s arrogant owners, Trevor (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Nina (Jing Jusi), who are mistrusting of Bingley and more than a little patronizing towards him.
Before they leave for their holidays, the couple gives Bingley a brief run-down of the house and how it works and tell him to be extra careful of the priceless works of art that are located in the various rooms of their home. They also introduce Bingley to their dog, Cupcake, and give him strict instructions about what to feed him. They then leave him a manual that includes the key codes to the library, information on how to trigger the motion-sensored cupboards, and various other particulars about the house.
After briefing their new house-sitter, the two make a hasty exit and Bingley is left alone in the mansion. What could possibly go wrong? Well…just about everything. Before the first episode ends, Bingley breaks an expensive ornament, sets fire to the instruction manual, and gets involved in a mishap involving a hairdryer. How? Well, to quote from the opening scene…you see, there was this bee!
The opening episode is fairly tame when compared to the unfortunate series of events that occur afterwards when Bingley goes to war against the bothersome bee. He destroys yet more valuable works of art as he pursues the flying menace around the mansion and he accidentally poisons poor Cupcake. The normally kind and caring fellow is then driven to desperate acts of vengeance as he tries to get rid of the insectile nuisance, and uses everything at his disposal to wipe the bee out of existence!
Unfortunately, the bee is not a foe that Bingley can get rid of easily. It manages to evade every weapon that the hapless house-sitter uses, including a microwave, a whisk, various toxic aerosols, and even a flame thrower!
It’s clear that, despite its diminutive size, the bee has the upper hand over poor Bingley who becomes increasingly frantic in his quest to rid his life of it. You will be too busy laughing to feel overly sorry for him though as Bingley’s antics are the perfect opportunity for Atkinson to showcase his special brand of physical comedy. Whether he’s dancing around in front of a policeman because the bee has flown up his trouser leg or flailing his arms around in a desperate attempt to trigger the motion-controlled cupboards, Atkinson manages to make us laugh with his rubber-like face and exaggerated bodily movements.
But while Atkinson is funny, the setups for his mishaps are a little bit obvious. It will be no surprise to you that Bingley manages to destroy the works of art, lay waste to an expensive motor, and accidentally feed Cupcake the very food that he was warned against (peanut butter in case you’re wondering).
We know from the very first episode that Bingley will cause chaos in such ways, not only because of the show’s opening court scene but because of the initial sequence within the mansion. Nina and Trevor stress the importance of the house rules to Bingley when he arrives on the scene and it’s all too clear that it won’t be too long before he breaks them. The show isn’t less funny as a consequence but it does become rather predictable.
Still, while the script is a little unsurprising in terms of Bingley’s various blunders, it is also unexpectedly poignant at times. Bingley has recently separated from his wife and has found himself cast out of his family home. There are some very tender scenes with him on FaceTime re-connecting to his young daughter and it’s easy to feel sympathy for them both.
Bingley later watches a video on YouTube about solitary bees and learns that his foe is in a similar situation to the one he is in. According to the video, male bees are cast out of the hive by the Queen Bee when they have served their purpose and are left homeless. Suddenly, both we and Bingley are confronted with this astonishing parallel and for a few brief moments, our protagonist is given cause to reflect on the similarities between himself and the bee. There’s a moment when we suspect he might even call a truce with the buzzing bug! Of course, as the opening montage clearly reveals, the war between man and bee doesn’t end because of their shared set of circumstances.
As the episodes in Man Vs Bee are between 9 and 20 minutes long, the show is easily bingeable. You may be a little glad when it finally comes to a close after the 9th episode – the battle between Bingley and the bee eventually gets a little wearying – but you’ll be left with a reminder of what a terrific talent Atkinson is. A second series would not be unwelcome as this latest comedy creation is just as funny as those other comedic characters that the actor-comedian has previously become known for.
If you have been missing the slapstick comedies of old, this series will be right up your street! It’s as silly as you might assume it will be but it unexpectedly teaches a few life lessons too! The only sting in the tale is the predictability but if you can keep your eyes from rolling, you should have a good time with this one.
Verdict - 7/10