Thursday, December 17, 2009

"As you say, Sir"

For my midday entertainment, I am in the middle of a BBC series called "Jeeves and Wooster", starring the inimitable Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I quite like it, mostly for the linguistic play that is continuous throughout every episode. Trillium walked through the family room a couple of days ago, watched for a few minutes, and walked off, muttering something about none of the characters having any admirable qualities at all. She had missed Jeeves, of course.

Jeeves, according to the story line, is a Celt, although we are never told from which part of Celtic-dom he was from. He has no Scottish brogue, none of the Irish lilt, and no Welsh aspirated consonants. We might therefore suggest that he hailed originally from Cornwall, but who knows? He is a gentleman's gentleman, a valet who watches over Bertie Wooster's circumstances with decorum and long-suffering. He is well-read, linguistically acute, and invariably has a grasp of any given situation and the manner in which any afflicted soul might be extracted. Hardly anyone realizes the genius of the man, save at the very moment of distress.

Britain continually pokes fun at itself, particularly on the subjects of class, nobility, and wealth. "Jeeves and Wooster" exploits every aspect of the cold war that exists between the classes and the sexes. Bertram Wooster and his friends are young fops who have hardly two synapses to rub together. Whenever Bertie takes a situation in hand, he invariably makes the mess increase exponentially. The matrons of the production are invariably portrayed as malignant shrews who realize that the only power they have left in the world comes by way of bullying everyone around them. Bertie's aunts constitute the embodiment of British cynicism. The patriarchs are men who are used to being obeyed in every venue except in their own homes. They have some wisdom, but they are mostly governed by bias, prejudice, and tradition. The single young women are either love-smitten fluff-heads or calculating predators waiting for the moment to strike.

In the midst of social chaos, Jeeves is the only level-headed character on the stage. He knows exactly how things should be done in order to restore sanity, but he is, in the end, only a valet. Therefore, every thing he does is subtle, a careful nudging of the rudder here and there, until all is righted. He is a singular voice of reason in a company of lunatics.

Now I find this series endearing, perhaps because it deals with the world as it is in a jocular fashion. In 44 minutes I can enjoy a "reality" show that is far more entertaining than 44 minutes of the raw stuff available through channel surfing.

If I want to watch young women in a perpetual state of cluelessness, I can turn to Channel 53 (VH1), Channel 55 (MTV), or Channel 59 (E!). If I want to see the foolishness of bigotry, tradition, and wrong-headedness, I can immediately switch to Channel 48 (MSNBC) or Channel 42 (HLN). If I want to see young men grasping the wrong end of the stick, I merely need to focus on Channels 34-37. If I have a craving for the angst between the sexes and generations, I can spend time watching Channel 30 (TLC), Channel 31 (CMT), Channel 46 (Lifetime), and Channel 60 (Style). I do not, however, ever come away edified by any of this.

So for the time being I will stick with "Jeeves and Wooster". After that I will probably have to turn to "Get Smart"