Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Bit of Fry & Laurie

I might have a new favorite ever sketch comedy series. The easy comparison when you look at Fry & Laurie is to the grandfather of British comedy groups, Monty Python. And obviously a show from the 90s won't be as groundbreaking as a similar one from the 70s. But while Monty Python was very important and usually hilarious, it often spent more time trying to be surprising and weird than actually humorous, and that's a way in which Fry & Laurie is superior, because it never sacrifices being funny to make a point or be unique. It has slightly more wit per square inch than Python, which makes it possibly the wittiest thing ever constructed. The jokes often revolve around wordplay, and while sometimes that's not always the cleverest thing, there's just something about the way with language these two guys have that makes every second listening to them speak a delight, and I laughed out loud more frequently than I pretty much do at anything besides the best comedy available.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie make a pretty great team, with Fry often being the more verbose and eccentric one, but Laurie getting plenty of opportunities to be funny as well. A lot of the sketches are based around some unusual way of speaking or a clever and unexpected pun, and they rarely overstay their welcome, not always reaching the most amazing of punchlines but milking the humor while it lasts and then moving on to the next scene. The bits are mostly stand-alone, but there are a few characters who appear repeatedly, and they don't have to resort to the kind of nonsense that most recurring bits on some other sketch shows do. My favorites are probably Control and Tony, a pair of secret intelligence operatives who have a particularly courteous and stilted way of speaking, although John and Peter, a pair of angry business men who keep running progressively worse operations into the ground, are great as well.

Another bit that recurs through the whole series is a string of fake voice-on-the-street segments where Stephen and Hugh dress as people from various walks of life and make humorous comments. These parts evolved over time, at first mostly being non-sequiturs but starting with the third season being filmed a bit differently and more often having fully formed jokes. I honestly kind of preferred the way they started, since it was just a weird way to cleanse the palate before the next sketch. Otherwise the show really doesn't change that much over time, beyond changing the opening and ending sequences with each season, although the fourth did bring a string of special guest appearances that were apparently mandated by the BBC. It could have been an obstacle, but they did a good job of integrating them properly into the sketches and it was almost worth it just because of the overly elaborate and silly introductions they each got from Stephen and Hugh. In the end, they were still the stars, and they put together a wonderful show.

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