Way before Jerry Seinfeld’s parents were born there was P.G. Wodehouse and his literary creation Jeeves and Wooster. A BBC version of Wodehouse’s upper-class Bertie Wooster and his impeccable and always dependable gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves appeared about the same time as Seinfeld, and like that show about nothing, lives on via the alchemy of DVD technology.
But whereas Seinfeld was in its essence, cold and cruel (though very funny), the BBC version of Jeeves and Wooster, embodied so brilliantly in its two stars Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, maintains a sweet innocence, (and is very funny as well).
Now the relationship between the United States and Great Britain has not always been so smooth. But the passing of centuries tends to sandpaper over the rough parts of shared history and things have been “good” between the former colonies and the former mother country for quite some time. They have forgiven us for throwing perfectly good tea into Boston Harbor and we have forgiven them for burning down the White House.
Culturally; whether music, film or television - our two countries seemed joined at the hip. The British do high drama and low comedy like nobody else in the western world…and we Americans have been voracious consumers of it. It works both ways too though, the Beatles and the all the other "British Invasion" rock bands that followed them, extolled the influence of American music that predated them.
When it comes to television, the British impact on America has been just as profound. And although the British do high-brow things so well, their penchant for absurd and music hall variety comedy has also drawn large American audiences. The best thing about some of these gems that cross the pond and come our way is that they require little or no thinking at all. That is not a criticism…it is high praise.
Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” So, there is certainly a time to just have a good laugh.
P.G. Wodehouse created the impenetrably simple and bumbling Bertie Wooster at a time when there were a lot of rumblings about the British upper classes. It was between the two World Wars and there was plenty of awfulness in Britain and just about everywhere else in the world. So why did characters representing the privileged class whose escapades were stupefying in their triviality, bring such joy to readers then, and joy to us, in their modern, (1990s) video version? It must be a sign from above that God knows we sometimes need a break.
If P.G. Wodehouse wrote the sheet music, then the two stars of the BBC series Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are the musicians and grand music they play. Long-time artistic collaborators with work that runs the gamut from intense drama to the absolute fluff of Jeeves and Wooster, they completely possess these characters and do not fall into the temptation of trying to “modernize.” Which is saying a lot as Mr. Laurie and Mr. Fry are about as modern as people get these days with both men very public atheists.
Jeeves and Wooster have no ulterior motive and no deeper social or theological agenda, though Bertie Wooster’s innocence and lack of judging others and his willingness to go the extra mile to help a friend are certainly Christian virtues. And the ever resourceful and unflappable Jeeves does act as a kind of guardian angel, saving Wooster from all manner of folly as he goes about his merry way, filled with a sense of upper-class nobles oblige and void of a sense of self-awareness.
The box set of the complete Jeeves and Wooster series is a wonderful escape from the bad news of the day in much the same way as movie musicals and screwball comedies were the remedy for Depression-era America. It’s awards season for movies and we will be showered with important political statements about movies, the nature of the relationship between men and women and there will be plenty of dark overtones. Though Ecclesiastes warns us about the grimmer things of life, God desires our happiness and so regular visits with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves are certainly in order.