They are both doctors; they both play piano. And that is where the similarity ends. (Except for the fact that they are both played by the gifted Hugh Laurie.) The British series Fortysomething aired in the summer of 2003, a year or so before House made Hugh Laurie a household name in the United States. Acorn Media will release the entire six-episode run on DVD April 8.
I am pretty certain that the release of Fortysomething and the recent releases of All or Nothing at All and Peter's Friends as well as the Australian release of the A Pin for the Butterfly (which by the way plays quite well on my American DVD player) owe much to Mr. Laurie’s huge success with House. It is to the delight of Laurie’s fans everywhere (including myself) that these older gems are finally finding their way to our DVD players.
The six-episode British series stars Laurie as Paul Slippery, a middle-aged physician (general practitioner) going through somewhat of a middle-aged crisis. Paul has three sons, ranging in age from early 20s down to 16; his wife is re-entering the workforce after a lifetime of child-rearing. His kids and wife are increasingly independent of him; his professional partner Ronnie (Peter Capaldi) is stalking his wife. No wonder he’s having a bit of a crisis.
Paul is a bit of an innocent. But he is a bit too easily manipulated by the obvious and sleazy Ronnie Pilfrey. When he allows Pilfrey to hypnotize him in the final episode, I found it jarringly unlikely, even for the naive Paul, and it was the one part of the series that I could not come to terms with. Capaldi grossly overacts an already very strangely written role; and by the end of episode one, his character had completely creeped me out. But maybe that was the point. On the other hand, Paul’s other professional partner is a female South Asian doctor who is intelligent, calm, and a good match for the anxiety ridden and neurotic Paul Slippery.
Laurie does a good job portraying Paul's middle-aged angst and loss of confidence. And he stays very sympathetic in his constant efforts (as silly as they sometimes are) at working it all out, trying to rescue his marriage and his sanity. Throughout the six episodes, Paul is bewildered and unable to really cope well with his changing family dynamics. Nothing seems to be any longer under his control. He tries, ineptly, to make it all work and put it all back together, but real life, his children’s love lives, and his partner Pilfrey conspire to prevent him from managing. By the end, however, in a very sweetly resolved comedy of errors, he and his wife seem to have rediscovered what makes their marriage work.
The pace of Fortysomething is at times too frantic, too much a situation comedy. But it is Paul’s essential sweetness that keeps you watching. Good performances by Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Paul's wife and Sheila Hancock as her practically perfect, purring, and catty boss match Laurie’s fine turn as Paul. Stephen Fry makes a funny cameo appearance in one episode as a fish monger.
I have read that the series did not get a fair chance when it first aired in 2003 in the UK. After less than spectacular first episode ratings, the series was relegated to a show-killing time slot, where it died a quiet death. It’s unfortunate, because it is quite good.
No extras, unfortunately, which is typical of these American releases of British television series. An absolute must for Hugh Laurie fans and fans of slightly quirky romantic comedy.