If there’s one thing that those Brits can always pull off, it’s the illusion of someone going completely mental. After all, they should know more about madness than anyone — what with that King George III fellow and the popularity of Russell Brand and all. The great Bard of Avon himself depicted numerous strolls down Lunacy Lane in his assorted works, and I can’t help by wonder if historians for eons to come will endure many sleepless nights pondering what the hell all the fuss was over William and Kate’s wedding. Another popular form of insanity inherent in the UK is television: a world of awe wherein every single definition of the word “mad” can be seen regularly. And so, with that in mind, here’s a look at several British television series that range From Madcap to Just Plain Mad.
· Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal (2010)
The Short Version: Hey, I thought that term was only valid in the US.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Fantasy enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy this adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s book (the 33rd entry in Pratchett’s own Discworld series) by the same name. Here, we follow the misadventures of confidence man Moist von Lipwig (Richard Coyle), who finds himself with an ultimatum after being imprisoned for his fraudulent activities: death or a job the post office (hence the title; an American expression which rose from multiple widely-reported incidents wherein postal employees went a little mad and homicidal) . Soon, Moist is in charge of a bizarre assortment of freaks and geeks — as well as the target of an evil businessman (David Suchet) who wants the post office to go down for good. Claire Foy, Andrew Sachs, Charles Dance and Timothy West also star in this two-part miniseries. Acorn Media’s DVD release includes an audio commentary with director Jon Jones and a bonus disc of special features such as interviews, deleted scenes and a blooper reel. Also available on Blu-ray.
· Reggie Perrin: Set 1 (2009-2010)
The Short Version: An unexpected remake.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: In this slightly-updated version of the classic, racy ‘70s British sitcom The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin (which were inturn inspired by a series of books by David Nobbs), Martin Clunes — star of Doc Martin and Men Behaving Badly — takes on the role of Reggie Perrin: the disgruntled and dissatisfied male grooming marketing executive who daydreams the deaths of his moronic co-workers regularly. Although it’s a fun series, Reggie Perrin seems to rely too heavily on its source material at times — right down to the oft-unpleasant “sitcom” atmosphere. Nevertheless, Clunes and his co-star Fay Ripley (as Reggie’s wife) do a more-than-admirable job in this look at a man driving to madness by a pointless profession. Geoffrey Whitehead, Neil Stuke and Lucy Liemann also star. Reggie Perrin: Set 1 presents all episodes from both Series 1 and 2.
· Doc Martin Collection: Series 1 – 4 (2004-2009)
The Short Version: An unexpected delight.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: No one could have foreseen Mark Crowdy and Craig Ferguson’s indie hit Saving Grace would have spawned a television series. But, after a lot of rewriting and reworking by Dominic Minghella, Doc Martin came to pass, once again employing the talents of Martin Clunes, who also starred in the big-screen film. This set presents the first four series of the ITV favorite, wherein a stuffy, anti-social surgeon (Clunes) is reduced to being the general practitioner of a sleepy-headed port town full of strange and peculiar folks after he develops a crippling fear of blood. Caroline Catz co-stars as Clunes’ long-suffering love interest in this superb award-winning series, which starts out well, but tends to bog down a bit in the fourth series (resorting to borrowing plot points from American shows like House, M.D. and Scrubs!). This collection also includes the Christmas Special, On The Edge, from 2006.
· Doc Martin: The Movies (2001)
The Short Version: What, more Martin Clunes? Sure, why not!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Prior to the hit series, Doc Martin appeared in two feature-length made-for-television movies: Doc Martin and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie. What’s really interesting about these films, though, is the difference between the two characters. Here, Martin is a personable individual: an obstetrician who smiles, smokes, drinks and even takes a toke every now and again. After fleeing the city and his unfaithful wife, Dr. Martin Bamford arrives in a quaint Cornish port town where the community is terrorized by a mysterious “phantom” who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone by leaving Jell-O molds on their doorsteps! As Bamford settles in, he places a bid on a secluded farm, and gets caught up in the madness of smugglers as well as the legendary Beast of Bodmin. Paul Brooke, Tristan Sturrock (who would later pop up in the series, albeit as a different character), Anna Chancellor, Lynsey Baxter, Barbara Lott (in her final roles) and Neve McIntosh also star in these two charming “alternate reality” tales.
· The Bretts: The Complete Collection (1987-1988)
The Short Version: “Dear God, I hate theater people!”
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Having one theater person in the family can be maddening, but imagine an entire household of ‘em. Originally seen in the States on Masterpiece Theater, The Bretts follows the often squalid affairs of a family of entertainers during the Roaring Twenties. Brett patriarch Charles (Norman Rodway) has always been a hit on the stage — as has his wife, Lydia (Barbara Murray). But now, those newfound moving picture things are starting to overthrow the theater, and their son Edwin (David Yelland) is ready and raring to become a movie star — much to their dismay. Meanwhile, the remaining four Brett children have their own issues (the series touched upon just as many subjects as its American soap opera counterparts did), and they have a group of gossipy servants to boot. This six-disc set houses all 19 episodes of the famous British drama. The only special features are of the text-only variety.
· The Feathered Serpent: The Complete Series (1976-1977)
The Short Version: No one partied quite like the Aztecs. Except for the Romans, maybe.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: While I was wrapping up this look at madness, I couldn’t help but include the classic Thames Television series, The Feathered Serpent: a completely crazy but deeply disturbing drama that was strangely aimed at children. Former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton is at the top of his game here as an evil Aztec priest who isn’t dissuaded by things such as murder in order to achieve his twisted goals. Sporting some truly cheesy special effects (not to mention the most flamboyant costumes this side of a Liberace Christmas special), The Feathered Serpent — though eerie — is a fascinating fictional ride into the dark days of Mexico’s past and based on the works of Edgar Wallace (don‘t expect any historical accurateness here, kids). Diane Keen and Brian Deacon co-star in this series, which is presented on two discs with a special peek at ancient Mesoamerican civilizations included as a bonus.
Happy viewing, kids!