Man vs Bee review: Rowan Atkinson’s Netflix comedy is a better bean
I haven’t been a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson since he inflicted annoying Mr Bean on the world. And this, despite his brilliant early work for Not the nine o’clock news and like Blackadder a few decades ago. Partly, I admit, it’s because I once bore a vague resemblance to Atkinson, dressed like Bean, drives a ‘classic’ Mini and was made fun of by street kids. I also left Atkinson because I just didn’t “get” Bean. Innovative, resourceful and wildly popular as it was. Physical comedy is not for everyone.
So I didn’t have high hopes for The man against the bee, which for long stretches veers into Beanishness, as if Netflix wanted another Mr Bean, a Beanflix if you will, but for some reason couldn’t have the original. Consequently, Atkinson/Bean is reimagined as Trevor Bingley, a pleasant, well-meaning idiot who lost his previous jobs by being clumsy and incompetent, oddly enough, and is now a housekeeper. Easy, one might think.
Trevor’s first assignment is to tend to a huge, opulent high-tech house filled with artwork and a fleet of rare classic cars in the air-conditioned garage. It is owned by an obscenely wealthy couple (Jing Lisi and Julian Rhind-Tutt), gone on their exotic vacation. They make the cardinal mistake of not explaining to Trevor how their large and complex house works, leaving him to read a thick manual. Obviously, he mistakes a ton of pea and ham soup for the manual and proceeds to cook it. Pursued, harassed and persecuted by what appears to be a malevolent bee – and unwittingly aided by the rather dark pet dog, Cupcake, left behind by the plutocrats – Trevor ends up destroying the beautiful home, albeit in an inventive and unexpected way.
So when the tempered Cupcake chases the mischievous bee into the air-conditioned library and locks himself in, Trevor stands helpless watching the dog eat a priceless medieval illuminated manuscript (the pin in the room’s lock having been blown earlier ). Trevor then takes a claw hammer to the reinforced glass, but it bounces off and the sharp end rams into a Mondrian, ripping a huge hole in it. It’s all that kind of Beanery, albeit enhanced by sometimes having an “overview” of the proceedings, which adds to the gladiator feel. Over the next few short episodes, Trevor—outsmarted by the bumblebee—destroys valuable antiques, artwork, and the first Jaguar E-type ever built, and he ends up blowing up the place.
During video phone conversations with his ex-wife Jess (played kindly by Claudie Blakley) and daughter Maddy (equally kindly by India Fowler), and contemplating his absurd war with his antisocial insect enemy, Bingley begins to see how he’s lost all of his perspective on what really matters in his life. Thereby The man against the bee gradually becomes a sort of Aesop’s parable. When we discover that most of what Bingley destroys are just replicas and flakes, and that his job as a housekeeper is part of a greedy insurance fraud involving a faked burglary, Bingley is not only redeemed but justified.
The plotlines and fantastic twists work surprisingly well in the end, after all the Beanery. The only glaring flaws are that Trevor and Jess seem far too nice to be divorced, and I refuse to believe bumblebees like peanut butter (the premise of Bingley’s frantic attempts to ensnare him). Nor did I need the rather crude product placement, from Miele and Waitrose, to remind me that posh people like their stuff.
As you’d expect from a Netflix production, it’s smartly produced and directed, and Atkinson as Bingley is far more engaging than Bean, and is still playful enough to spend much of his screen time. in underwear. The bee, by the way, survives and looks forward to that second set and some more peanut butter.
‘Man vs Bee’ can be streamed on Netflix from Friday, June 24