Man vs. Bee review: Rowan Atkinson show is nostalgic, nutty, oddly profound

Rowan Sebastian Atkinson CBE is an English actor, comedian and writer. He played the title roles on the sitcoms Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and the film series Johnny English.

Man vs. Bee review: Rowan Atkinson show is nostalgic, nutty, oddly profound

Like many kids growing up in the '90s, I was obsessed with Mr. Bean reruns. The clumsy, clownish and intellectually stunted British bachelor was a man-child in the truest sense of the term – a child trapped in a man's body.

His solo, wordless, physical comedy resonated with us on an entertainment level, but it also felt reassuring to see adults capable of committing child-level screw-ups – and (mostly) escaping the consequences. I remember breaking an expensive vase in our apartment when my parents were out. Inspired by Mr. Bean, I got crafty, glued the pieces back together (which made the vase look like an abstract art installation), and then painted over it. That resourcefulness borne from desperation was a life skill of its own, and Bean framed ordinariness – disguised as incompetence – as an art form.

Man vs. Bee is about a British housesitter's battle with a bee in a luxurious mansion. But the nine-episode micro-series is Mr. Bean jettisoned into the future: a future that's exactly as I once imagined. (The bean-ness is apparent the moment this character rubs his hands gleefully at the sight of a simple tart in the first episode. Trevor Bean-gley gets into a week-long Tom-and-Jerry spat with the pesky and good-looking bee, equipped with all those famous facial contortions and desperate patch-up jobs. The bee-in-pants scene is, of course, the showstopper.

A dog named Cupcake, some burglars, and a cutting-edge house complicate his feud. The question: Is his cartoon comedy still as funny – and relevant – in 2022? Or is it just cheap-and-cheerful nostalgia for adults like myself, for whom Bean was a coming-of-age device in a childhood flooded with the novelty of Western television?

Trevor is consistently defeated by machines not because he's an outdated boomer, but because he's human – he only needs his phone to make video calls to his daughter, whose face he is very fond of. That's all the technology he – and most of us – really need. The rest is window dressing. I can imagine kids watching Man vs. Bee and envisioning their parents as Trevor. But these kids might also grow up to discover that Trevor, like Bean, was a social surrogate for them all along.

That's when I saw something I would never notice as a kid. Watching the two of them felt familiar. Spending days like this must seem like the most inane thing to do as an adult. Atkinson allows me to see the funny side of an all-out tragedy. He grants us the courage to be amused by sadness. And for this buzz of just being, I'm eternally grateful.

Man vs. Bee is streaming on Netflix.


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