We gave it a B-
You’d think that after bringing the work of such literary greats as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Evelyn Waugh to the small screen, Masterpiece Theatre would find it easy to adapt P.G. Wodehouse’s lively stories about the 1920s fop Bertie Wooster and his wise manservant, Jeeves. Instead, this five-week Jeeves and Wooster series is naggingly problematic.
Wodehouse’s stories are deceptively frivolous. ”Nobody,” the critic Wilfrid Sheed once wrote of him, ”ever struggled harder to suppress his genius in the interest of amiable tripe.” But they’re also full of tricky wordplay and the even trickier relationship between our two heroes: Bertie can’t be too stupid, lest we become annoyed with him, and Jeeves can’t be too supercilious, lest we wonder why Bertie doesn’t fire him.
In the books, Bertie narrates the stories himself, and much of the humor derives from his dim-witted descriptions; this is a device that screenwriter Clive Exton doesn’t use. Still, Hugh Laurie as Bertie makes a splendid twit, as charmingly cheerful an idiot as one could hope for; Stephen Fry’s Jeeves, however, sees too young, lacking in the aging dignity that most befits his all-knowing personality. Fry has a tough, almost thuggish demeanor that’s difficult to get used to. (There’s a probably reason for this physical miscasting: Fry and Laurie are a popular TV comedy team in England, and the British producers undoubtedly didn’t want to break up the act.) While there are more laughs here than you’ll find on your average sitcom, Wodehouse’s genius remains safely suppressed. B-