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Man vs Bee review: Rowan Atkinson's most deranged character yet

Man vs Bee is overlong and its central character completely unhinged - yet it remains a fun time for Atkinson aficionados.

Rowan Atkinson in Man Vs Bee
Netflix
Published: Wednesday, 22nd June 2022 at 12:37 pm
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There came a point while watching Man vs Bee, Netflix's new series of 'bite-sized' episodes, that something dawned on me - Rowan Atkinson's new character, Trevor, is not normal.

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This may seem like a pretty obvious statement. After all, Atkinson has filled his career with quirky, oddball characters, whether that's the iconic buffoon Mr Bean or bumbling Bond spoof Johnny English.

Yet Atkinson has made pains recently to alert audiences that this character is different. Trevor is, according to Atkinson, "a genuinely good-natured and sweet character". That may be so, but as the series progresses we also discover that he is utterly, completely unhinged.

The series does exactly what it says on the tin. Atkinson's Trevor Bingley is a newly-employed house sitter, whose first job at a luxury, modern mansion filled with priceless artworks is derailed when he somehow ends up in a feud with a bee which just won't leave the house.

Rowan Atkinson in Man Vs Bee.
Rowan Atkinson in Man vs Bee. Netflix

I say somehow because in all honestly it's not entirely clear how or why this happens. We get it, bees buzzing around your head are annoying, but the idea that Trevor would descend so far into madness in trying to rid the house of his rival, despite never even being stung, is really quite confusing.

It's one of the problems with the series as a whole. Where Bean was so outlandish that you couldn't judge him by everyday standards, Trevor is presented as a loving dad who's just a bit bumbling and clumsy and is trying to make enough money to take his daughter camping.

It therefore becomes far more jarring when he does start cutting holes in a classic jaguar or setting the whole house alight. If Bean did this we'd simply go along with his inanity. If Johnny English did it, we'd know it would be part of some ill-advised master-plan. When Trevor does it, it seems that he doesn't need jail time – as an early flash-forward shows us he's facing - he needs an intervention and some serious help.

Perhaps I'm thinking all too deeply about this. After all, it's a series called Man Vs Bee, it's probably not trying to examine the inner psyche of its protagonist. Therefore, no matter how many gripes you want to make, it all really comes down to one simple question: is it funny?

Rowan Atkinson in Man Vs Bee
Rowan Atkinson in Man vs Bee Netflix

Thankfully I can report that on the whole, yes. Atkinson doesn't stray from his trademark, cringe-inducing slapstick hijinks, but you surely wouldn't want him to. He does it better than anyone, and having spent some time away from his comic characters in recent years, it's a welcome return to a comedy styling very rarely seen these days.

On the whole, the series manages to avoid the pitfall of going: "How weird and confusing is modern technology?" Instead, Trevor's failings are almost entirely his own fault, and the technological battles he does face are presented as a genuine conundrum, concocted through the arrogance and opulence of the mega-wealthy.

The gags come thick and fast right from the opening minutes, and while these are naturally a mixed bag, almost all of them will have you wincing or shouting at the screen. One particular sequence involving a dog named Cupcake that Trevor is left looking after is both excruciating and laugh out loud funny.

The episodes mostly land at around the 10-minute mark, making the series eminently bingeable. It is slightly too long (it should probably have been six episodes rather than nine, and the pace lulls in the middle), and certain highly capable comedy actors are completely wasted (Fresh Meat's Greg McHugh is just sort of there).

Rowan Atkinson in Man Vs Bee
Rowan Atkinson in Man vs Bee Netflix

But on the whole it's a diverting, lightweight series which caters to its audience and knows what it's there to do. It's also a prime example of the creative choices that the ever-evolving streaming market is allowing entertainers to make.

With the entire run-time clocking in at 90 minutes and a highly serialised plot, one can't help but wonder if this show started life as a feature film rather than a series. However, with such a slight plot and modest premise, you can't help but feel this production was always destined for this under-utilised bite-sized format.

In a world where Stranger Things is putting out an epic as an episode, it would seem to all be up for grabs, which Atkinson and co have deftly understood and taken advantage of.

And why stop there? Appetite may be slim for another outing of Man Vs Bee (surely Trevor has to move on or go all in and essentially become the Joker?), but maybe Atkinson could bring Trevor back for a new series where he takes on a different enemy? Man Vs Badger anyone? Man Vs Barn Owl?

Or, even more experimental, Man Vs Bean! Now there's an idea worth the big-screen treatment...

Man vs Bee will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 24th June 2022. Visit our TV Guide to discover what else you can watch tonight, or find all the latest news on our Drama hub.

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