Just who does Donald Trump think he is???
Answer: Sam Walton.
It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap. The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes. And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece: “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.
That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail. It’s bold. Comedic. A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.
Yes, Donald Trump: man of the people.
And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?
Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.
We might know Chaplin. And Sellers.
But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…
Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?
We want to think it’s all original. And perhaps it is.
But influence is unavoidable.
And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean. [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]
The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.
Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time: fear.
Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).
Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).
And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:
fear of movies.
It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.
For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).
But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.
Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989. The series then would recommence in 1991. Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986? Laying low? Vacationing? The Caribbean?
To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.
For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.
And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].
[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]
Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper. Perhaps to the Dadaists? I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands. Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí. Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.
But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further. To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp. To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie. Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.
Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert? Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.
Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.
He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.
No, Bean always remains funny.
And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.
This kind of comedy.
Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.
In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production. At least that’s the way it seems.
Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes: John Howard Davies.
But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.
Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.