A Bit of Fry & Laurie (early 90s British TV)

After getting into House, I started finding out a lot more about Hugh Laurie’s background, eventually found my way to the wonderful Jeeves & Wooster, and then to the sketch comedy episodes known as A Bit of Fry & Laurie.
Inexplicably, Netflix has only season two available so far, although Amazon lists the other three seasons and will be releasing the complete collection in late July.
For those who haven’t seen it, it’s sort of like a funnier (usually) and far more British version of SNL, but each ep. runs just under 30 minutes. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie appear in nearly every sketch together and apparently wrote all the material, sometimes appear with guests; and also pop up out of nowhere as interviewees on the street, or are shown in their “sitting room” for other bits and skits and general absurdity, as well as music (mostly provided by Laurie).
Some recurring characters include the perpetually swearing business partners John and Peter; Tony Murcheson and his boss, Control, at the Secret Service; and a lady on the street (Fry in drag) who always has to run off because she left the iron on at home.

  For those who have seen it, especially those in the UK, I have a few questions:
   1.  The season 2 DVD has only six episodes.   Is this how long a TV season is, normally?  Did a  month go by between airings of each ep, or was it just because the fellows were involved with J&W around the same time and so not able to spend as much time on the sketch comedy?

  2.  What are Opalfruits?

  3.   Why does Control say "Bohhh!" at the end of the skit?

  4.   The two were able to get away with saying things like "sack of shit," "Goddamn,"  "Oh, Christ!", etc.    This is generally not allowed on American network TV; cable is a different creature entirely.     Am I correct in assuming that the BBC allows for more, ummm, freedom of language?
  1. Yes, six episodes would be normal and they’d be shown weekly.

  2. Opalfruits is the old name for Starburst fruit chews.

  3. Yes.

If you like Hugh Laurie, you’ll have a blast seeing the collection of photos in this video. Hot jingies, that man looks cute in drag. Wonder if he has ever considered playing Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.

Shouldn’t the answer to #3 be “Hi, Opalfruits”?

The first two series were up there with the best Britsih sketch comedy ever. Later series, not so good, which possibly explains why Netflix doesn’t have them.

  1. Opal Fruits are, or were, what I believe you call a “candy” in the United States. Square cuboids of gummy, chewy, tooth decaying consistency and virulent fruity flavour. There were also Opal Mints, which had the same “form factor” but were white and minty. At some point in the late seventies, Opal Mints were renamed Pacers. People of my age trace the decline of Western civilisation to this point. The new name didn’t catch on, and Pacers were quietly withdrawn in the mid-eighties. Later, Opal Fruits were renamed “Starburst”, but by that stage we were accustomed to much-loved brand names being Americanised, and British “candy” consumers quietly accepted their fate.

  2. “Boh!” is something Stephen Fry invented to illustrate the prissy, silly type of English twit.

  3. It was a BBC2 show, and it was shown after the 9:00pm “watershed”.

I didn’t fully answer Question 1:

A Bit of Fry & Laurie was made in six-part series for the BBC, aand was shown in usually consecutive weeks like any other BBC show, the six weeks starting whenever the BBC felt like it. “Seasons” were much less rigidly defined back then. This is less true nowadays.

The first two or three series of ABoF&L were completed before they signed up for Jeeves & Wooster, which was made for ITV, a commercial network completely separate from the BBC.

If you want more Fry and Laurie goodness, try the comedy gold of Blackadder, particularly the second, third and fourth series: Stephen Fry plays an unctuous counsellor to Queen Elizabeth in the second series, while Hugh Laurie plays the evil Prince Ludwig as a one-off character in the last episode {if you don’t count his appearance as “Farters Parters” in an earlier episode}

Laurie really comes into his own in the third series, though, as the delightfully gormless Prince Regent, who was really the template for his Bertie Wooster: Fry has a one-off episode as the blustering Duke of Wellington, who delights in beating up Laurie, who’s masquerading as his own butler in place of Rowan Atkinson, who’s impersonating his master {long story…}. Both Fry and Laurie are established as regulars in the fourth series, essentially reprising characters of the blusterer and the idiot.

I’ve always been impressed by the low episode counts of British television series, but just assumed they waited a long while between new episodes in a season. But apparently that is not the case. So you Brits can go through an entire season of a television show in a month and a half? And then, if you like the show, wait a year or more to get another month and a half of it? Good lord… You guys must show reruns like mad just to fill the airtime.

Many shows, particularly comedies, rely on either a particular writer, or often an established writing duo like Richard Curtis and Ben Elton: a series often won’t have a writers “farm” like on many American series, but a dedicated team with a particular style, so the output is limited to what two guys can produce. This is changing more, but the concept of an American season of thirteen or so episodes of a show which runs every year until loss of popularity causes its cancellation doesn’t really translate. Fawlty Towers is the classic example, but Blackadder, which I mentioned earlier, was similar: it was enormously popular, and a fifth run was mooted, but in the end Elton and Curtis decided they’d done all they wanted to with the characters, and so bar a couple of one-offs, that was it.

Actually on most networks a season is usually 22 to 24 episodes long (Laurie’s aforementioned work in America, House, has run 22/24/24 episodes in its first three seasons.)

In the U.S., a show’s creator will pitch the idea to the various networks (usually the big 4 of ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS before going to cable channels and lesser networks), when one of the big four decides to give a show a try out, they order a pilot. A pilot is a single episode that the show’s creator(s) (usually titled executive producers once the show actually gets under way) put together to give the network an idea as to what the series will look like. If the network likes the pilot enough, they’ll order a first run of 13 episodes. So in America you’ll often find that some network series first season will only have 13 episodes, because the network liked the pilot, ordered that initial run, but didn’t produce any more in the first season.

This usually happens when, after the first thirteen episodes, the fate of the show is still unsure. With a really popular show, if it’s obvious the show is a hit, the network will order a final nine episodes to round the first season out to 22 (this happened with House)–but it’s often the case that after the initial run of 13 the network remains unsure as to whether or not to keep the show on its lineup.

Seinfeld’s first two seasons were unusually short for an American series because the fate of the show was more or less up in the air until the third season when it was catching on as one of the (if not the) most popular sitcoms in American history.

NBC liked Seinfeld enough to green light four more episodes after the pilot, them not ordering the typical 13 showed they weren’t very sure about the show’s prospects. Season two in its entirety was only 12 episodes. It wasn’t til season 3 that Seinfeld was given around the same number of episodes as a normal series.

Shows used to have even larger seasons, some of the old shows like Gunsmoke had 635 episodes over its 20 season history (average of around 31 per season.)

Also, until recently I have generally thought that the typical American series length of 22 or 24 episodes was too long.

The networks wanted to keep a product on the air throughout most of the year (usually September to April or May) for financial reasons, and often times it lead to generally good shows producing several sub par episodes. And of course, the fact that most of the shows in America are written either by committee or by alternative writers some shows would be written by a writer who has a vastly different style than one of the other writers, meaning even if you really enjoy some episodes of a show, you may not like others (and of course aside from stylistic differences, some writers are just plain better than others.)

The West Wing was a prominent exception to this rule, for its first four seasons Aaron Sorkin wrote virtually every episode–which was considered very unusual (and probably didn’t help with Sorkin’s stress level and drug addictions, either.)

Plus, when you have a series with a conceptual, set ending point from the very beginning, it feels like you eventually get some conclusion. When a show is being kept alive as long as its popularity justifies, by the end, you have the network pulling the plug on the show when its popularity has waned and the writers/producers scrambling to slap together a “series finale” to try and lamely tie together loose ends on the fly.

Several cable or premium channel series have shown the advantages of a smaller number of episodes and a set ending point. Band of Brothers on HBO has been one of the most critically acclaimed short-series in history, running about 13 episodes and with a clear story arc in place from beginning to end.

The reason I “used” to think that 22 episode seasons were too long, is more and more great shows have been hitting the airwaves lately. I think one of the big problems with the old shows was, they’d be 24+ episodes per season, and the powers that be didn’t feel like you needed significant continuity from episode-to-episode. Probably because they figured keeping the audience involved in an episodic story line for 22 episodes would be difficult, and also because once a show is put into syndication, if each episode builds off the story of the prior episode, it can be very confusing to audiences who haven’t watched the prior episodes.

Take shows like Miami Vice and Magnum P.I., both decent enough (in a tongue in cheek way) for their time–just about anything that happened in one episode would never carry over to the next. Everything gets “reset” at the end, so the next episode can start fresh and be its own, self-contained story.

Such a format seems to really only work for shows which aren’t particularly character driven. The Law & Order franchise is all about dealing with a single case of a single crime per episode, the cast of the main series has changed dramatically from beginning to end, it’s a show that isn’t really about the characters but about the cases, which start and end within each episode (with a few exceptions.)

Previous thread on Fry & Laurie.

RE: #1: Netflix doesn’t even have Season one yet. I put it in my want list but they still don’t have a release date. Seems odd that they could do s. 2 but not s.1. Oh, well.

Thanks, everyone.

I got season one from Netflix in February.

Season 1 is out in the US. I don’t know why it’s not on Netflix.

Not really, no.
In UK TV a season – inasmuch as it means anything – generally means 13 weeks, or a quarter of a year, and is mostly used to describe the entire output of a channel – the whole range of programmes they’ll show during that period.

While less common now, until the early 80s it was more-or-less the norm for a series to run for the nominal 13 weeks, but there was also the option of a “half-season” of six or seven episodes, and this has always been more common for sit-coms and the like.

When a season of a show ends its run, instead of filling that timeslot with re-runs for the rest of the year as seems to be the case in the US, it’s replaced by a different show entirely – so that if the planners decide that (for example) 9pm on Tuesday is the ideal spot for comedy, we’ll have six weeks of Sitcom A, followed by seven weeks of Sitcom B, six weeks of Sketch Show C, seven weeks of Sketch Show D – and then, quite possibly, a second series of six weeks of Sitcom A. It’s not impossible for a show in the UK to have two short seasons in a single year.

Plenty of sketches available on YouTube

Here’s one that has one of the funniest lines in any sketch ever. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHuR5eslKhQ

And here’s one from their student days in the Cambridge Footlights revue.

My mom, a very good trifle-maker, found this uproariously funny.

Ah yes, the revue is an extra on the season 2 DVD. Well worth watching. “Gather from the buttocks…” :smiley:

Yoyodyne: Maybe Netflix has something against me…“Unknown” for season one, they say at the bottom of my queue. :dubious:

Just one more for now…


Don’t ever make fun of suffering people.
And Fry’s shirt is…stunning.

The sketch with very special guest Michael Jackson:

The bit where he does the moonwalk is one of the funniest things I have ever seen :smiley: