Netflix UK TV review: Man vs Bee
James R | On 24, Jun 2022
“Well, you see, there was this bee…” That’s the starting point of Man vs Bee, Netflix’s new comedy that pits man against bee with all the drama, stakes and chaos of, well, a man facing off against a bee. A vehicle for Rowan Atkinson to showcase his particular brand of slapstick comedy, it’s a say-what-you-see affair that benefits from knowing precisely what it is and not pretending to be anything more.
Atkinson has always been a master of physical comedy, and Mr Bean’s global appeal says as much about Atkinson’s ability to pratfall as it does about Netflix’s commissioning strategy. A family-friendly showdown between Atkinson and a fuzzy foe that doesn’t really require translation? You can expect this to buzz to the top of its popularity charts in no time at all. And, provided that they go in with the right expectations, the droves of viewers tuning in likely won’t be disappointed.
Atkinson plays Trevor, a house-sitter who winds himself a gig looking after the fancy pad of two wealthy snobs – played with knowingly nasal disdain by Julian Rhind-Tutt and Jing Lusi. With them away on holiday for a week, Trevor has to keep their estate in order, complete with its smart cupboards, automatic doors and priceless artworks. It’s a minefield for collateral damage, from Cupcake the dog who has a nut allergy to the E-type Jaguar in the garage and Chekhov’s flamethrower sitting out in the garden. And, sure enough, almost every single prop or item of furniture ends up the wrong side of the central conflict, either torn, torched or turned inside out.
Atkinson’s hapless middle-aged loner is decidedly not Mr Bean or Johnny English – and he’s also not Atkinson himself. Trevor’s personality becomes apparent through his sweetly innocent conversations with his daughter, Maddy (India Fowler), whose mother, Jess (Claudie Blakley), knows that her estranged husband can get a little too obsessed with tiny details. But while things start out with the timid Trev looking dismayed and surprised by his unwitting mayhem, Man vs Bee leans into his increasingly fanatical fury over his diminutive, winged nemesis – thankfully moving away from gags about modern technology, the show is at its best when Atkinson is going full pelt with intentional anger as much as clueless clumsiness, almost putting the audience in a place where they’re cheering him on rather than wincing through closed fingers.
The carnage itself is neatly choreographed by director David Kerr, whose CV includes Inside No 9 and No Offence as well as Johnny English Strikes Again, and there are some moments that will make you gasp as well as smirk – although the CGI bee-vision is perhaps overused. The decision to split things into 10-minute episodes, Quibi-style, means that there’s a sense of escalating stakes and accelerating momentum. Whether it’s a piano playing itself recklessly or a set piece involving the precious car, the result is a fun romp through a carnival of destructive silliness.
But, let’s not forget, this isn’t Blackadder we’re talking about or some other finely honed future comedy classic: this is Man vs Bee. It’s a lightweight and accessible affair that succeeds precisely because it’s an unassuming, throwaway flight. Go in looking for lowbrow, familiar jokes and you can enjoy a comedian having a laugh while having a giggle yourself. What next? Man vs horse? Man vs stapler?