House star Hugh Laurie plays nice (and nutty)

by admin April 9, 2008 2:51 pm
House star Hugh Laurie plays nice (and nutty) He gets to sound British. He gets to play comedy. He gets to be naked. He even gets to be nice.

But Hugh Laurie only got to make six episodes of Fortysomething -- the 2003 British hour dramedy now on DVD from Acorn Media (list price $40). Apparently, the adult show's ratings on Britain's ITV weren't so hot. Besides, Laurie soon became otherwise engaged, starring in some American TV pilot about a misanthropic New Jersey doctor.

And of course House, which launched on Fox in 2004, is a pretty fine fate to fall into.

Laurie is pretty fine in Fortysomething, too, showcasing a frantic, farcical side light years removed from his unruffled American medical curmudgeon. He's again a doctor, but this time an average suburban general practitioner, with a silky smart wife (played by Anna Chancellor of MI-5 and Suburban Shootout) and three randy/rotten sons whose busy sex lives in the same house remind him he isn't getting any.

At least he thinks he isn't. Laurie's Paul Slippery suddenly can't remember when he last had sex. He can't remember what his wife does for a living. Or whether she's a lesbian. He isn't sure which of his three sons the new live-in girl is sleeping with. But he's pretty sure his sleazebag medical partner is chasing his wife. And he knows his mushrooming midlife crisis enables him to hear the thoughts of those around him as they mock, pity and otherwise disparage his poor insecure soul.

It's enough to make a bloke blither, and Laurie revs up to high gear in short order. Slippery's entire life spins out of control, careening from workplace frenzy to homelife chaos. He's soon doing Dutch accents on his cell phone, falling into rivers, having doors smashed in his face, dressing in Islamic women's garb, and strolling naked down the street. (Nice buns, Hugh!) Dozens of refrigerators, boxes of sex toys, and legions of blow-up trollop dolls arrive to clutter his garden and fascinate the neighbors.

Fortysomething may be a little too determined to keep the farce pedal to the metal, contriving odd twists through the most peculiar conniptions. But its panic-mode pacing is certainly never dull or predictable. Credit/blame goes to both scripter Nigel Williams (HBO's Elizabeth I), adapting his own comic novel, and Laurie, who playfully directed the series' first three episodes in a TV return to his comedy roots. His former A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch partner Stephen Fry guests in the second episode as an intensely irritated fishmonger.

Viewers who know Laurie only through House should be particularly amused to hear his British lilt, to see him move so fleetly (Slippery, true to his name, is in constant motion), to savor the actor's snappy comic timing, and to discover what an utterly amiable nature his award-winning Fox misanthropy conceals.

Watch a Fortysomething preview here. Full episodes of House are free to see at Hulu.com.

Other new TV DVD releases worth a look:
Suburban Shootout (Acorn, list price $25) -- Fortysomething co-star Chancellor plays a devious gang leader in this black comedy of British housewives desperate to run a small town that would be sleepy if it weren't for their gun battles, drug dealing and extortion (seen Stateside on Oxygen); 8 half-hour episodes on a single disc. (Clips at Oxygen video site.)

John From Cincinnati (HBO Video, $60) -- David Milch's HBO series about a California surf clan invaded by a cryptically spiritual stranger; 10 episodes on 3 discs. (Series resumes digital cable repeats May 28 on HBO Zone.)

Day Break (BCI, $40) -- Taye Diggs' shortlived 2006 "groundhog day" thriller includes 7 hours ABC never aired; 13 episodes on 4 discs. (Series is currently repeating on cable's TV One channel.)

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