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Archive for September 17th, 2017

by Adam Ferenz

One of the funniest works of art in history. There are twelve episodes. This is in part because program stars, creators and writers John Cleese and Connie Booth decided to get a divorce between series one and two, but also because both were superb professionals who demanded the absolute best, as close to perfection as was possible. That they achieved it more than not is extraordinary.  The focus was laser tight, and the situations improbable, but the funny was consistent. It was also very racy, both for its time and today. Yet, here we have twelve episodes-approximately six hours-of some of the greatest comedy ever made for broadcast.

Basil Fawlty is the blustery, fussy, imperfect perfectionist of England’s not-so-premiere hotel, and he is joined by a motley crew, including his wife, an old military officer, a cook and a maid. None of these people should work together. In fact, none of these people should know each other, and not because of any class bias-though perhaps the Major or Basil himself might argue otherwise-but because the world would be a safer place if they did not. Each day is not so much an adventure as it is a disaster, whether it is Basil running out of petrol on the road, or a group of Germans visiting the hotel and everyone saying precisely the wrong thing to them, culturally.

That episode, “The Germans”, closed out the first series of Fawlty Towers. It was once ranked # 12, by TV Guide-take that for what you will-on their list of greatest episodes in history.  Throughout the episode, Basil, who is always worried about offending guests and losing money and reputation, keeps telling his staff “Don’t mention the war” but, invariably, something comes up that alludes to the war, to German stereotypes, to warrior culture, to antisemitism, or , well, anything and everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. And it is hilarious. It is one of the most perfect half hours of comedy ever devised for big or small screen. Students of writing and direction should study it, because it is so brilliantly constructed and staged. (more…)

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