Aug 21, 2014

[TV] Fawlty Towers

I have quite an interest in British television - there's something about the sort of shows that they come up with that really tickles my fancy. In recent years their work with genre fiction shows has really been a bit of refuge from similar shows from the US failing to be all that interesting. But when we go further back there's so much to be said about their comedies and sitcoms - my love of which clearly began with Monty Python.

Fawlty Towers is one of those shows that I've always been meaning to see for some time now but just never got around to it for one reason or another. But recent nostalgia for the Pythons had me finally securing a copy of the 2-series run of the show and getting a first-hand look at why it remains to be such a popular show.

And I have to admit, I totally enjoyed every single episode. The show certainly has a different flavor from Monty Python, but it's still an amazing balance of different comedic elements all in one package. And I can appreciate the fact that they kept the show limited to just 2 series runs in order to maintain the quality of writing as well. The end result is a really solid production with good laughs all around.

Synopsis: Fawlty Towers is a BBC television sitcom created by John Cleese (of Python fame) and his then-wife Connie Booth. It ran for two 6-episode series between 1975 and 1979 and aired on BBC2.

The show takes place at the titular Fawlty Towers, a little hotel located in the seaside town of Torquay. The hotel is run by the rather rude Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his rather domineering wife Sybil (Prunella Scales). Other staff include the chambermaid Polly (Connie Booth) and the Spanish waiter from Barcelona, Manuel (Andrew Sachs). Each episode has the crazy little team dealing with the different challenges of running this modest hotel and the various personalities that check in as guests.

Despite the general efforts to run a hospitality business, it seems that Basil and the others are probably one of the worst combination of individuals to work together in a service-oriented industry. And this is really where the farcical humor really comes in as the most ridiculous things seem to happen day after day. And of course we end up expecting Basil to respond highly negatively to any complaints from his customers while everyone else does the best that they can to keep things together.

A lot of British sitcoms tend to rely on running gags as one of the main source of humor. I don't know why this is so - or at least why this seems to be a common element in the shows that I watch (e.g. Keeping Up Appearances). But in this case you don't necessarily see that being relied upon as the primary basis of comedy - and there's certainly a lot of Cleese's uniquely diverse sense of humor at work here.

I guess part of how things work is the fact that the humor is highly character based, but also coupled with some crazy scenarios. Yes you can expect certain tropes from each such as how Basil is bound to fawn over any guests that appear to be even the least bit noble or coming from a higher social class, or how Manuel struggles with English. But then you get the addition of brilliant, witty dialog and even a lot of physical comedy - another bit that I've come to expect from Cleese dating back to his Python days.

It's hard to imagine on paper how one might enjoy a show about a rude Hotel owner and the people who work there, but in practice it's amazingly done. Each of the 12 episodes in this show are a wonderful balancing act among all those diverse comedic elements all brought together in a brilliant package. Every episode is bound to have a moment that you'll consider a favorite and the series as a whole is one that is bound to leave you smiling to one degree or another.

I also appreciate the fact that this remains to be a creation that is uniquely Cleese and not necessarily too reminiscent of Python (although there was one silly walk). If this had been a US sitcom, they would have taken any excuse to bring in Pythons as cameos or something. Instead this was a completely different creation with a tone and brand of humor unique to the show.

Fawlty Towers is indeed one of those shows that act as a pillar of British comedy. There's a lot to like about the show as a whole and it still manages to stand up to the ravages of time - good comedy is timeless after all. So the show rates a perfect 5 almost insane things that Basil ends up doing under duress out of a possible 5.

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