In the world of silly, P.G. Wodehouse holds supreme rank. The mention of his name to the devoted will bring twisted smiles. Not straight-on, run-of-the-mill happy smiles, you understand, but twisted ones.
Now PBS, via Granada Television in England, brings P.G.'s Jeeves and Wooster characters to its "Masterpiece Theatre" in a series of five single-hour escapades, the first one airing Sunday (8 p.m. on Channels 50 and 24, 9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15). Simply titled "Jeeves and Wooster," it stars Stephen Fry as the elegantly wily manservant Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, who has bumbling in his blue blood.
And there are a swarm of other Wodehousians that ripple off the tongue, such as Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, Gussi Fink-Nottle, Lord and Lady Wickhammersley, the Rev. Beefy Bingham, et al.
Fry and Laurie are quite supreme themselves when it comes to silly, zany, goofy, daffy, loony and loopy. They ordinarily are not given to restraints--as witness their series now running on the Bravo network, "A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie." But in this case their playing is especially notable, even though they are locked into character assignments, albeit on the edge of human endeavor.
Laurie's Bertie is supremely clumsy for every occasion. This plays neatly against Fry's Jeeves, who may be employed at a lower social rank but operates on a loftier plane of guile.
This is 1920s-30s English twit humor, which is a whole universe unto itself. There's nothing quite like it in the annals of what makes funny.