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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough he’s become a staple of American television via his performance as the title character in the Fox drama, “House,” when it comes to the back television catalog of Hugh Laurie in the U.K., one rarely hears much about anything other than “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” or, if you’re an obsessive Britcom fan, perhaps “Blackadder.” Immediately prior to taking on the role of Dr. Gregory House, however, Laurie spent six episodes portraying a very different physician in “Fortysomething.”
Dr. Paul Slippery (Laurie) is a man who’s struggling with a profound change in the dynamic of his marriage: his wife, Estelle (Anna Chancellor), is going back to work. It’s the first time she’s done so since having their three kids, the youngest of which is now in his teens, and it’s really left Paul feeling out of sorts. Actually, what’s really got Paul’s panties in a bunch is that he can’t remember the last time he and Estelle had sex, and it’s driving him positively mad. (Remember, kids: 40 isn’t the new dead. Even your mum and dad have urges, you know.) First, he’s concerned that Estelle might be having an affair, and when he learns that her new boss is a lesbian, he begins to fear that she might be turning into a switch hitter, as it were. In the midst of all these obsessive anxieties, he also finds himself forced to deal with his children’s sex lives being more active than his own, which is enough to make anyone depressed.
The rapport between Laurie and Chancellor is spot on, with Chancellor putting on the façade that she has control of her life when, in reality, she hasn’t a clue where things are going. Laurie is as brilliant as always, as is Peter Capaldi, who plays Paul’s slimy partner in his medical practice, Dr. Ronnie Pilfrey. The kids don’t really make much of an impression, however; they’re funny when they need to be, but that’s about the most than can be said for them. Oh, and don’t be swayed by the suggestion on the back cover art that Fry and Laurie are together again; yes, Stephen Fry does pop up in one episode, and he’s very funny, but he’s gone within five minutes’ time, so it’s little more than a glorified cameo.
What serves to make “Fortysomething” a mixed bag is its uncertain feel. Sometimes, it wants to be a drama; other times, it’s trying to be a slapstick comedy. The blend proves an awkward one, leaving you feeling a bit put off when you should be sympathizing with the characters. Paul’s concern over his sex life begins as a punchline, but in the final episode of the series, there’s an attempt to get slightly more dramatic in tone, and it feels forced. Still, there’s considerable accuracy in Laurie and Chancellor’s portrayal of a married couple, thereby making the show more than worth investigation. It’s just disappointing when you realize that, had things been just a tad less schizophrenic, “Fortysomething” could’ve been downright fantastic.
Special Features: None to speak of, aside from a text interview with Hugh Laurie. Text? You must be joking. Who reads anymore?