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Like many people, I watched the first series of Men Behaving Badly long after I had already got used to Neil Morrissey playing Tony, Gary's flatmate in the series. I was a little unsure what to expect; after all, Men Behaving Badly has made Neil Morrissey a household name, but was pleasantly surprised at Harry Enfield in the role of Dermot. Luckily the producers did not try to make Tony anything like Dermot and the switchover to Tony in the second series went very well. On the whole, I think I prefer Tony, but the characters of Dermot and Tony are so different that it is hard to compare. A classic series, one that I'm glad to own.
The series was written by Simon Nye, basing it on his own book of the same name. The producer, Beryl Vertue, read the book, thought it ideal for a TV series and found Nye working as a translator. His previous jobs included translating books about Matisse and Wagner.
The storyline revolves around four main characters: Gary, played by Martin Clunes; Dermot, played by Harry Enfield; Dorothy, Gary's girlfriend, played by Caroline Quentin; and Deborah, Gary's upstairs neighbour, played by Leslie Ash. Gary and Dermot are old university friends, now supposed to be at the height of their careers, but dissatisfied with their jobs and lives. Martin Clunes as Gary is outstanding as the intelligent but yobbish Gary, who has reached the age to settle down with long-time girlfriend, Dorothy, but can't quite bring himself to do so, fearing that something more exciting is waiting for him. I found Harry Enfield slightly incongruous at first, having got so used to Neil Morrissey, but he is entertaining as the rather vague Dermot, who is not quite sure what he wants out of life, but knows he doesn't want to settle for what he's got - a room in Gary's flat. He holds down various jobs, none of which are particularly exciting, and manages to avoid paying Gary rent. He is not quite as innocently good-looking as Tony, but has a cheeky, sarcastic edge that is definitely very appealing.
Caroline Quentin plays Dorothy's long-suffering girlfriend who still lives with her parents. She is used to Gary's boorish habits and puts up with them admirably. She is the strong person in the relationship - Gary often claims that he wants to get rid of her, but as soon as he is about to lose her, he realises that he can't live without her. Despite being long-suffering, Dorothy is not a doormat and speaks her mind. Portrayed brilliantly by Quentin.
Deborah (Leslie Ash) moves in to the flat above Gary's during the first series. She is blonde, slim and beautiful and both Gary and Dermot fall for her and try to impress her. She is independent and smart and manages to keep both at arm's distance, while lapping up the attention. Her friendship with Dorothy is not particularly strong in this series, but develops further over the next five.
Not to be forgotten are Gary's employees George and Anthea, who add a further touch of comedy to the series. Both downtrodden, they are bullied by Gary, yet are fiercely loyal to him.
There are six episodes in the first series. I will not go through each episode, but will rather give an overview of what happens throughout the whole series. Gary decides that he wants to split up with Dorothy, but wants her to think that she has split up with him and so devises a plan to get his keys back from her. He soon realises his mistake, however, when he finds out that Dorothy is dating another man and tries to make it up to her. Just as he does, though, he and Dermot meet Deborah, and begin to create a series of ploys to get her into bed. One of the funniest storylines revolves around a chess match, the winner of which wins a pair of opera tickets that Gary has already promised to Dorothy. Dermot spends his time thinking of ways to impress Deborah, none of which are successful.
The humour in the writing is apparent, but it takes actors with the skills of the four leading characters to really bring out the comedy of the series. Without this, it could have been boorish and crude. Apparently, the series was carried over to the US, with different actors, and it was not as popular. Martin Clunes is far and away the best actor - managing to come over as crude and sensitive at the same time. A very likeable, very ordinary character with bags of personality and the other three actors complement him beautifully. Interestingly, the series started out on ITV, but had moved to BBC by the third series. Bad move ITV!
I cannot imagine that there are many people who have never seen Men Behaving Badly, but if by some chance you haven't, you definitely should. This is one of the defining comedies of the 1990s in my opinion. Five more series follow this one.
I have the video version, but the DVD is available from Amazon for £6.97.