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The comedy duo of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie arrived on the British airwaves with an arsenal of false mustaches, snooty attitudes, linguistic twistiness, and deranged meta-commentary (which sometimes escalated into meta-meta-commentary). It's fascinating to see the pilot episode of A Bit of Fry & Laurie (included on the Season One DVD), in which all the tools of such comedy are in place, but there is a tentativeness about deploying them. By the first broadcast episode, as they launch into a sketch about a father objecting to his son being taught Biology in school, Fry and Laurie are in full command. Crazed flights of language spill effortlessly from their mouths, be it academic critic-babble or macho business jargon gone strangely awry. Fry and Laurie clearly owe a debt to the Monty Python troupe--in addition to verbal lunacy, Fry and Laurie recognized that when a sketch peaked they could skip on to the next one, often using on-the-street non-sequiturs for transitions--but they quickly found their own brand of whimsy. In a scene from the pilot, Laurie buys a toy car from Fry, which leads to both of them pushing the cars around the tabletop making vroom-vroom noises. The effect is silly but oddly heartwarming. Over the course of six episodes, sketches range from Fry stealing Laurie's brain, to the sad tale of an orphaned puppy's slide into corruption, to their most frequently recurring scenario featuring an MI-5 agent named Tony Mercheson (Laurie) and his affable, coffee-drinking superior, Control (Fry). Long before Fry starred in Wilde and Laurie became a household name in House, they carved out their place in the history of British comedy, somewhere in the lineage between Peter Sellers and Ricky Gervais. This first season captures them at their freshest.

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WAE2647 Bit of Fry & Laurie Season 1 DVD (1989) $24.99