If you were anywhere near a television set in the ’90s, it was impossible to escape Mr. Bean, the face-contorting walking disaster that transformed Rowan Atkinson into an international pop-culture icon. In addition to his original, eponymous British sitcom—which came stateside via PBS, HBO, and Fox Family—Mr. Bean managed to make the jump to feature films (twice), an animated series, books, and video games. He even helped to open the 2012 Summer Olympics with a version of “Chariots Of Fire” as only Mr. Bean would play it (read: with one finger). All of which makes it easy to forget that Mr. Bean, the original series that started it all, ran for a grand total of 14 episodes.
Inspired by Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot—another sports-coat-loving troublemaker always at odds with the modern world—Mr. Bean’s very physical style of comedy is appropriately reminiscent of Hollywood’s most iconic silent comedians: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Few language or cultural barriers helped Mr. Bean attain a wide comic appeal. But even this silent brand of comedy requires a specific audience.
Shout! Factory’s simply packaged Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean, the four-disc DVD set being issued for the series’ 25th anniversary, seems squarely aimed at preexisting Bean fans. That’s more of a comment on the slickness of the current television landscape than a criticism of the series or The Whole Bean. While fans will undoubtedly attempt to introduce new viewers to Mr. Bean’s antics, its lack of showy effects beyond Atkinson’s brilliant physical abilities may make it hard for newcomers (especially younger ones) to connect with the show.
Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean works best as an exercise in nostalgia for the already indoctrinated. The remastering process has added some vibrancy to the overall look of the series, yet maintained that slightly muted quality that is as much a literal description of the show as it is a visual one. With the entire history of the character on display, viewers can witness the progression of Atkinson’s creation, and his growing comfortability in transitioning into Bean’s skin. Binge-watching the series (which can be done in just over six straight hours) also offers a unique insight into the increasingly elaborate ways in which Bean manages to wriggle out of simple problems (sometimes literally), like changing into a swimsuit without removing his pants or un-sticking a turkey from his head.
Fourteen 26-minute episodes—even well-remastered ones—don’t make for much of a grand 25th-anniversary celebration, so Shout! Factory has loaded the set with several hours of extras. These include a trio of scenes that didn’t originally make it into American broadcasts of the show, two sketches (“Bus Stop” and “Library”) that never made it to television at all, and The Story Of Mr. Bean, a 40-minute documentary of interviews and archival footage that show how the character came to be. There’s also The Best Bits Of Mr. Bean, which essentially serves as a 72-minute primer on how Mr. Bean, the man and the series, is clearly of another time—right down to his ill-fitting trousers.