Monday, May 12, 2008

Hugh Laurie's Other Show

By David Luhrssen
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Hugh Laurie plays the physician Paul Slippery in the British TV series “Fortysomething,” out now on DVD. The resemblance to his role in the popular American series “House” ends with careers in medicine. Gregory House is rude and razor sharp, puncturing the pretensions of foolish patients and colleagues with a quick jab of his tongue. He is irascible and indomitable.

By contrast, Slippery is a man whose grip has become weak as a ghost. He is middle aged and can neither remember the last time he had sex with his still beautiful wife, Estelle, or where she works. He thinks he hears the unflattering thoughts of other people in the room. Slippery’s three adolescent boys are out of control and a law unto themselves. Unlike their dad, they have no trouble finding sex. At the clinic, Slippery is confronted by the changing face of post-modernity in the form of a younger colleague, who rattles on about “online surgery, the paperless medical office, digital disease and digital cures.” Slippery can find some comfort in the fact that this cyber-dweeb is also an incompetent quack.

Despite all the shagging or lack of shagging, the humor of “Fortysomething” is mostly dry as Bombay gin. When Estelle reports for her first day at a new job, she finds the office is being literally “restructured” before her eyes. Her position has been eliminated. “Essentially, we’re letting you go before taking you on,” the unctuous human resources director explains. Paul Slippery bares resemblance to Laurie’s first familiar role, Bertie Wooster from the British television adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves and Wooster.” With his marvelously deflated face and alarming pop-out eyes, Laurie can be the very picture of a man out of his depth, incapable and endlessly put-upon by family, friends and associates. Poor Slipery. In “Fortysomething” there is no Jeeves to rescue him.

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