Count Arthur Strong is a British absurdest comedy premiering in the US via Hulu.com (free) and Hulu Plus (subscription) today, after a successful run on BBC 2 in the UK, pulling in nominations like Best Sitcom and Best New Comedy Program at the British Comedy Awards. It is created by Graham Linehan (Black Books, Father Ted, IT Crowd) and Steve Delaney, who plays Arthur Strong.
Michael Baker (Rory Kinnear) is the sort of man for whom a misplaced apostrophe on a menu will bring down his world. He’s written a dry book on museums with anal attention to detail, and now he’s been signed to write a biography about his comedy legend father, Max Baker, who’s just passed away. Problem is, Michael hardly knew his father. He decides to take the job out of revenge for Max’s estrangement.
Enter Max’s old comedy partner Arthur Strong (Steve Delaney), a batty old man who’s lucid one moment, forgetful the next, followed by lucid but having misunderstood the situation. Most of the lucid moments are spent concocting some kind of scheme like pawning off a broken foot spa (“It’s like having your feet in an angel.”) or performing ill-formed magic tricks. Michael pops ’round to interview him for the book and quickly realizes this is exactly the sort of character he could use to ruin his father’s funeral service, furthering his revenge.
Kinnear and Delaney are perfect foils for each other. The audience enters Strong’s world through the eyes of straight man Michael, which makes some of the more over-the-top moments forgivable (except perhaps in the case of Michael’s boogery gross-out moment at the funeral, which succeeds in being ironic but dips a little lower than other moments in episode 1 on the sophistication ladder). Arthur Strong is unpredictable and a surprisingly realistic portrayal of an older person who is one rubber band short of a slingshot. If you’ve ever had a surreal conversation with someone who lives slightly east of reality, Count Arthur Strong will resonate deeply.
The cast is backed by a wonderful supporting cast, most notably Chris Ryman, who plays the cafe owner, Bulent. We know Bulent isn’t your average cook from the beginning when he forces a customer to pay a tip and resigns from the cafe after Michael corrects the punctuation on the sign, but you feel his frustration when Arthur misunderstands the order and winds up ordering something like eight teas.
Personally, I’m a sucker for any story about an author (or an Arthur), but watching the trailer I was concerned this might not be my cup of tea(s). While I enjoy some absurdest comedies like Fawlty Towers, I prefer the subtler British comedies. I was afraid this one would be a bit too…wacky. Yet, I found episode 1 of Count Arthur Strong to be delightful. The jokes are surprising. As Michael learns about his father, there’s some real promise of heart. I look forward to watching their further adventures.