One formulaic approach that the streaming services have resorted to in order to acquire new content is to green light projects that have reliable names attached to them, even if the concept and screenplay often don’t carry much sustained power. Seems these lightweight concepts have enough to get audiences perked up.
Man Vs. Bee (Netflix) – At one point, you could add a N to the last word of this limited series and understand why this even exists. It’s Rowan Atkinson, best known as Mr. Bean, who’s been brought back for this slight, nine episodes show – with each episode running for something like 12 minutes. Why this has even been cut into episodes and not just one running film escapes me. Perhaps they were nostalgic for the Bean format; but those were essentially stand-alone episodes, whereas MvsB follows a linear narrative. The very basic premise is Trevor (Atkinson) is a house sitter for the home of a rich, modern family, and when a bumblebee enters the house, all forms of havoc and mayhem ensues.
Now I get the premise and anyone who’s been in a car when there’s a mosquito or fly buzzing around, will sympathize with the plight of Trevor. And yes, there are other elements introduced, like Cupcake the pet dog, a gardener, and the ultra-modern house with art pieces and vintage cars – but at the end of the day, it’s really the struggle between man and bee that carry the film, and there are several moments when it feels like they’re stretching, or sat down around a table and asked what more ridiculous situation could they pile up on the previous ones. There are strokes of comedy genius, and it’s good to see that the physical humor that’s peculiarly Atkinson’s is still intact, but it really feels that there was enough material for a nice less than an hour show, but the producers wanted more Netflix money.
The Man From Toronto (Netflix) – Some seven years ago, the fact that you had Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson in one film may have been a casting coup for Netflix. But today, and with the premise attached to it, I’m not sure if this will even shoot up the Most Watched charts. Harrelson is supposed to be really impressive in Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness, so you sometimes wonder why he even bothers to participate in projects such as this, where he’s basically asked to parody the early comedy/action roles he was known for, the silent, maniacal assassin for hire. As for Hart, he’s another one who’s just been regurgitating the same on screen persona in each film he’s involved in, the lovable, wise-cracking loser with a heart of gold.
So having established that neither actor is going to be asked to turn in an Oscar worthy performance, we’re left with a premise of mistaken identity going too far. Hart is mistaken for the for hire torture artist known as the Man from Toronto. And in order to flush out the real Toronto, the FBI coerce Hart to continue playing the man. It’s incredulous, and we’re not even supposed to wonder what the FBI was thinking, concocting this hare-brained scheme and endangering the life of Hart’s character. As they say, anything in the name of comedy. There are some sparks that fly as the two interact, but by and large, this is a silly premise with every once of forced humor being squeezed out of it.