Before you read on, this retrospective review of Man vs. Bee contains spoilers. Plus, this writer has made every attempt to avoid bee puns. Apart from the title. Sorry. Here goes. After the trailer for Netflix’s new comedy, Man vs. Bee dropped in May, I was hooked. The concept is painfully simple – and a tad daft. Rowan Atkinson plays Trevor Bingley, a humble, dorky divorcee assigned to housesit for a wealthy couple, Nina and Christian Kolstad-Bergenbatten (Jing Lusi and Julian Rhind-Tutt), with a company called House Sitters Deluxe. Estranged from his daughter Maddy (India Fowler), Trevor is preparing a camping trip for the three to win back his daughter after a troublesome divorce with his ex-wife Jess (Claudie Blakley).
Atkinson expertly channels his inner Bean as the hopeless, hard-working house sitter who becomes terrorised by none other than a bee. He’s given a rushed, complicated tour of their mansion, from their priceless belongings, unlock codes based on the years of famous naval battles, and a manual with all the information he would need. Soon enough, the manual is left to burn on a stove, sculptures are broken as he tries to swat the bee and in an attempt to break a glass window, he damages an expensive painting with a hammer. Cupcake accesses a locked-off library containing a priceless manuscript – which the dog tears up. Throughout nine surprisingly short episodes, order turns to chaos, and everything Bingley touches, predictably, much like Atkinson’s beloved Bean character, goes wrong.
Trevor sets traps in grand pianos, microwaves, and peanut butter for the bee – and they all fail spectacularly. At another point, he becomes locked out of the mansion and can only gain access through a doggy flap – unlockable with Cupcake’s smart collar that he has to wear around his neck. He becomes so utterly obsessed in his duel with the insect he fails to spot a group of small-time burglars who’ve cased the mansion for priceless artwork. As each instalment in this daft series escalates, Atkinson’s house-sitter goes from one extreme to the next to best the blasted bee.
He uses inflammable sprays and peanut butter to trap the bee in a cabinet. The peanut butter attracts Cupcake, and the sprays cause the dog to lose consciousness. He takes Cupcake to a vet with Christian’s E-Type Jaguar, damaging the car’s exhaust system and forcibly removing panels to get to the bee stuck inside the bodywork. In the final two episodes, Bingley resorts to making a homemade explosive device and torching the mansion with a propane cylinder to kill the insect.
It’s probably important to mention that despite how absurd Trevor’s obsessive quest becomes – despite the thousands of pounds worth of damage he inflicts upon the mansion, the bee comically survives it – resurrecting from the brink of death after being sprayed, hoovered up, and caught in the keys of a piano. The bee is like the insect version of Michael Myers. Regardless of what you throw at him – in each film – he’d be back at the old stabbing business, stronger than ever. Despite Trevor’s relentless fight against the bee – he briefly ponders whether it’s best to let the insect live. He discovers the bee has been ostracised from his hive and seeks companionship. His sworn enemy just needs a friend.
But Trevor’s obsession ultimately trumps everything else. By the series finale, Trevor lands in the nick on countless charges of arson, criminal damage, and reckless driving – to name some. The twist comes as Trevor discovers a connection between Christian Kolstad-Bergenbatten and the burglars who’d broken into the mansion. Christian had paid for counterfeit artwork, hired the burglars to steal them, and cashed in on the insurance. Christian is arrested, and Trevor is, incredibly, released and recognised with a cheque for his assistance by the local community. As for the bee, Trevor is reunited with the winged insect, and his obsession resumes.
Atkinson is always a joy to watch – and this type of ludicrous, daft slapstick comedy reminds us why he’s one of Britain’s most adored comedic actors. The story is audacious and far-fetched, and the hilarity of his plight is overshadowed by a disturbing obsession that could – if the series continued for twenty episodes – escalate without end.
Jess even refers to an evil trolley that got Trevor fired from ASDA and a shredder that attacked him at an estate agent. The suggestion of Trevor becoming embroiled in duels with inanimate objects is certainly not as far-fetched as the show’s concept. The idea of Trevor going up against an evil trolley could make an interesting second series.
Created, written, and starring Rowan Atkinson and Will Davis, all nine episodes of Man Vs Bee are available on Netflix, further starring Tom Basden and Greg McHugh. The series has been written and created by Atkinson and Davis and directed by David Kerr.