Count Arthur Strong: Fame at Last — review

Count Arthur Strong was promoted by The Velvet Onion as going “out with a bang”. In retrospect, that was probably more of an emotive than a descriptive term, with the series finale instead being bittersweet, with a personal jeopardy wrapped in a series of public events. It’s the kind of thing that only Linehan can write, having previously finished The IT Crowd with The Internet is Coming, in-which the characters find themselves accused by Channel 4 News of numerous, farcical trivialities. But what was important about that episode was where the characters moved-on to. Reynholm Industries CEO Douglas Reynholm was forced out of the public eye, hiding in the IT department’s basement, and leaving his company to the three protagonists. All of them had moved-up, but more importantly, they’d moved on. Their story continued into a point outside of the show’s premise, and Count Arthur Strong wraps itself up in a similar fashion.

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Screenplay by Graham Linehan and Steve Delaney.

Count Arthur Strong was promoted by The Velvet Onion as going “out with a bang”. In retrospect, that was probably more of an emotive than a descriptive term, with the series finale instead being bittersweet, with a personal jeopardy wrapped in a series of public events. It’s the kind of thing that only Linehan can write, having previously finished The IT Crowd with The Internet is Coming, in-which the characters find themselves accused by Channel 4 News of numerous, farcical trivialities. But what was important about that episode was to-where the characters moved-on. Reynholm Industries CEO Douglas Reynholm was forced out of the public eye, hiding in the IT department’s basement, and leaving his company to the three protagonists. All of them had moved-up, but more importantly, they’d moved on. Their story continued into a point outside of the show’s premise, and Count Arthur Strong wraps itself up in a similar fashion.

Naturally, the best way to approach making a finale for the character is to make something of a sequel to the first episode, which introduced him. Titled, Memory Man, we learn that he’s an out-of-work actor. Michael Baker, his old partner’s son, is writing a book about his Father and is learning about him from Strong. The overarching story of all episodes has been the writing of that book, so it makes sense for it to reach its natural conclusion, and give Strong the chance at a comeback. A happy ending… or so it would seem. There are a few more things to tie together. Rather than have a thematic conclusion, there are also peripheral characters that, while having a reduced role, have developed as a result of Strong and Baker’s presence in their lives. And none-other than Sinem, who realises that what’s happening may defy her of the chance to be honest to Baker about him. Not only that, but baker himself is conflicted about whether he wants to take that chance, given that he’d be taking the opportunity from Strong, who really should get it. The book about his father’s career with Strong was written by Baker, but with Strong still alive, it’s really him that deserves the chance to adapt it in Hollywood.

Of course, this is a sitcom, not a drama. It can be drama, but for comedic effect. (The difference between a comedy drama and a comedy with drama, is that comedy drama’s have comedy happening to further the drama, but comedies with drama use drama to further the comedy.) So that means that everyone has to get what they really want in the end. The best comedies, like Steptoe and Son, are about characters failing to acheive their ambitions. So their finales need to be them doing that – it’s logical. So Linehan and Delaney give Strong and Baker that chance. Baker gets the opportunity to adapt his book, but isn’t sure because Strong feels it should be his opportunity. There’s a dramatic conflict there, but adding Sinem into the mix actually works for comedic purposes, rather than dramatic purposes. Were this a drama (and this is important for anyone interested in differentiating drama and comedy), Baker would feel conflicted between moving to Los Angeles or staying with Sinem, and Strong would be bitter at him for wanting to take the chance he feels entitled to, and would take it anyway, making a bitter departure. But because it’s a comedy, everything has to end happily ever after. Instead, Baker knows exactly what he wants, and chooses Sinem, and is happy to let Strong get what he deserves. When concluding a comedy, it’s important to make that episode a reinforcement of that genre. Yes, there’s drama, which has surfaced for comedic purposes, and this episode is the peak of that. Both comedy and drama are exaggerated more than any before at this point, and that’s all the purpose of the drama ultimately letting the comedy emerge victorious. It’s not a defeat, it’s an acceptance of inferiority. In much the same way that Baker is a dramatic character and Strong is a comedic character, Baker lets Strong win because he’s happy with what he’d have instead. In a show about bittersweet relationships, sweet wins out over bitter. Whether doing so purposefully or otherwise, it proves why comedy’s a stronger genre than plain drama.

Count Arthur Strong: Fame at Last – comedic and dramatic genre commentary 9/10.

Written by Steve Delaney & Graham Linehan

Author: the Purple Prose Mage

I'm not Batman, but I wish that I were.