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The pageant of boorishness and slobbery known as Men Behaving Badly launched itself upon an unsuspecting United Kingdom in 1992. Gary (Martin Clunes), the disgruntled manager of a security alarm company, struggles to break up with his long-suffering girlfriend Dorothy (Caroline Quentin) while competing with his aimless flatmate Dermot (Harry Enfield) for the attentions of their fetching new upstairs neighbor Deborah (Leslie Ash). The plots are built on contrivances like a chess match over opera tickets or an attempt at seduction via a synthesized flamenco guitar, but the humor always springs from the petty, careless, and generally inane behavior of Dermot and Gary. Gary persuades Dorothy to accept an open relationship, then becomes consumed with jealousy when she sees another man; Dermot tries to persuade Deborah to relieve their basic needs while her boyfriend is in Singapore. It could be tiresome squalor--and according to reviews, the American remake of the show (featuring Rob Schneider and Ron Eldard) was just that--but Clunes and Enfield invest this pair of clods with enough humanity to make their mishaps both excruciating and funny.
The second series brought a change in personnel, but the comedy remained the same: Two men at the mercy of their own worst impulses. Gary and his new roommate Tony ('70s flashback Neil Morrissey) both lust after their blonde upstairs neighbor Deborah, often humiliating Gary's "sort of" girlfriend Dorothy along the way. Deborah initially took a fancy to Tony, but a clumsy make-out session and some poorly timed comments turned her interest sour. Gary tries to steal a collectible record of Dorothy's, insults his secretary until she quits, makes a drunken pass at Deborah when they're trapped in an elevator, and generally acts surly, sneaky, and shiftless--all to good comic effect, thanks to Clunes's surprisingly subtle performance. Tony doesn't quite achieve three dimensions in the second series, but Gary's boorishness, though laughable and embarrassing, somehow maintains its humanity. By avoiding outright absurdity (while creeping awfully close to it), Men Behaving Badly keeps its audience emotionally engaged as well as entertained. --Bret Fetzer
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