Following the success of Blackadder in the 1980s, Rowan Atkinson paired up with director Richard Curtis and writer Ben Elton once again, this time they would create one of the most successful comedy characters of all time. Mr. Bean first appeared on screens on New Year’s Day in 1990, but the kooky character had been originally created by Atkinson years before while he was studying for his master’s degree at the University of Oxford. The basic premise for the character was, as Atkinson once described, “A child in a grown man’s body”.
Watching the original series in my youth, this description made a lot of sense. Mr. Bean was a simple man of simple pleasures and the curiosity and moral compass of a four-year-old. The loveable character is almost entirely devoid of empathy or compassion as he relentlessly disappoints his surprisingly perseverant girlfriend and bullies the driver of a blue three-wheeler van during bouts of road rage.
The secret to Mr. Bean’s success comes from its originality and accessibility. While the style is somewhat similar to mime comedy of the silent film era, there is sound, but this decidedly strange “human being” doesn’t really speak. Of course, he utters the odd word, like “trigonometry” during his maths exam, “Bean” at the reception desk at A&E, or “bingo” just after swallowing a prized goldfish; but one could probably count the number of words Mr. Bean says on their fingers and toes.
As Mr. Bean goes around ruining everyone’s day, Atkinson opts for a physical comedy style influenced by the likes of Jacques Tati and Laurel and Hardy. The grown man acting like a wally could target an audience of any age. It also transcends the language barrier, so Mr. Bean was a hit worldwide with no need for subtitles or the comedically strangling translatory overdubs that can often spell disaster for comedy shows overseas. Perhaps even those from Mr. Bean’s planet could have a good giggle at the show.
Yes, that’s right, Mr. Bean is really an alien. Upon recapturing the magic of Mr. Bean in my adulthood, I began to see Mr Bean in a different light. Namely, the spotlight in the opening scene. Where once this light appeared like a spotlight on a stage, it now seemed to be a tractor beam from some UFO that had dropped Mr. Bean from outer space. Ostensibly, the aliens had sentenced this clumsy oddball humanoid to life on another planet.
The beam was the beginning of my suspicion, but as I rattled through the episodes, it became more apparent that Mr. Bean wasn’t simply a human with the mental capacity of a toddler. Bean’s lacking ability for language certainly concurs with the alien theory, but it doesn’t prove it, given that the character was created with physical comedy in mind.
Fortunately, the trail doesn’t stop here. As I watched on, I noticed instances where Mr. Bean had abilities or properties beyond those of the ordinary human. Had they been more useful, I might venture the word “superhuman”. First of all, in the episode titled Back to School Mr. Bean, he visits the opening day of a brand new school. Amid the chaos of blowing up the chemistry lab and having his car crushed by a tank in the car park, Mr. Bean finds himself in the physics department queueing for a static machine. The lady ahead of him puts her hands on the metal dome and enjoys her hair standing on end. When it comes to Mr. Bean’s turn, not a single hair moves. Disappointed, he retreats from the machine and notices that his hands are buzzing with a strange electric charge. Mr. Bean has somehow absorbed all of the electric charge and is now a walking battery. He then has trouble getting stuck to things and his strange ability to absorb the electric charge causes a lady’s dress to shoot upwards like Marilyn Monroe’s in The Seven Year Itch.
This strange relationship with static is also seen in Mr. Bean Goes to Town when he buys a brand new TV set. Mr. Bean excitedly sets up his new TV and realises that if he sits in front of it, it loses signal and shows static; as soon as he steps away, the programme tunes in again, much to his frustration.
Over the years since Mr. Bean’s rise to worldwide fame with the first TV series, the character has been used in two feature-length films and adapted for an animated children’s series. Atkinson was often questioned as to whether Mr. Bean is an alien of some sort, and while he admitted that the character “has an alien aspect to him”, he opted to keep the air of mystery intact and neglected to elaborate.
Some have theorised that Mr. Bean is, in fact, a normal human being, but he was abducted by aliens and brainwashed or lobotomised on board a spacecraft and then spat back down to Earth. Some people feel that this helps to explain how he found himself with a house, car, money and a girlfriend. Others have deduced that he is more of a fallen angel of sorts, which would help explain the Latin incantations in the church choral title music used in the original series.
For a long time, it seemed that Atkinson was undecided himself, or he would rather have us writhing in conjecture. But in 2004, the final episode of the third season of the Animated Series, Double Trouble, appeared to confirm Mr. Bean’s origin. During the episode, a UFO full of Mr. Bean clones that had ostensibly dropped him down to Earth in 1990 finally reunites with its missing passenger. Just as they’re about to set off to their home planet, Mr. Bean’s Earth girlfriend, Irma Globb, looks sad and lonely. Finally showing Earthly compassion, Mr. Bean decides to stay, promising that he will see his clone family again someday.
So there you have it, Mr. Bean is a cloned alien who struggles to fit in with life on Earth. Despite causing chaos everywhere he goes, he is a loveable idiot who may just be capable of learning the art of empathy and compassion. The animated series was subsequently revived, but this final episode of the third animated series is a nice conclusion to Mr. Bean’s story. It confirms the premise of the original character and even gives a nod to the opening sequence’s tractor beam from the original live-action series. What remains a mystery is whether this was always the back story for the beloved comedy character – in my humble opinion, it was.