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Friday, December 27, 2013

MR. STINK A Bit Too Stinky

Article first published as MR. STINK A Bit Too Stinky on TheTVKing.

PBS aired the British holiday special Mr. Stink this week, based on a children's book. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) plays Mr. Stink, a smelly homeless tramp who is ignored or scorned by the neighborhood, other than his adorable dog, Duchess. Then, one day, a young girl named Chloe (Nell Tiger Free), who feels neglected by her busy family and is bullied at school so she has not friends, takes an interest in him, and soon everyone in England knows Mr. Stink's name.

First, let me say that Bonneville is a terrific actor. I've seen him in a few roles, and he never fails to impress. Mr. Stink is quite a bit different that other recent parts, and he definitely shows some range in the almost unrecognizable costume. He is easily the best part of the production, even if the character is not written in a way to make him particularly memorable.

Part of my problem with the titular Stink is that it's hard to tell exactly what he is. For awhile, one suspects he might be Santa in disguise, looking for kind-hearted children. This is supported by the fact that he has magical powers, albeit the kind a boy would make up, as he can waft stench into a physical punch.

But then, late in Mr. Stink, the plot actually explains away his background. We learn that Mr. Stink is a wealthy duke who lost his wife and home in a fire. Unable to cope, he begins wandering from place to place, no longer caring enough to keep himself clean. I guess his dog's name is supposed to be the clue about this. This doesn't really add up, though, even though we see that Chloe can freshen his appearance by showing him love again, and doesn't gel with the magic stuff at all.

Chloe is a well-past-realistic level of kind. She doesn't shy away in the slightest from Mr. Stink, although we know from everyone else's reactions that his odor is extremely powerful. She even hugs him at one point, burying her face in his coat. There is no way that any kid could stand to be that close and really ignore the foulness so easily unless she has no sense of smell, which is not a mentioned characteristic in the movie.

Mr. Stink is a heartwarming tale, but of a predictable, mediocre variety. The story of a girl who shows compassion to someone everyone else ignores, and in the process, finds the love of her family is a nice one, but it's one we've heard many times before.

What doesn't quite fit is the popularity Mr. Stink gains on television, even meeting the Prime Minister. It seems like a completely different message than Chloe's bits are working towards, combining two separate threads that do not satisfactorily weave together.

Not to mention, most of the characters in Mr. Stink are flat and cartoonish, and not in a clever or authentic manner. Chloe's mum (Sheridan Smith, Mrs Biggs) is an ultra-conservative politician who will make as many empty promises as she must to win an election. Chloe's dad (Johnny Vegas, Ideal) is a whipped, washed-up musician who hides his lack of job and handles the cooking and cleaning for the household. Then, they both easily change in the end, somehow finding their former, decent personalities again that they'd moved far away from. I wonder how much of this comes from the simple source material, and is just not well-executed for an hour-long program.

I want to like Mr. Stink, I really do, because I feel like a grinch to tear down a family-friendly holiday special. But its wholly forgettable and isn't likely to get much replay in future Christmas seasons. Oh, well.

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