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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 10:54 GMT
Cleese and Hurley face facts
Actress Liz Hurley
Making faces: Hurley appeared as Cleese's sidekick
John Cleese's new documentary The Human Face explores human expressions. BBC News Online's Ian Youngs furrows his brow.

The look on most faces at the end of this show would have been a mixture of

  • indifference

  • slight surprise that Liz Hurley is actually a convincing actress

  • bewilderment that former Fawlty Towers star John Cleese chose this particular subject

  • a hint of puzzlement wondering what we learned that we didn't know before.

    Cleese comes face-to-face with actress Liz Hurley in the BBC's latest move to give documentaries a wider appeal.

    Hurley appeared as Cleese's assistant, Janet, as he played a lecturer explaining the subject.

    The 50-minute show comprised clips and case studies from around the world - with Cleese and Hurley filling the gaps with their spoof lecture.

    Most of the examples and case studies shown gave us a basic idea that there is more behind the human face than we see - including a bunch of Japanese people biting chopsticks to help them smile and a prison full of Indian murderers and rapists all howling in laughter therapy.

    It was a departure for Hollywood star Hurley, who is more accustomed to appearing on the big screen than on TV documentaries.

    John Cleese and Liz Hurley
    Two become one: the stars in a publicity shot
    The pair acted out scenes between the clips, which saw Hurley smiling convincingly, pulling her tongue at Cleese, looking in disgust at him and screaming in fear when he produced a stuffed squirrel.

    Their argumentative presence made for an interesting variation on the normal documentary theme, and Cleese's deadpan delivery occasionally worked well when it contrasted with Hurley's mischievous persona.

    And there were convincing moments of chemistry.

    "I told them to get Judi Dench," Cleese said at one point, looking frustratedly at his sidekick.

    Subdued

    "So sorry you didn't get that Oscar nomination," he told her later, which met with a particularly stinging insult in return.

    But the two were both laughing heartily - presumably to demonstrate how easy it is to fake an expression.

    But the show failed to inspire that many smiles.

    Cleese's straight-man delivery would have worked better if there was more irony and humour to be had from the subject.

    Instead, it came across as slightly subdued, lacking the levels of energy required to draw the viewer in.

    In fact Cleese recently criticised the BBC for insisting on more facts and less humour, asking: "Why did they ask me to do it in the first place?"

    His most convincing facial expression of the show was a mixture of delight and rage when he set about a set of computers with a baseball bat, after demonstrating that technology is damaging social interaction.

    But why the BBC decided on this subject for the star treatment is anyone's guess.

    Michael Palin, Pierce Brosnan and Prunella Scales will be helping Cleese out for the remaining three parts of the series, shown every Wednesday night on BBC One until 28 March at 2110 GMT.

  • See also:

    28 Feb 01 | Entertainment
    Cleese lashes out at BBC
    01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
    Hurley 'attacked' over fur coat
    18 Dec 00 | Entertainment
    Hurley fined for strike-breaking ad
    20 Dec 00 | Entertainment
    Cleese makes faces in prison
    27 Oct 00 | Entertainment
    Python joins Potter cast
    13 Sep 00 | Entertainment
    Magazine says sorry to Hurley
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