BBC Comedy Feeds 2015
The BBC has just released its new batch of iPlayer-only Comedy Feed pilot episodes – and a strong batch they are too. Here's our verdict:
The comedy landscape seems full of celebrities playing 'heightened versions' of themselves. So in Dead Air, Radio 1 drivetime DJ Greg James plays a character a million miles from himself. A late-night DJ.
It's a relatively broad comedy, with the pace and energy of the liveliest breakfast show. James, who wrote the script with Shaun Pye and Mark Chappell, has packed in a lot into the 17 minutes with almost every line working as a gag. Sometimes it's a triumph of quantity over quality, but the tempo keeps things interesting, and you can't fault the workrate.
The premise is that James's character, Jake Cross, is in line for promotion to the morning slot, pressured by his sleazy agent, deliciously played by Murder In Successville's Tom Davis. But he'd be selling out by doing the mainstream zoo format that he hates, compared to the integrity of his graveyard shift.
Whether the world needs another comedy based around broadcasting is a moot point, but James's first foray into comedy is a enjoyable, upbeat affair, further bolstered by some strong supporting performances. Jarred Christmas revels as Cross's gobby, over-the-top rival and Montserrat Lombard brinks a cool energy in her one scene as a widow.
At first this half hour seems to be a gentle form of comedy nudging into the noncommittal comedy-drama territory, until the delightfully off-the-wall touches mount up to create something with a very distinctive feel.
Katherine Rose Morley plays Hattie, a student forced to go back home to her concerned parents (Sally Lindsay and Mark Benton) after going off the rails during a disastrous first term at university.
While it starts off as being about her adventurous streak being suffocated by untrusting mum and dad, the tone soon spins off in a more peculiar, more interesting direction. Hattie's attempts to escape become bolder, being thwarted by Felicity Montagu's cul-de-sac-obsessed character who seems a suburban version of a League of Gentleman oddball, Meanwhile comic Michael Smiley brings more exaggerated weirdness as the paranoid Les.
It's a tricky balancing act to fall between the strangeness and domestic believabilty, including some quite tender exchanges between father and daughter, but director Tom Marshall does an excellent job with Andrew Mettam's quirky script.
Funz and Gamez
It pains me to report that the TV adaptation of Phil Ellis's low-rent Edinburgh smash doesn't quite come off, despite some great lines and well-executed awkwardness.
But in being given the full shiny-floor treatment, an important part of what made this edgy kids' gameshow such a treat last year has been lost. In a grubby live environment you believe Ellis is down on his luck and that anything could happen… on screen the asides seem more scripted and the anarchy more contained. Jokes about his sidekick being an out-of-work actor don't have the same impact when that actor's actually on a TV programme at the time
Still, there's plenty to enjoy thanks to the core idea of cracking jokes at the expense of the children, who either play along or remain oblivious. Although the boy Ellis told was adopted seemed to genuinely believe it. Whole rounds are based on things you're not supposed to do, like choose your favourite parent.
Ellis is quick with the insults, yet also makes for a deliberately stilted host – his crawling around uncertainly on a wheel of fortune a definite highlight, a fine example of him sticking with a bad idea. And 'Uncle' Mick Ferry is a disgusting delight.
This show, written by comic Fern Brady, is set in a Scottish pupil referral unit for out-of-control teenagers, which is certainly an interesting premise, not before seen on TV. And it's certainly a different comedy world than Sarah Hadland's used to, given her most famous role is as straight woman to Miranda's pratfalls.
However a lot of the comedy in Radges seems to be born from aggression and swearing, which may be authentic but also wears thin pretty quickly. The characters don't offer much beyond broad personality types: the flirt, the psycho, the dimwit.
Lead character Mab, charismatically played by Lois Chimimba, could be what happens when Tracy Beaker grows up a bit… but the lack of subtlety means it might be more difficult to transfer into a series.
The credentials of the team behind this sketch show couldn't be better, being the vanguard of 'new wave' comics championed by inventive producers Invisible Dot.
And the result doesn't disappoint. Refreshingly disconcerting, always unpredictable and often downright surreal – it could be this decade's Big Train.
The team of Jamie Demetriou, Natasia Demetriou, Daran Johnson, Claudia O'Doherty, Alastair Roberts, Ellie White and Liam Williams have produced a show with a distinctive personality, while always surprising the audience.
A silly scene will be followed by a weird one, but the ideas are so strong they will stick in the mind. Williams misjudging the tone of laddish banter is a treat, as are the East European girl band wannabes with their song My Pussy Is A Petrol Cap. And 'I put too many leeks in the frittata' will never mean the same thing again.
If it can find it's way onto the telly, People Time would be a near-guaranteed cult hit.
This 15-minute offering from Edinburgh best comedy award newcomer nominee Dane Baptiste is another hugely promising offering.
The premise sounds nothing special: A man approaching 30, still living at home and stuck in a depressing job. But, like Baptiste's stand-up, the execution is slick and interesting, with great attention to detail.
Sunny D certainly feels different from your average show. It's interestingly shot with direct-to-camera asides, cutaways, graphics and smart use of soundtrack, all of which owe more to pop video presentation than three-camera sitcom.
The format allows for extra jokes to be crammed in, in the same way an animation like Family Guy might, with the action interrupted for mini-sketches. His press conference answering dumb questions about race was a real highlight. Meanwhile the best standalone lines come from the no-holds-barred trading of insults with his twin sister (Gbemisola Ikumelo) that barely disguise a lifetime of resentment for having to share the spotlight.
Watch out, too, for great cameos by John Thomson as Dane's boss, stand-up Tommy Rowson as a hippyish barista, and Don Warrington as Dane's Dad.
Alastair Roberts Dates
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