Comedy shows satirising the future have been around for a long time now (it could be suggested that The Jetsons was the first, though that was more of an excuse for lots of daft slapstick fun) and for the BBC Armando Iannucci tackled it with Time Trumpet in beautifully inspired ways. But a few years before that in October 1996 Dominic Brigstocke (the director of I’m Alan Partridge, Smack The Pony and many other classic British comedy shows) and writers Pete Sinclair, John O’Farrell and Mark Burton made a one off sketch show starring Roger Blake, Melanie Hudson, Pauline McLynn, Sally Phillips and Kim Wall which attempted to mock the forthcoming year in a similar manner.
Using a news show as a framing device it’s a mixture of sketches, fake interviews and the occasional bit of dubbing over pre-existing footage, something which has been done a fair amount over recent years but at the time it was fairly innovative, though the show definitely owes a debt to The Day Today. It’s not as surreal or as absurdist as that series was though, and not quite as funny, but then very few things are and that it even comes close is impressive indeed.
Among the funniest moments are a particularly dark sketch with the Dresden Bombing Reenactment Society, who hire a Lancaster Bomber and drop explosives on the beautiful German city, and a short skit where Margaret Thatcher pulls out a gun and starts shooting people, the latter doesn’t mine the concept quite as much as it could have but perhaps that’s wish fulfilment on my front as the idea of the now thankfully deceased ex-prime minister being murderous is one which appeals a lot. There’s also a superb news piece about how the BSE cull has been extended to pantomime cows, along with footage of one being killed which made me laugh hard, though I do find pantomime cows funny in pretty much all contexts it has to be said.
Another particularly inspired sketch is about the Youth Training Scheme, where a bunch of kids are exploited by doing jobs they’re clearly not trained for, including air traffic controllers, which contains the fantastic line “It’s not as good as Sonic as you only get one life”. And also very strong is a part that centres around the idea that computer viruses have spread to humans which is silly but well performed, and a story on Thames Valley policemen abandoning CS gas and breaking up crimes with kittens falls in to the same category, and is something that I think would be worth giving a shot in real life too.
The show also contains some fake adverts, because they feared that it was only a matter of time before the BBC was commercialised, and these are great too, with a Boozie Baby advert mocking the trend at the time for alcoholic lemonade and other similar products being surprisingly cute, and though not shockingly original a fake trailer for “Smack and Sensibility” mixes Trainspotting and Jane Austen really effectively. There’s also a lot of very amusing short throwaway gags in the show, including how Paula Yates should no longer be allowed to name her kids, that unemployment figures will no longer include unemployed people (which has all but happened nowadays), and a dig at the Daily Mail from the Queen, who isn’t upset about an attack on her but just that it’s “very dull and badly written”.
There are a couple of sketches and skits which aren’t particularly hilarious, with a joke about Tony Blair being out of touch with the labour party roots as he’s holding a conference in Tuscany being a tad poor, and a bit with a guy who thinks he’s an answer phone machine and an advert for a supposed “Now That’s What I Call Irritating” cd compilation both failed to elicit a smile. Also a little weak is a fake political interview where the interviewer keeps interrupting his guest which paled in comparison with the real thing when Jeremy Paxman used to do it, but the majority of the show is really fantastic and these lesser moments don’t spoil it in the slightest.
So once again this is a pilot which really deserved to be given a full series, at least it was aired in a relatively decent slot but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it was just a one off. The gag rate is impressively high and they pack a lot in to the thirty minute run time, while the performances from all are strong, it’ll be no surprise to hear that Sally Phillips and Pauline McLynn were great but lesser known actors like Roger Blake, Melanie Hudson and Kim Wall were equally as funny, and it’s a huge shame we didn’t get to see more of it.
You can watch the show on youtube here.