Ben Elton and Richard Curtis are two of the most famous comedy writers that England have ever produced, and are (or at least were) greatly loved for their work. Elton was partially responsible for the success of The Young Ones, Happy Families and Filthy, Rich and Catflap, and both would team up to make Blackadder successful, while Curtis has also written some really great films, at least during the 1980’s / 90’s. Throw in the fact that it was directed by Geoff Posner who worked on a crazy amount of classic tv shows and you’d presume that creating a big silly comedy with the much loved band Madness would be easy for them all, right?
But as you’ve probably guessed the answer is a big gigantic “Oh dear fuck no” which should have about a thousand explanation marks after it except I’m aware that’d be rather tedious to read. Not as tedious as this was to watch though, I had high hopes going in as I’m fond of the band, but this is an embarrassment. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t understand how it made past the script stage, that the BBC, the band and Posner didn’t piss themselves laughing at the idea that it should actually be filmed before setting it on fire and demanding that it was never spoken about again.
Presumably they thought it’s cheap arse nature and am-dram pantomime-esque acting would give it some kind of ramshackle charm, but no, that’s not the case in the slightest. Only 12 minutes long and yet it felt like five times that, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect drunk students to make only to wake up the next morning, watch it and then commit suicide out of shame. I’ve covered some amazing pilots, some average ones and some really weak, but this is the first one I’ve been appalled at just how bad it is.
Set in Camden, perhaps unsurprisingly given it’s where Madness formed and played their first gigs, supposedly the band are the new government for reasons never explained and they set up in a local cafe to devise their plans on how to run the country. Meanwhile the band’s nemesis, Doctor Maniac, wants to blow them all up because presumably he read the script before filming began, and he and his henchmen (also all played by the band) steal the plans to build a bomb.
Elton and Curtis have (at times) shown themselves to be able to create deliciously absurd and silly comedy but this is just piss poor pun after pun after pun, all of which you’ve probably heard before if you’ve ever read a joke book aimed at five year old’s. At one point one of the band says “I don’t want to scare you – boo!” and that’s one of the better jokes in the show. There’s an unfunny misunderstanding between the word “Sax” and “Sex”, a tiresome routine where Doctor Maniac tells his men to repeat something and they just repeat the wrong thing over and over again, and at one point Carl moans about catching his wife with another man and when he admits it was her father he says “She still shouldn’t have been in bed with him”, which is such a predictable punchline I’m surprised we didn’t hear the cameramen moaning in dismay. Then at the end the band turn up in drag playing their mothers, and if you thought all of the above was agonisingly bad, well, this is the icing on a cake made out of dog shit and cat vomit.
To say that the band are terrible actors is the understatement of the century, I can only guess they’d never seen anyone else acting before and didn’t know what it was, I took GCSE drama and was fucking terrible but even my piss poor attempts were a thousand times better than theirs. The delivery of all the lines is so over the top that I’m surprised they didn’t wink constantly just to get the message home that it’s supposed to be funny, and it probably would have been more entertaining if they had. When playing themselves they’re awful but taking on the roles of the henchmen they adopt stupid accents that sucks the life out of every attempt at humour, and any one unfortunate to be viewing it too, my partner had to administer CPR seven times while I was watching it.
Now you may think I’m being a little too harsh about this but I was optimistic going in that it was going to be daft fun and then spent the following twelve minutes aghast at just how awful it is. I suppose it’s vaguely competently directed, and the lighting and sound people did their jobs well, but that’s the only positive thing that can be said about it. How such talented individuals thought this was acceptable is a mystery greater than that of the Mary Celeste or who shot JFK and I’m surprised there aren’t as many books trying to explain what happened, as it’s something that is completely unfathomable to me.
You can watch it here, if you want to risk insanity.