James Acaster is one of the UK’s most highly acclaimed comedians around right now but just three years ago he wasn’t that well known, he’d performed a couple of well received shows but he hadn’t had a bunch of Netflix specials or taken part in Taskmaster or hosted shows like Hypothetical. Which may go some way to explain why the sitcom pilot he made, and which was aired on the 5th of September 2016, wasn’t a big hit. Well, that and it’s only intermittently funny and not nearly as good as his comedy normally is.
The central concept is that it’s William’s thirtieth birthday, and his mother has a surprise for him. It’s not a brand new car or laptop or anything physical however, but, as William describes it himself, the chance to “Answer the call and perform one of the most important tasks known to human kind – the task of justice”. And no, this isn’t exactly Acaster’s spin on what it might be to be like Judge Dredd, for William, who we soon learn is a rather excitable and childish man, has the bizarre dream to be a juror and now that’s finally come true.
Indeed it came true a couple of weeks ago but his mother kept the letter hidden from him until his birthday, which means rather conveniently he’s due to start this very day, and so he rushes off to the court and upon arriving shakes strangers hands and kisses the hand of a judge. Up until this point it had been fairly amusing stuff, with William’s enthusiastic nature providing a good few laughs, and I had high hopes that Acaster had created a sitcom pilot that really did deserve to be given a full series.
Alas such hopes were soon cruelly quashed however as William’s fellow juror’s are a mostly annoying selection of characters, and one note stereotypes at that. It’s here the show becomes detached from reality too as the judge is not a realistic character in the slightest as she’s bizarrely over the top and describes the case as “A super cool murder trial” and warns one of the juror’s “Don’t be a party pooper”. Her behaviour is supposedly due to it being her last ever case but it feels just a bit too silly, even if the character has the odd amusing line it just doesn’t quite work.
It’s all too often the case with the jurors William quickly meets as well, there’s an enthusiastic post office worker called Hugh who’s incredibly excited about queues, a twatty posh bloke who runs a member’s club and quickly bans anyone who talks back to him, two women called Jen which leads to one of them being renamed Wolf, who fancies herself as a poet despite thinking it’s smart to rhyme “poet” with “know it”, and they seem like caricatures rather than believable human beings. At least a few are likeable and amusing, with Diane Morgan’s sarcastic Olivia providing a couple of actual laughs as she mocks the others, but it would have worked better if the majority hadn’t been quite so cartoonish.
The plot’s a bit on the silly side too, and while I normally like silliness here it’s borderline irritating. There’s two main strands, one involving the fact that everyone hates the courtroom artist as they fear he may portray them in an unflattering light, with the other seeing William blabbing details of the case to a woman in a nightclub (in a sequence which goes on for way too long) and then doing his best to rectify the situation without getting kicked off the case. It’s full of cringe humour and difficult to see why Acaster thought it would be amusing rather than annoying.
There are some funny moments, one character introduces himself by telling them that his name is “Mr Martin. My friend’s call me Mr Martin” while in one scene when the courtroom artist returns to the court Lucas utters “He’s back, everyone look as fit as you can” and they all pose for him despite the lawyer being in the middle of an important speech, and it’s also the moment the criminal realises he’s doomed with this bunch of idiots on the jury, but a lot of the time the gags are weak and the jokes fail to land.
Acaster is an accomplished stand up comedian but judging by this he needs to sharpen his scripts a little more before they get made, and work on making the characters less cliched and one dimensional. I’m aware that a pilot can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges and may become something far more polished as a series goes on, but I couldn’t see that happening with this and it’s no bad thing that it wasn’t given a full series, and that Acaster was able to spend time working on his stand up instead.