Apart from making panel shows very silly and absurdist, one of the big surprises about Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s Shooting Stars was just how funny Ulrika Jonsson was. Previously best known as a weather girl and the host of Gladiators, she’d never shown a particularly unusual sense of humour but she fitted in to Vic and Bob’s world seamlessly, happy to be mocked or flirted with by the duo, and was particularly great in the daft sketches she appeared in.
Due to that a pilot for her own show was made in 1997,which was written by Vic and Bob with additional material from Steven Burge, Rhys Thomas, Matt Lucas, David Walliams and Tony Way (though the latter was uncredited at the time). As with most of Vic and Bob’s creations it’s a brightly lit slice of silliness, a mixture of sketches, skits and musical numbers, the majority of which are played for laughs though oddly there’s the one song sung in a straight fashion and which is mirth free.
Opening with Ulrika singing a medley of various songs including John Miles’ Music Was My First Love, Dusty Springfield’s I Only Want To Be With You and Cher’s If I Could Only Turn Back Time, only the latter is over the top and pantomime-esque but it gets sillier with Ulrika as a grotesquely animalistic Phil Collins singing “I Can Feel It In The Air Tonight”, a smurf doing “Ooh Ahh Just A LIttle Bit”, and then it ends with all contributing to Thank You For The Music. It’s a strong opener and shows how talented Ulrika could be, while setting the tone for the show as it starts off in a simplistic enough manner before getting absurder as it goes along.
The rest of the show is a mixture of filmed inserts and studio based sketches, the majority of which are of the variety which will make you laugh out loud. The best of them sees Matt Lucas and David Walliams as a mother and daughter pretending to be Ulrika’s biggest fan (until it’s revealed that Lucas is actually Jimmy Hill and his mother is Bruce Willis), and there’s a beautifully odd bit of weirdness in “Public Bathwatch”, a sketch set at a swimming pool, which is a very British Baywatch spoof where Ulrika’s a lifeguard who eventually attempts to rescue an old man only after he drops a can of Ambrosia cream rice, and which comes complete with some nicely strange narration in a male voice and ends with everyone dying. It’s the oddest thing in the episode but that might be why it’s the best too, especially given how strong the dialogue is and how it’s utterly unpredictable.
Also pretty damn great is a spoof of Breakfast tv where an actor impersonating Eamonn Holmes clearly hates Ulrika’s Anthea Turner and the duo keep inventively insulting each other, and which also contains a cookery segment with Mary O’Connor (Ulrika again, naturally) who has a real issue with the confectionary sold at Cartoon Club she attends. A parody of Watchdog is funny too, with Ulrika’s Anne Robinson impression impressing, and because this was made by Vic and Bob for absolutely no reason amusingly the character has an enormous arse.
On the pretty good but not great scheme of things is Ulrika messing about with a ventriloquist doll which shits all over her, her downing a pint and moving the liquid about in her legs, and The Lightning Seeds pop by to do some of their song “You Showed Me” before Ulrika interrupts it with the line “Nice ballad, I think we’ve got the gist of it” and interviews singer Ian Broudie in a snarky manner before insisting on playing the drums. There’s nothing bad about such moments, they’re just not quite as inspired as others in the pilot, and though Ulrika’s a clear talent for physical comedy all are a little simplistic on that front.
Unfortunately there’s a couple of weak parts, the worst of which features the normally fantastic Rhys Thomas and Ulrika as horrendously shitty parents, it’s a sort of spin on The Fast Show’s Competitive Dad except meaner and crueller and though the final pay off made me laugh it’s a long time coming. A sketch filmed in a burlesque club which is introduced by Vic’s Kinky John Fowler is a mixed bag too, Ulrika’s dancing causes men’s hair to fly off and for them to be covered in pancakes, and when she clutches her breasts trousers fall off and cigars explode, but it goes on for too long and isn’t that amusing.
Luckily these sketches aren’t in way bad enough to spoil it, they’re just not very good when compared to what’s come before, and that applies to a straight cover of The Pretenders “Brass In Pocket” which proves Ulrika can sing but little else, and the ending song, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” where she’s accompanied by “The Jimmy Hill Chin Singers”, four men with enormous chins, and it’s okay, mildly funny but a slightly bland way to end the show given what’s come before.
Unsurprisingly given who it was written by this pilot is mostly enormous fun, it highlights Jonsson’s superb comic talents consistently throughout, and how she was the perfect actress to perform Vic and Bob’s unique brand of madness, and if they had just cut the serious musical performances and a couple of the sketches than I’m sure it would have been a hit. That way it would have been about thirty minutes long too, the perfect length for this sort of thing, and the BBC wouldn’t have had any excuse not to commission it. Even with the slightly weaker aspects it’s still a massive shame we didn’t get more of it, and that outside of Shooting Stars and this Jonsson has never had the chance to show off just how funny she can be too.
You can watch the show in full here on youtube.