Sunday, April 11, 2010

Underrated TV on DVD #6: That Mitchell and Webb Look

Time for another TV week!:

Series: That Mitchell and Webb Look
Years: 2006-present, 3 short seasons so far, 18 episodes total.
Creators: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Gareth Edwards
Stars: Mitchell, Webb, Olivia Coleman, James Bachman, Mark Evans

Recommended If You’re a Fan Of: “Monty Python”, “Kids in the Hall”
The Concept: The stars of the britcom “Peep Show” let their minds wander thorough a series of bizarre filmed sketches.
How it Came to be Underrated: This deserves to have a huge cult in America, but outside of YouTube, it remains unknown over here, which is baffling. BBC America did run the first two seasons, but only once. They’ve just started running the third season, Wednesday nights at 9:30, so catch it now while you have the chance…

Sample Episode: Series One, Episode Four
The Story: We zip through 15 filmed sketches in 25 minutes, some wholly original and some featuring recurring characters: A bored host chloroforms an overly chatty guest... An actor shooting a sex scene starts uncontrollably muttering “now we know…” Drunken snooker commentators amuse themselves… Each skit is smart, funny, short and absolutely deranged.

Why It’s Great:
  1. I first discovered this show because several writing blogs all linked to this sketch, where Mitchell, as a writer, gets notes from a “suit”, played by Webb, who wants him to kill off his main character and add a shark: “Well, maybe it’s not a shark, but it’s a squid, or a pebble, or a policeman…” As always, the creators take a painfully real situation (receiving vague and unhelpful suggestions) and hurtle it into the realm of total absurdity.
  2. Mitchell and Webb are truly co-equal. In that sketch, Webb is playing broad and Mitchell is the straight man, but just as often it’s the other way around. Or they have sketches like this one, in which both are totally deadpan. Here they’re a couple with very different levels of job stress, which makes it hard for them to properly commiserate about their day at work: “We’ve been through this, just because I’m a pediatrician dealing with severely ill children doesn’t mean that you can’t have a tough day... tasting ice cream at the ice cream factory…”

  3. Occasionally, just to keep us on our toes, they go “behind the scenes” and show the cast sitting around between sketches candidly chatting… supposedly. In one, Mitchell has had a bad break up and the other actors all cheerfully remind him that he won’t be able to move on until he breaks into her apartment and plants some crack for the police to find…
  4. But ultimately, the recurring sketch that makes or breaks people on the show is Numberwang, the arcane game show that descends into nightmarish confusion. (I have no ability to figure out the rules of anything. I can watch people play a card game for hours without guessing how it works, so I always relate…)
How Available Is It?: This is one of the few things that’s available on Watch Instantly even though it’s not on Region One DVD. Season Two is not available in America at all, other than as individual skits on YouTube. Season Three is airing now.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Obviously, you can just watch the sketches individually, but it also gains momentum beautifully when watched as a whole. If you don’t have Netflix, here’s the whole episode on YouTube, broken into thirds. Click through to see the other two…


Custard Socks said...


Many thanks for giving 'Look' a plug! My friend and I in the UK have been avid M&W fans for some years and were lucky enough to attend the three recordings for series four, which was brilliantly funny and also slightly 'edgier' than previous series.

We also run a Mitchell and Webb forum, and if you don't mind we'd like to mention it here, as we've linked to your blog ;) Feel free to delete my post if you'd rather not! Thanks again :D

Matt Bird said...

Thanks for the link, Custard Socks! You make me wild with jealousy, having already seen series 4!