Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nathan Barley

A new series from Chris Morris is always going to be something of an event. But after the first episode of Nathan Barley last week I turned to the critics to find out what I thought of it. Uncharacteristic behaviour for an opinionated little sod like me. But the critics were divided and confused as well.
The Guardian's critic last week said: ".....whether it's satire or sitcom, twitire or twitcom, it doesn't really matter. More important is that it's very good - beautifully observed, written and acted and very, very funny."
I agree with all of that except the last bit. I don't find it particularly funny. I have the same problem with this as with The Office. For all its brilliance, the characters make me cringe more than they make me laugh.
It has to be said that Nick Burns as Nathan Barley is casting and acting of genius but he makes you want to put your foot through the TV screen.
One problem for me is that Dan Ashcroft who sees through all the idiots of youth culture and the New Media world is himself such an unsympathetic character. Also, there's scarcely any plot other than the huge improbability of an intelligent girl like Dan's sister getting involved with an imbecile like Nathan Barley.

Some critics, in a better position to know than myself, say that the world it's satirising has already moved on so as satire it's rather passé. I was more conscious of echoes of earlier satires and comedies. Last night's party scene reminded me of the party scene in Derek Jarman's Jubilee of 30 years ago. The adoption of Dan as a kind of unwilling Messiah was very reminiscent of Life of Brian, particularly where the crowd are chanting "Preacher Man" and Dan is shouting back "I'm not the fucking Preacher Man."
What annoyed me most last night was that several times I had to turn the sound down and that really made me feel very old.

I'm not sure whether I want to spend half an hour every Friday in the company of such loathsome and irritating characters. That, after all, was why I stopped watching Eastenders many years ago. I'd rather dig out my tape of Chris Morris's seminal The Day Today and watch it for the umpteenth time. It's as fresh and as funny as the day it was made. Nathan Barley, in contrast, will probably be seen as a brilliant but flawed minor work in the Morris canon.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger peter said...

Cringe television (and possibly literature) only really works when it depicts characters and situations you're familiar with. I'm think of The Office, as you quote, and possibly Abigail's Party as the peak.

The problem with NB (note the deliberate homage to my webpage), is that the world displayed is known only to a tiny, tiny number of London media-luvvies. For the rest of us, we might as well be watching a night out with Busted.

Morris, Brooker, Guardian critics et al do live and move in that world, and thus might find it very amusing.

I enjoyed episode one with a sense of hopeful anticipation, but the second has blown it.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I think we're as one on that, Peter.
I'd only add that comedy needs likeable characters too. Even comic idiots need to be likeable. Despite his pomposity, nobody hated Captain Mainwaring.


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