Okay dear anglophiles… yes, the Muvika! blog is reserved for posts about movies. But, rumors of The Mighty Boosh finally making it to the big screen in the next two years, gives license to discuss the television show here… even if the status of the movie at this point is unclear to the point of making it little more than a vague rumor.
It’s not just any show, which is why I’ll take this stretch of liberty. The Mighty Boosh is one of the funniest and most original British sitcoms in the BBC catalog in at least the last five years. And, that’s a tough claim to attempt to defend, considering that the competition these days include the wonderfully written League of Gentlemen, Spaced, Black Books, Peep Show, the inter-related Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place and IT Crowd, and even the redundant sketch comedy of Little Britain and Catherine Tate. But, while every one of these shows (and others I haven’t mentioned) puts nearly every bit of American sitcoms of the last decade to utter shame–except for the intermittent genius in shows like Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock–few have attained more than cult status among American television consumers (unless introduced to wider audiences redressed as a tame American version of its more daring British source). These are the brilliant secrets that, until they ever achieve that transition into a region code suitable for DVD players in the United States, must often be enjoyed in fragmented bootlegs. To that I’ll say thank goodness for YouTube… but, damn the copyright police!
At least in the realm of network television, BBC offerings expose the limitations of American sitcoms. The BBC sitcoms aren’t “daring” just because the British allow fewer restrictions on language and sexual content. But that most American sitcoms, bound by the hollow FCC restrictions on language, indulge sexual innuendo to an overly compensatory extreme. Maybe a writer for American television can get away with slipping in the words “dog penis” more than twice, but this is basically what has come to embody the definition of “risque.” Despite the supposed history of more daring content in American television in the last twenty or thirty years (especially anything with Bea Arthur attached), the bulk of American sitcoms today are predictable and watered down, an observation was recently made in an episode of 30 Rock. (Imagine being subject to hours of episodes of The Big Bang Theory). By contrast, the BBC has nurtured shows that experimented with the traditional notions of sitcom construction. League of Gentlemen completely destroyed the paradigm in terms of consistency of characters throughout the life of a series, and, along with Little Britain and Catherine Tate dedicated a significant part of the budget to costume and effects. Even the more familiar Extras, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant following the success of their previous sitcom, The Office, offered criticism of its own industry’s obsession with celebrity and spectacle–albeit in a sort of defeatist soapbox manner.
The brilliance of modern British sitcom has been injected into the American lineup in another form: Americanized versions. The most obvious example is The Office, although in Americanizing the show, the emphasis has shifted to its comedic ploy of heightened awareness and awkward situations taken to an extreme, while omitting the social and political commentary regarding the drudgery of the office life. HBO recently bought the BBC comedy Little Britain, pumping money into the show and now having it filmed live on location. Most recently, NBC was to have an American version of The IT Crowd, but thankfully the project was scrapped before a pilot even aired, although the Independent Film Channel (IFC) had talked about picking up the project. And in November of 2008, MTV2 discussed the development of a Boosh spin-off.
The Mighty Boosh originated from the stand-up performances of Noel Felding and Julian Barratt. Before the irreverent adventures of the Zooniverse aired on television for three series (British sitcoms typically run shorter terms than do American ones and are referred to as “series” rather than “seasons”) beginning in 2004, it was performed as a live stage show (and still is, touring in festivals in Europe), and later, as a BBC radio program. Described as a surrealist comedy and increasingly more so as it reached a third series, the show was something obviously targeted for younger, hipper audiences. Most of the episodes retained that theatrical look to it, especially in fantasy scenes which depended more on costume, color and lighting for effect.
More accurately, The Mighty Boosh is a surreal musical comedy. Like Cheech & Chong did in their stand-up and later, in their movies, the Boosh cast (and primarily, Barratt and Felding) wrote and performed an array of hilarious and relevant new wave tracks to highlight their situations, with the duo establishing a trademark for crimping.
At least for American viewers not really yet exposed to revolutions occurring in British sitcoms, this violated the assumption of most British sitcoms being very dated and mildly funny shows surrounding proper English folk, something influenced by the handful of shows like Are You Being Served and Keeping Up Appearances which continue to run on PBS, the poor Yanks outlet of the cultural products (outside of films) coming from the Motherland.
BBC’s uniqueness, too, is the luxury of situational comedy whereas the American sitcom settings tend to be very limiting, centering around the interactions and relationships of family and close-knit friends, the primary setting typically being someone’s home. Originally, The Mighty Boosh took place in a zoo (the Zooniverse) where the ambitious traditionalist, Howard Moon (Barratt) and his charmingly dim-witted Mod friend, Vince Noir (Felding) worked as zoo keepers. And it was usually Howard envisioning himself the revered hero of every occasion that got them both in trouble. Secondary characters include Dixon Bainbridge (originally the IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade), Bob Fossil, the wry shaman Naboo (played by Noel’s brother Michael, who was the inspiration for the show’s name), his faithful gorilla companion, Bollo, and the Hitcher, a regular, rhyming semi-nemesis. As the series aged, the setting changed to Howard and Vince sharing a flat with Naboo and Bollo in second season, and then, steered into the really surreal with Howard and Vince working in Naboo’s second-hand shop.
BBC Films has expressed their interest in producing a Boosh movie, but there has never been a firm date set because the order of projects for the Boosh team at this point is unclear. They intend to tour the live stage show (which has been solidly booked in venues around Eastern Europe for the last few months), but afterwards, expect to take a break and then resume with either a fourt series or the film. Whatever the next move, nothing is likely to be ready by 2010. Get started catching up on the episodes, my fellow Americans.
*Thanks to J. Rushton & Co. for introducing me to the show.
Filed under: after the 90s, comedy, commentary, cult flicks and obscure picks, indie, punk!, reviews | Tagged: Arrested Development, BBC3, Black Books, britcoms, Garth Merenghi's Dark Place, Howard Moon, IT Crowd, Julian Barrat, Keeping Up Appearances, League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Mighty Boosh movie, Noel Felding, Peep Show, Seinfeld, sitcoms, Spaced, The Mighty Boosh, Vince Noir | Leave a comment »