Remember when BBC Three would broadcast good comedy? I was as shocked as you when I clawed that memory back from the brink, shoved to the back of my psyche as it had been by endless repeats of Russell Howard's Good News and Lee Nelson's Well Good Show. But no! For a time it seemed that BBC Three was engaged in a full on comedic battle with the bland mediocrity of My Family and its ilk over on BBC One and Two, launching the likes of Monkey Dust, one of the best and most unsung sketch shows of the noughties, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin & Stacey, though it could be said that the latter's crossover to mainstream success and the desire to milk the Horne & Corden double act for all their worth was something of a betrayal of the channel's ethos, that being to foster and support original, new, cutting edge comedy.
This year though BBC Three announced they were launching seven brand new web exclusives, all with the anarchic bite that made the channel so successful. Having existed solely online up until now, the channel has put faith in its experiment and begun to broadcast the commissioned productions, with Mighty Boosh-esque comedy For The Win airing tonight at 10pm.
Well, I say "Mighty Boosh-esque", only because the Boosh were so successful and ubiquitous that any sketch show that dares to try doing something slightly different or experimental will inevitably be compared to them. The fact that Rich Fulcher stars as the omnipresent narrator in FTW doesn't help matters in that regard either. It should be said straight from the off though that for all its similarities, there are enough differences in FTW to give an audience a different and thoroughly entertaining experience.
Part sketch show, part sitcom, For The Win is centred around four real life friends and Edinburgh fringe performers, Lizzie, Thom, London and Sam, who hang out in the off kilter world of the For The Win Cafe, owned by eccentrics Rich and John, the latter being the show's co-creator and also writer/director, veteran of the fringe John Hopkins.
Here though the energy and rhythm of a live show is maintained at the same time as the ensemble enjoy experimenting with new comedic flourishes and techniques.
There is a fear that when live performers are given the chance to break into television something is lost along the way. What makes you funny on stage may make you insufferable on screen (*cough* Not Going Out *cough). Greg Davies' comedy troupe "We Are Klang" concocted a hilarious live show that won rave reviews, but their TV show sank without a trace. Here though the energy and rhythm of a live show is maintained at the same time as the ensemble enjoy experimenting with new comedic flourishes and techniques. Some of the gags come off better than others, as is often the case with sketch comedy, but nothing is bad. The performances are all solid and the ideas are often inspired (Come Dine With Me at The Last Supper anyone?), and when the show does descend into Booshy territory, quirky songs, talking prosthetics and alike, they manage to make it funny on its own merits, rather than just plundering money for old rope.
Now I don't know about you but I've been rooting around more and more in the comedy archives recently, discovering a whole bunch of great shows that I'd either forgotten about or didn't know existed. Steve Coogan's brilliant "I Am Not An Animal", Vic & Bob's finest hour "Catterick", the bizarre and arresting Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher onslaught "Snuff Box" too. This fate seems to befall comedies more than other shows nowadays, with impatient audiences wanting their first belly laugh instantly, lest they change channel to see whatever viral meme is doing the rounds that day (THE BABIES ARE TALKING TO EACH OTHER!!! THEY LOOK LIKE OLD MEN!!!). It's all the more encouraging in that case to see a whole glut of commissions given prime time airspace on what is still a pretty mainstream channel. Check out For The Win tonight, and then go forth and check out the rest of BBC Three's online content. You shan't regret it.
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