Today marks the return of the BBC’s Comedy Shorts, as the Beeb continues to combine its knack for talent spotting with BBC iPlayer’s ability to provide a platform for that talent online. Sara Pascoe, Tim Key, Nick Helm and Spencer Jones have written and stared in four shorts, which were commissioned by Patrick Holland, controller of BBC Two, and Shane Allen, controller of BBC Comedy commissioning, and will air on BBC Two under the New on Two strand.
Before then, though, you can watch them online, as they premiere today on the streaming service. Here’s our review of each one:
Sara Pascoe vs Monogamy
Sara Pascoe brings her stand-up material to the screen with this superb polemic on why human beings shouldn’t be monogamous. That’s the gateway to a witty string of observations and criticisms of everything from sperm and Victorians to wedding speeches and the warped, sexist way that society views intercourse. It’s spiky, witty and sharply funny stuff, nicely linked together with a series of cartoon animations, which even manage a toe-tapping demonstration of why jazz causes Sara to relive childhood trauma. The only woman in this group of four Comedy Shorts, it’s a reminder of why Pascoe’s frank style and choice of subject has made her one of the most regularly seen female comedians on TV – and of the fact that there really should be more women in this collection.
Tim Key is part of that rare breed of genuinely unique comedians, his eloquent sentences bringing a poetic beauty to the mundanity of life. And so we’re treated to him recalling a previous night’s first date with elegiac extravagance and hyperactive glee – a tirade of excitement that’s constantly juxtaposed with actual footage of the evening, and a host of people who were onlookers to their frolics, each one more unimpressed than the last. The visuals shrink into the tiny frame of a photograph, as his dreams are contained and cut down by reality, something that escalates with every text he sends that his date doesn’t reply to. The result is a bittersweet but hopeful dose of optimism and romance that’s undeniably charming – although it leaves you longing to see a companion film from his counterpart retreading the same steps.
The Killing Machine
It’s been a couple of years since Nick Helm’s iPlayer short film Elephant was nominated for a BAFTA, and this Comedy Short is a welcome chance for him to return to the form. He’s as likeably shabby as ever as he plays Sam, a human car crash who has a simple goal in life: become an unstoppable killing machine. And so he rocks up his local gym, and keeps rocking up every week, much to the surprise of his trainer, Donny (Lloyd Everitt). It’s not in Sam’s macho journey that The Killing Machine finds its humour, though, but in the pointedly un-macho way he subverts the more toxic brand of masculinity brandished by arrogant trainer Aled (Jon Pointing). Director Jon Riche channels Rocky with slow-mo bouts, but this is a world where being a boxer doesn’t mean you want to be the next Balboa – hell, you don’t even need to have seen the movie. Undercutting each dramatic undercut with sweet notes of friendship, the result is a charmingly low-key tale of healthy support, unhealthy sportsmanship and refusing to let being rubbish at things get in the way of having a dream.
The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk
Spencer Jones may not be a name you recognise – although you may remember his turn as a Ricky Gervais-a-like in Upstart Crow – but he’s given a deserved platform with this short burst of unbridled creativity. The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk gives us exactly that, as we’re dunked head-first into the strange worldview of his childlike man. He wakes up, has breakfast, brushes his teeth, but even such simple tasks are sabotaged repeatedly by his brain’s absurdist flights of fancy; directed again by the inventive Jon Riche, every situation is a chance to showcase a silly prop or break into an impromptu musical number, much to the politely patient frustration of his partner, played by a superbly deadpan Lucy Pearman.
BBC Comedy Shorts are available exclusively on BBC iPlayer.