Sky’s push for more original comedy in their line-up has had ups and downs (The Cafe is wonderful, but Trollied never really did anything). Yonderland is an up.
Grabbing the folk behind BAFTA-winning CBBC sketch show Horrible Histories and making them deliver a narrative show – 8 episodes at 25 minutes apiece – could have resulted in nothing but jokes. Yonderland is a lot of jokes, but there is a story that threads them about a chosen one picked to save Yonderland from evil. Who is it? Debbie of Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas), a mother of two from suburbia – who brings a very real-world sense to the universe while dealing with arguments to the death, magical situations and characters who are speaking in annoying riddles instead of saying what they mean.
That thread isn’t rigid, and the focus means Debbie doesn’t have all the screen time, but Yonderland does a good job with giving Howe-Douglas an enjoyable character to play – and us enough time to like her. The men of the show get about a dozen people an episode to play with; all of them are part of a chorus of elders, wizards and warriors and townsfolk and a snake-oil salesman. Simon Farnaby as the evil Negatus (dealing with three incompetent devil puppet hench-people as well as the threat of Debbie of Maddox) gets in a lot of great moments.
The story works, but the key to Yonderland really is in the amount of jokes thrown at the audience. Puns, visual humour, slapstick, anachronistic references/attitudes, and a lot of puppets getting hurt. There are so many jokes in these first two episodes – which see Debbie taken to the world and trying to find scrolls that give more information about what she as the chosen one must do to save Yonderland – but what’s great is the hit to miss ratio. Maybe three or four jokes don’t land really well, but the show will then make a joke based on that failed joke, or find an evolution of it that does work, in the space of 22 minutes. It’s nearly flawless in its gag rate and caliber, not pandering for a younger audience or being too risque for them. This is family-friendly entertainment that has so many laughs for old and young alike that no one feels awkward watching it.
Yonderland’s double episode opener sets out to be an all-inclusive comedy that is as visually silly and inventive as it is brilliantly written and improvised by the talented core team. If the show can carry on like this through the series, there’s no doubt that Yonderland will be a real gem of British comedy. You don’t want to miss this show.
Yonderland is available to stream with a NOW TV Entertainment Pass, which costs an introductory price of £4.99 a month with no minimum subscription length. (From 29th May 2014, this renews at £6.99 per month.)
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