Why Zapped should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 07, Nov 2017
Don’t you hate it when you accidentally travel through time, leave behind your menial office job and wind up trapped in a medieval-era land of fantastical creatures and blithering idiots? That’s the starting point for Zapped, one of Dave’s most enjoyable original comedy series to date.
The show sees the broadcaster hop from sci-fi to fantasy, as we watch marketing assistant Brian (The Inbetweeners’ James Buckley) get transported back to a parallel medieval world after he unwittingly puts on a magical bracelet. The secret to such outlandish concepts is to root them in the everyday and, sure enough, Zapped swiftly roots itself not only in the fantastical land of Munty but also in sitcom-land; most of the opening episode is spent in the local pub, hanging out with warrior-turned-landlord Herman (Louis Emerick), a witch with a crush on Brian, Barbara (Sharon Rooney) and armchair revolutionary Steg (Ken Collard).
There are some decent laughs in the first season, particularly when it comes to Brian trying to describe his meaningless modern job to the others, but the highlight is Paul Kaye, who, fresh from stealing scenes in everything from Game of Thrones to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, has a whale of a time as an extremely high wizard, Howell.
Season 2 and 3 see the show expand its scope, doubling down on its characters and ramping up the jokes. The show balances out its ensemble approach by working out how to make the most of the hilariously absurd Howell – briefly trapped in the present day, at Brian’s old company, he runs riot in the office, ordering bottles of wine with other people’s credit cards and dominating the team karaoke sessions, while wearing make-up that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Bowie music video.
That means that back in Munty, the show can expand its plotting into more varied territory. In one episode, Brian finds himself in court, charged with accidentally kicking the leader of a race of gigantic snails. In another, he’s captured by a circus owner, Feffenhoffer – leaving Barbara and Steg to mount a wonderfully woeful set of escape attempts. Barbara and Steg’s individual incompetencies are amusing and endearing in equal measure, with Rooney repeatedly sparking giggles and Collard’s clueless line delivery never failing to entertain. Whether she’s trying to become a blacksmith or he’s pretending to be a lawyer just for the professional perks, they’re a strong double-act, with Buckley’s straight man in between them anchoring the silliness with a dependable deadpan.
The show is also able to introduce guest stars without rocking the boat. After Season 2 opens with an impressive cameo from Nina Wadia, Season 3 features a laugh-out-loud turn from Steve Coogan, who’s clearly enjoying hamming it up as the cruel Feffenhoffer, delivering one-liners with sharp wit, hilarious facial expressions and a pantomime petulance that never gets old.
All the while, the production design quietly colours in all kinds of creatures in the background with just enough imagination to convince. The result is a likeable fantasy comedy that’s worth taking up some of your time.
Zapped is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2022. It is also available on UKTV Play.