Originally shown in 1998, Big Train
was the eagerly awaited follow-up to Father Ted
from writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews. Resisting the pressure to make another sitcom, Big Train
is, instead, a sketch show in the best Monty Python tradition, updated with influences from arch-surrealist Chris Morris as well as the contemporary The Fast Show
. The sketches can be joyously odd--Pythonesque firefighting showjumpers, the evil hypnotist, and the outrageous onanistic office workers, for example--but the show never neglects to keep the punchlines coming thick and fast (though the animated staring contest does rather drag after a while). The cast comprises some of the best new names in comedy, including Kevin Eldon, Simon Pegg, Mark Heap, Julia Davis and Amelia Bullmore (who went on to become Alan Partridge's Ukrainian girlfriend).
Series 2 didn't pull into the platform until 2002, by which time Graham Linehan was absent writing Black Books. But Arthur Matthews maintains the quality of the first series on the whole--the man with oversized hands, the creepy cult questionnaire, the zookeeper's recruitment agency--adding some spot-on French art house cinema spoofs and other movie-style take offs somewhat in the manner of Spaced, which Pegg and Heap had gone on to make. That duo return here for more silliness along with new cast members Rebecca Front (The Day Today, Knowing Me, Knowing You) and Tracey-Ann Oberman (better known now as Chrissie Watts in Eastenders).
On the DVD: Big Train belatedly arrives on DVD in a two-disc set which includes a plethora of deleted scenes for both Series 1 and 2. There are cast biogs plus three of the sketches as performed on a German TV sketch show. Commentary on the first series is by both writers, though happily Pegg, Heap and Eldon gatecrash halfway through. Matthews and Eldon join director and producer for the somewhat more straight-faced commentary on the second disc. Menu options thankfully include the treasurable "Play all" facility. --Mark Walker
Directed by Graham Linehan, Chris Morris, Jonathan Gershfield. Starring: Simon Pegg, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis Big Train steams out of the comedy tunnel as realism meets utter stupidity in a cavalcade of daft sketches performed by high-quality actors in a series of stunning costumes and vast sets reminiscent of the worst excesses of DW Griffith. There are also lots of sketches in offices. Along the way we meet shy policemen, pop stars chasing jockeys, a duck in danger, hens in armed combat, a confused Transport Minister, highly charged sexual politics and casual, though necessary, violence. This ferrago of random claptrap draws from the pedigree of such series as Father Ted, Spaced, Human Remains and Happiness. The show thrives on the subversion of everyday occurrences, mundane situations and famous faces. DVD Extras: Commentary with Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, Simon Pegg, Phil Clarke (producer), Jonathan Gershfield (director) and Jo Hunter (production manager). Deleted scenes. Easter eggs. Cast and crew biographies. Photo gallery.