Top positive review
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The way all spoofs should be written and performed
on 4 February 2012
Ah... Bleak Expectations. What can be said that has never been said before?
Um. Blowed if I know. So I shall just have to repeat what others have said, which is: Brilliant! Hilarious! Excellent!
Perhaps I should say a bit more?
Mark Evans has used the time honoured tradition in story telling of framing it as a narrative about someone's life. In this instance, it's Sir Philip Bin, richest man in Britain (a man so rich that when he bought a country estate, that country was Scotland) describing the true events to a journalist (Mr Sourquill).
His life is an arduous one, described (in the narrative) as one of riches to rags to riches to rags to riches to rags to riches again (might have missed a bit).
The jokes come thick and fast, the puns are exquisitely beautiful in their creation and delivery, and hammy performances are are just the right side of smoked. Anthony Head should get a special mention as the main antagonist, the ironically named Mr Gently Benevolent. He takes overacting to a new level, and I love him all the more for it.
But none of the performances would mean anything without a solid script, and the cast certainly have that. One of the problems with this sort of story framework is that if the narrative is all based on one person's experiences, how do you reveal relevant plot information when this occurs away from the primary protagonist? And make it entertaining? Episode 5 in the first series had a particularly inventive method. A letter about a fight. Related by three people, all fighting over a single pen to state who has the upper hand. Definitely has to be heard to be believed...
The first series is by far the best - it was as if Mark Evans had worked through all of Charles Dickens' tomes and distilled all the best jokes into that initial 6 part series, not expecting a second.
So when the second series was commissioned, I can imagine Mr Evans panicking, and then reading a number of other Victorian novels - Frankenstein, HG Wells, and a dash of Conan Doyle. The first couple of episodes were a bit shaky (but still very funny); by the time the third episode came about, things were getting back to what was expected.
The third series was far better than the second series; I think Mark Evans was a bit better prepared, and so had already been ploughing through Victorian works and history so he was in a better position to write the series when it was commissioned. A bit more Dickens than in the second series, plus references to Jack the Ripper, Jules Verne, and that well known Victorian film director George A Romero.
Tom Allen, who plays young Pip Bin, must have been taking acting lessons from William Shatner. This is not meant to be a sleight on his acting skills - in episode 2 there is a scene which must have been recorded on Speak Like William Shatner Day - it is very short and one of the funniest scenes in the series.
The final series is sadly the weakest of the bunch. Nevertheless, as spoofs and pastiches go, it is still far superior to many other of it's ilk of today. It just fairs badly when compared to the high standard set by the earlier series.
This one is a bit more disjointed than the previous series - the narrative is still there, but it is now missing the underlying plot arc that was present in each of the previous series. There is one still there, but it isn't driving the story as well as the others.
Once more, Dickens is the source material for this series' pastiches, but this time it has been joined by Dante, Wells' Doctor Moreau, Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde, and some episodes of Bonanza.
All in all, this series is extremely entertaining, 12 disks of sheer joy.
But what of the 13th disk I hear you ask? I have absolutely no idea what is on it. I'm the proud owner of series 1 to 4, which I purchased as soon as they came out. Each series was on 3 disks, making 12 in total. There is apparently a 13th disk with this box set, so I can only guess as to what is on it. Bonus material of some kind, which is probably rather good. Or not. I really cannot say! For all I know, they might have spread the 24 episodes over 13 disks, so there is no bonus material.
Whatever. If you haven't got any of the episodes on CD yet, I would recommend buying this box set, even if all you get is the 24 episodes of the radio series' and nothing else. Even if the bonus material were to consist of James Bachman saying nothing but the word "swan" for 60 minutes it would still be worth it.