Nathan Barley is Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris' latest assault on society; a satirical parody of the Hoxton-finned, style-obsessed world of new media. Meet Nathan Barley: a 26 year-old webmaster, guerrilla filmmaker, screenwriter, DJ and--in his own words--a "self-facilitating media node". Convinced he's the epitome of urban cool and therefore secretly terrified he might not be, Nathan reads "Sugar Ape Magazine"--aka his bible of cool--religously. The Nathan Barley DVD contains the complete six-part series broadcast in early 2005.
Special features on the Nathan Barley DVD include: the original pilot episode; a 48-page booklet of Nathan Barley's "works"; deleted scenes; the option to view an entire episode re-dubbed with the wrong voices; newly recorded excerpts from Barley's internet radio show; extensive hi-res gallery of stills and programme graphics on DVD-Rom; the original tvgohome compilation; and hidden extras.
Episode 1: Baffled human wreck Dan Ashcroft (columnist on Sugar Ape) watches in horror as his world is over-run with 24-carat berks, led by a strutting, brainless c***-of-the-walk called Nathan Barley, who, distressingly, has designs on Dan's sister Claire.
Episode 2: Dan is canonised against his will, while Nathan throws a party for his rubbish website and oozes closer to Claire.
Episode 3: While Dan is plagued by a shrieking twit of a photographer called 15Peter20, Nathan grooms Claire with alcohol and an unsolicited breast massage.
Episode 4: Dan accidentally creates a new hairstyle by sleeping in paint, while Nathan needs a new look to impress glamourous TV-chick Dajve ('Dave') Bikinus. Something is killed.
Episode 5: Editor Jonatton Yeah? wants Dan to take part in some straight-on-straight gay action and a coke-blasted model proves an irresistible lure for Nathan.
Episode 6: In the final episode, Nathan piggybacks his way into Claire's meeting with a TV commissioner, Pingu is broken like a rag doll, and Dan finally discovers a way to destroy Nathan.
Morris, writing here alongside Charlie Brooker, is to television what Luke Haines is to pop music... someone who can work within the confines of an industry, gathering acclaim and a legion of devoted fans, whilst simultaneously trying to bring said industry down from the inside!! Morris and Brooker seem to have a genuine contempt for the characters that they write about, and - as with Brass Eye and The Day Today - the joke sometimes becomes so scathing and so accurate, that you actually forget that you're watching a satire (a notion continued by Morris's faux-edgy directorial style, which has swerving hand-held cameras and random zooms to, I would hope, rip the piss out of all of these trendy new TV shows that want be challenging - in a Dogme-style sense - so bad, they can practically taste it!!). Some of the media pastiches are fantastic too, like the so-chic it hurts art gallery that consisted of nothing more than pictures of celebrities urinating, or the Russian underground website, which includes pay-per-view downloadable clips of "tramp marathons" and tooth-pulling competitions, complete with armed police threatening anyone refusing to take part with assault rifles and teargas.
The madness of the show works because Morris and Brooker tend to anchor the shows to the character of Dan (The Preacher Man) Ashcroft, a cynical and fairly down-to-earth sort, who seems at odds with the backslapping and self-congratulatory cretins who populate his office. As a result, the jokes work because we can relate to Dan's anguish at being celebrated by these fools, who find humour in irreverent spreads on child molestation, have chainsaw ring tones and have a unhealthy habit of composing raps while they get it on with the opposite sex (Nathan's seduction of Claire is absolute comedy genius... "yeah, well plastic, man!!"). My favourite gag would have to be Dan unintentionally creating a new trendy hair-style when he falls asleep under the paint table. "What's it called?" asks Nathan. "Errr... Geek Pie" replies Dan. Cut to Nathan on Japanese TV promoting said hair-style without a shard or irony or good humour.
Most of the jokes work on multiple levels, often acting as an out-and-out parody of the kind of pretentious, novelty, tabloid-bating nonsense that seems to be continually spat out of these nu-media outlets (digital television, on-line publishing, underground advertising, or remnants of the shallow mid-nineties art scene, etc)... but then, there's also the integration of the characters, the disgust and contempt that Dan has for his colleagues, and the sheer genius of the word play used by these bizarre caricatures (typical Barley invitation, "you should come dollsnatch, it's gonn'a be Mexico!!"... all this and more from the man who gave us "fact me till I fart"). The cast is great, padded out with characters form The Mighty Boosh and the brilliant Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (when can we get this on DVD??), so you know the timing and delivery will be pitch perfect and the plausibility spot on.
Nathan Barley may not scale the comedic highs of Morris's more on-the-nose satires like The Day Today and Brass Eye, but it is, nonetheless, very funny, not just in the way the jokes are constructed, but in the believability and plausibility of the characterisations and the recreation of that kind of self-conscious, self-styled universe. Morris (and Brooker) should be commended for taking a risk with this serious, creating something that almost passes for a normal sitcom, but with that much loved/much needed Morris contempt always lurking, just beneath the surface.
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