"Not The 9 O'clock News" took the baton from "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in the world of British comedy in the early 1980s. Like "Python," the show features fast paced sketch comedy intermixed with real footage and musical numbers, and blends them into an amalgam that is sometimes very original, yet occasionally noticeably derivative of earlier work (notably of "Python" and Peter Cook.) Of the four principals involved here, Rowan Atkinson, of course, became the standout, and in fact already was even at this early stage. Atkinson excels at quirky roles, and is a wonderfully visual performer. His portrayal of the performance artist mime "Alternative Car Park" is the funniest single sketch of the series by far.
I find the quality of the segments to vary dramatically. I recall watching this many years ago and thinking it was hilarious: while I still think most of it is funny, it has not aged as well as "Python," largely because so much of the humor revolves around then-current governmental affairs in England. I generally found most of the musical numbers to be repetitive, with the only true standout being the song "Nice Video, Shame About The Song" by "Lufthansa Terminal," in a hilarious satire of early 1980s art-videos. The trucking sketch, while not especially creative musically, opened up Pandora's box of complaints with the squished hedgehog gag (giving rise to the hilarious "Hedgehogs: An Apology," and "We Want to Know Who Stuffs Hedgehogs.")
Students of Atkinson can find traces of the future Mr. Bean in some of the sketches, particularly where he orders a bathroom from an architect with a rather excessive number of toilets. Stock footage is liberally used (generally with added sound effects) in what is an equivalent linking device as Terry Gilliam's animation in "Python." I found some of it amusing, but not nearly as funny as it seemed twenty-five years ago. Once again, the reason seems to be watching multiple episodes in proximity to one another on the DVD set (versus weekly on television) where repetition becomes more obvious, and also because much of the humor was very specific to people and events that were topical twenty-five years ago. This time I found the show to be much more biased to the left, although one sketch did mock the Social Democratic Party (SDP.) I also found some of the religious pieces to be in poor taste.
Having detailed all the pros and cons, I still recommend this two DVD set to Anglophiles and lovers of anarchist humor. While I definitely think that "Python's" place at the head of the comedy table is assured, this is still a worthwhile venture, and while many of the gags will pass you by if you aren't familiar with the government and economy of Great Britain in the 1980s, the majority of this material is still funny after all these years.