on 21 July 2008
I wanted to write a quick review, not just to say how much I personally love Nathan Barley, but to make a note on what I read in so many other reviews of this show. Many of the lower ratings for Barley state how much different Nathan Barley is from the rest of Chris Morris's work. And that's true, but mainly because it's not trying to be. Barley isn't exactly the socio-political satire of Brass Eye or The Day Today, it's attacking a social trend that I happen to believe is still very much alive: pretentious idiots who deem what they create as genius, and worthy of greater regard.
Personally, I think the show is more similar to the work of the other writer of the show, Charlie Brooker. Fans of his show Screenwipe or his Guardian column Screen Burn should get a similar sense of misanthropy from the character of Dan Ashcroft, the disenchanted journalist surrounded by idiots.
I'd also like to note that the show itself is pretty exceptional. The characters, while almost completely non-likable, are all well played. Julian Barratt is particularly excellent, especially for fans of The Mighty Boosh who see him exclusively as Howard Moon, and Nicholas Burns is also fantastic as the titular character. The stories can be simple, but this is definitely a character driven comedy, and the jokes come thick and fast, with the heavy majority hitting home.
Put simply, don't expect Nathan Barley to be the return of Brass Eye, repackaged as a modern day sitcom, because you're more than likely going to be disappointed. The show is as much the work of Brooker as it is of Morris, and manages to create a world full of wonderful, if horrific characters, which makes this, in my opinion, a brilliant comedy series. If you're a fan of casual misanthropy, I'd advise you to buy this, but there may not be quite enough stupid jokes for fans of My Family or Two Pints.
on 26 January 2006
Chris Morris advances on the agitprop satire of Brass Eye, and the ambient weirdness of Jam, with the wonderfully caustic and gleefully vicious Nathan Barley. As others have noted, 'Barley' is probably Morris's most-subtle creation yet... a seemingly conventional sitcom about life in the world of the media, with cutting edge magazine publishers, idolised DJ's, crusading digital filmmakers and techno-wiz-kids all standing in as the centre of attention, complete with their own annoying txt-speak characteristics, daft costumes, anti-establishment opinions and ever-so-trendy idiosyncrasies. However, the joke here is not what is written into the scripts (though, more often than not, this is incredible funny!!), but rather, the notion that these kind of characters - which do exist in real life - will no doubt buy into the whole joke, watching each episode eagerly before going into the office the next day to confront their friends with the usual, "hey, did you see that bit on Barley last night... wow, that's so like me!!!", etc, etc.
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.
Nathan Barley is Chris Morris's (and co) hilarious sitcom that revolves around the life of self-obsessed new-media idiots and in particular, the titular character, a shallow, narcissistic individual who has no talent except for self-promotion but believes he is at the cutting edge of 'something'.
The soul of the programme is Dan Ashcroft, a features writer for vacuous style magazine Sugar Ape. Dan thinks his colleagues are all idiots but they think he is deeply insightful; this is the essence of Dan's own personal hell: every attempt he makes to escape only further impresses the colleagues which he despises, plunging him deeper into his inescapable nightmare.
If all of this sounds rather serious, it isn't - it's hilarious. While Dan is the heart of the show, Nathan Barley provides most of the plentiful laughs. Nathan's pitiful attempts to be too-cool-for-school and his blinding lack of self-awareness are the stuff of comedy gold. The incidental characters are all superbly well played, too; a special shout-out for the always outstanding Kevin Eldon, who has a fantastic turn as a none more wierd depressed barber.
Some critics have dismissed this show as having missed the boat: "It's so 1999!" However, it is just that kind of 'I'm with it, you're not!' attitude that the sitcom is parodying. Others criticised the show by claiming that if you didn't live or work in new-media in London, then you wouldn't understand the show. This is simply not true, anymore than saying that you have to be in the mafia to appreciate The Sopranos, or work in government to understand The West Wing.
If The Office represents the gold standard for U.K. sitcoms, then Nathan Barley can certainly stand alongside on the same podium. Whereas The Office is going for an inobtrusive, observational approach to comedy, Nathan Barley is going for a heightened, stylised feel, which is appropriate to the material. In short, this is a great, fresh show that, whilst it is not cut from the same cloth as Chris Morris's superb previous efforts, The Day Today or Brass Eye, still retains a distinctive style quite apart from anything else on the fool's lantern.
on 3 August 2010
Although it's called Nathan Barley, it's really about siblings Dan and Claire Ashcroft who are two sane people in a world seemingly full of idiots. Outside of the comedy, the satire, the cynicism, the interesting thing is people spotting because, along the way you'll spot actors from The Mighty Boosh, The Fast Show, Ashes To Ashes, The IT Crowd, Alan Partridge and whoever else you care to mention.
Fun for all the family, well, unless you're under 18 and don't like the "c" word.
on 15 August 2005
Chris Morris returns with "Nathan Barley", a sitcom (of sorts) based on Charlie Booker's controversial satirical website, TV Go Home. Though not actually appearing himself, the show screams of its creator through the soundtrack (dark, brooding ambient electro from the likes of Broadcast), the dialogue, the set-pieces and the personalities of the three main characters. Dan Ashcroft is essentially a representation of Mr. Morris, the controversial figure elevated to Godlike status by "idiots" who completely fail to grasp the point he's trying to make.
The show deals with the pretentious media culture of London. Though not everyone will be able to relate to this theme, there's enough language abuse and hilarious set pieces to keep everyone entertained, be it the accidental murder of a cat (Kevin Eldon's barber's brilliant!), a haircut so ludicrous it sparks a fashion movement in Japan ("The Geek Pie") and a fantastic parody of "Selfish C*nt" ("Terrorists are gay"). And that's just the one episode...
One can't help but sympathise with the plights of the characters also, giving the show a sense of heart and emotion that was missing in past Chris Morris offerings. The show somehow manages to be more accessible than Jam, more down-to-earth than Brasseye and The Day Today whilst retaining all the relevant social satire and hilarity. Well reccommended.
on 28 October 2005
As you might gather from the other reviews, people either loved or hated this surreal satire on media people. Personally, I loved it. Nathan Barley makes for a brilliantly loathable caricature of fashion and gadget obsessed twentysomething men with too much money and too little taste.
It's a shame this series wasn't as much of a success as it might have been. Sadly, a lot of people just found it a little *too* surreal and off-the-wall. Also, quite possibly a few people found themselves a bit uncomfortably close to Nathan Barley-world themselves. However, for those of us who did get the joke, this is one of the funniest things that Channel 4 has come up with in a long time.
Well done to Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker for this innovative and unorthodox show.
on 29 September 2005
Nathan Barley is without a doubt the finest and most insightful comedy series I have seen for years.
I nearly didn't bother watching it when it was on TV as it was slated in the press, I really don't understand why though.
I must have seen the series about 4 or 5 times now and I'm still discovering little gems I hadn't noticed before.
For example, when Nathan Barley gets a haircut he's not sitting in front of a mirror, it's a plasma screen with him on it.
I'm sure it won't be long before trendy hairdressers ditch their mirrors for plasma screens in the real world.
Also you must see the scene with the cat.
I don't want to spoil it but I think it is one of the finest comedy scenes ever created, and perfectly executed also.
I urge you to buy this DVD, you won't be disappointed.
on 12 April 2006
I find it impossible that anyone could give this one star. I can certainly see how it's an acquired taste, particularly for anyone not familiar with the milieu Morris and Brooker satirise, but the series is made with such flair and precision it hits the nail on the head perfectly.
As for some of the criticisms from other reviewers, to suggest the directorial style bears even a passing resemblance to The Office simply beggars belief - the style of the two could barely be more different. The fact it's a satire of a world that may not on the face of things be interesting to a wide circle of people doesn't mean it's any more likely to fail to impress than many other popular comedies I can think of...does a sitcom about a paper company sound appealing on paper (if you'll excuse the pun)? Or a working men's club? Or a failed radio presenter? It's the execution that's far more important than the initial concept.
Nathan Barley's a triumph that ranks up there with Chris Morris's best work, and indeed with the best comedy series of the last 5 years at least. The DVD deserves pride of place in any discerning viewer's collection.
on 6 July 2013
Charlie Brooker is good; combine Brooker with Chris Morris and you have something special. Nathan Barley highlights all that is wrong with the shallow, vacuous, hype-ridden nonsense that is so much of popular culture. The satire is targeted with skill and aplom, the targets well chosen and comprehensively attacked. It is, simply, genius.
on 2 April 2013
This program is not only hilarious but also a quite clever take on modern society. With the likes TOWIE and Made In Chelsea the subject matter or the rise of the idiots has never been more apt. Julian Barrat is brilliant in it as is Dan Clark. The skeptical and pessimistic outlook on modern society is typical of Charlie Brooker. Anyone who liked How Not To Live Your Life starring Dan Clark and Black Mirror written by Charlie Brooker will I'm sure appreciate this program. Occasionally the low budget of the show shines through but to me that just adds to its charm. I've always believed that this program was a bit ahead of it's time (a cliche i know) as most people who claim to be sitcom connoisseurs that i have spoken to have never seen this. All in all worth a watch you will not be dissapointed.