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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a league of their own, 14 Jun 2005
This review is from: The Complete League Of Gentlemen [DVD] [1999] (DVD)
Every few years something comes along which redefines the shape of comedy - the Goons, Hancock, Monty Python, Hitchhiker's Guide, and the League of Gentlemen stand out as the most dynamically original comedy to grace radio and television. Significantly, only Python began as a television show (though its stars had plenty of radio experience). The League's transition to television gave them an added dimension - having learned scriptwriting and characterisation on stage and radio, they could now move into a very visual medium and stamp their personality upon it.
And Royston Vasey became the perfect vehicle for that. A simple little Derbyshire town is transformed into the horror capital of the British Isles. Marrying comedy and horror is far from easy. The League manage to combine the two without ever trivialising the horror element or reducing it to mere parody. Bad horror movies can be funny, but good humour can't simply be based on bad horror.
There is a quality to the writing and characterisation of the League's series which captures your attention and your imagination. The humour is exceptional, but draws its strength from an exaggeration of reality. This is not surreal - the characters are people we can all recognise or imagine ... humanity dragged to extremes. And, when we thought we were acting for the best, we've all, metaphorically, blown up a tortoise or two in our time ... or maybe next week. The horror is in the reminder or in the recognition of what could have been ... or could yet be, of that wholly dysfunctional world which might yet greet us next time we wake.
The DVD package includes the first three series and the Christmas special. These are quality productions in their own right, and any fan would want to treasure them and enjoy them over and over. There seems little point in exploring the comedy. But what of the extras?
Well, these are good in parts. The first series is accompanied by some stills and bits and pieces of information. The second series is supplemented by an amateurish behind the scenes interview and review. Given that the producers had total access to the League, there is great potential to explore, but it dissolves into trivia and clumsy editing. Nevertheless, it does offer some insights into the League's horror roots.
The series 3 "Making of" extra is much better, following a year in the making of the series. I'd never attempt to write comedy, it is by far the hardest medium - but as a writer I am fascinated by the way others work. There are interesting snippets here; the four appear quite self-critical and unselfconscious. But this extra does cover some interesting ground in analysing the way a series is put together - the costume-fitting scene is particularly entertaining.
There is "All About Yves" - an interview with designer Yves Barre which is fascinating. But the best feature of the series 3 extras is the Video Diary - concentrating on the effort involved in writing. As the saying goes, "writing's easy, you just stare at a piece of blank paper until your eyes bleed". And there is clear evidence here of the strain (and fun) of the writing process, the frustration, the blind alleys, the search for something which works, and the tedious monotony of typing the words once the idea had gelled in your mind.
The Christmas Show comes with some very different extras - the pick of these are the exploration of the influences of horror on the League, a Jackanory spoof of the Victorian ghost story, and an extended radio interview with the League ... and, I must confess, while I found the radio show very entertaining and informative, you do have a certain sense of loss at simply listening to a recording without effective visuals.
The comedy/horror speaks for itself and the talent of the League is exceptional. As a fan, you'd buy this package just for the shows, but the extras - although variable in quality - do offer a valuable 'extra', even if you feel that maybe they could have been more sophisticated and a little more time and trouble invested in them. But it remains excellent value and entertainment to which you will return again and again.
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