And the Fresh Blood juggernaut rolls on! Not that there’s a lot to say about The Record, aside from “it’s good”, which is a bit of a relief after our first two reviews. And it’s not just the brief run time that made it a relief – though at just over 17 minutes, it’s easily the shortest of the Fresh Blood entrants – it’s a comedy that starts out with a funny idea then builds on it, continually finding humour in a series of logical developments. Hurrah!
Well… okay, it doesn’t do that all the time: the premise of The Record is a show about people trying to break records, with two stories running side-by-side (we’re assuming there was a third that was cut, thus the short run time). One, about an elderly couple trying to get the record for the world’s fastest homing pigeon, is a bit of a mess. The central concept isn’t that great, the plot twists don’t really build on that concept, and while the performances are fine it’s hardly memorable stuff.
It’s the other story, about a couple trying to set the record for most naturally conceived children (they currently have 69 boys), that’s comedy gold. The ways how they cope with their huge family (names! washing! bedtime stories!) all gets a laugh; the gradually revealed relationship between the couple (she wants more kids; he’s looking worn out) is just as funny. Even the set design is perfect; the shabby 70s-esque decor and clothing only adds to the seedy, run down vibe.
For once, we’re going to give this the benefit of the doubt: sure, the pigeon stuff is pretty much par for the firmly average course of Fresh Blood pilots, but the big family is a decent idea executed in a way that makes it even funnier. A show that was consistently that funny would be cause for celebration; as it stands, The Record is the first Fresh Blood pilot we can actually recommend.
Fancy Boy opens with Luke McGregor walking into a kitchen to find a man with his pants around his ankles sitting in his sink taking a shit. If you kind of feel like you don’t need to know any more to pass judgement, welcome to the club. Fortunately, the sketch turns out to be more about having a dickhead flatmate who wants to argue their way out of the obvious. It’s not even that someone taking a shit in a sink can’t be funny; it’s when that’s the opening image of your show that the alarm bells start ringing.
To Fancy Boy‘s credit, sketches that start out one way then develop in a more interesting fashion seem to be the goal here: the “Backyard Business” sketch starts out as a firmly average parody of gardening shows, only to become more interesting when the cameras are turned off. Okay, hiring a sex slave online to clean the house largely works thanks to Celia Pacquola’s horrified expressions. And the “albinos vs witch doctors” sketch is pretty predictable (though the bizarrely plausible set-up makes it work). And the Mark David Chapman sketch is a one-joke idea that pretty much runs on rails. Wait, weren’t we saying this was an okay show?
Thing is, when you’re doing a sketch show that’s largely just weaving in and out of extended sketches, you really need to make sure that every time you come back to a sketch you’re either building on what’s come before or taking a new angle on it. For example, with the sex slave sketch, the intro is “oh no, you hired a sex slave to clean our house because he’ll work for free, eww”; the first callback is “oh no, I hired a sex slave to clean our house and now my girlfriend is really getting into punishing him”, then we get “oh no, we’re exploiting him but not in the sexy way he wanted (“I want to be treated like shit, but not like this”)”. Same set-up, (slightly) different jokes.
So while this isn’t always kicking goals, it’s doing a decent job of serving up fresh jokes even when it keeps returning to various set-ups. We’d still rather that some – most – of the sketches were one-offs (having the shit-in-the-sink set-up turn into one of those “exasperated lead is the only person who can see the obvious” sketches so beloved of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting was a big let down, even for a sketch that started out with someone shitting in a sink), but if you have to keep going back to sketches this is the way to do it.
That said, having not one but two montages of all the various storylines while music plays might have worked in Magnolia, but a half hour sketch show is not an overwrought three hour long late-90s arthouse flick even if your DP is “Roderick Th’ng”. Full star off for pretentiousness there.