The idiots are self-regarding consumer slaves; oblivious to the paradox of their uniform individuality. They sculpt their hair to casual perfection. They wear their waistbands below their balls. They babble into handheld twit machines about that cool e-mail of the woman being bummed by a wolf. Their cool friend made it. He's an idiot too.
Welcome to the Age of Stupidity.
Hail the Rise of the Idiots.
— Dan Ashcroft, Sugar Ape Magazine
Nathan Barley is, in the words of his creator Charlie Brooker, "an upper-middle-class London media pissant who sorely deserves an icepick in the cheek." His first appearance was on the TV Go Home spoof website, in channel slot descriptions of a fictional series named Cunt - which was then adapted for a real Channel 4 series. And renamed, for obvious reasons.The series' six episodes (and one pilot) are set in Hosegate, a fictional area of East London (though remarkably similar to Shoreditch or Hoxton, as anyone who has experienced the arts scenes there would testify). The focus is on the hyperactive clown Barley in his adventures cataloguing and pioneering the gritty, fashion-obsessed hipster zeitgeist of the time, all while shamelessly promoting his awful website Trashbat.co.ck and his sub-amateur film studio Trash Industries. At the same time we also follow the fledgling career of Dan Ashcroft, a bitter and depressed journalist who despises Barley with a passion, but can't seem to shake his stench. Dan is ashamed of his current occupation as resident guru for Sugar Ape, a tacky fashion magazine which charts the works of various "artists" famous only due to shock value and poor tastes, and is desperately seeking a way out of the madness.Despite the laughs, and its format as a traditional sitcom, it's a rather scathingly-targeted satire of a particular cross-section of media-savvy hipsters. The show was a commercial flop in 2005, and so poorly received upon first airing that Channel 4 changed the timeslot and aired the final two episodes back to back, seemingly in an attempt to get rid of it. As is so often the case however, it has gained a steady cult following since its release on DVD; especially in recent years, as the 'Idiot' subculture it lampoons continues to grow bigger.
Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The night before his interview for a loan, Dan Ashcroft turns up piss-drunk at Trash Industries, where he passes out on a freshly-painted canvas. Needless to say, the interview the next morning doesn't go as planned.
Ambiguously Gay: Dan wanks off a burly, middle-aged builder in a men's toilets at a pub. Doesn't seem ambiguous...
The eccentric, overbearing Doug Rocket also comes across as a bit limp-wristed, although his sexual orientation is never disclosed.
Accidental Pervert: Nathan and Pingu are both happy to stand there staring as Claire changes her shirt in front of them, but Nathan naturally turns on Pingu and claims he was perving on her to try and score brownie points.
Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: Not really acronym-wise, but Jonatton Yeah? regularly likes to use the abbreviation "etcetera", as well as phonetic abbreviations like "bleurgh" and "meow" to express himself.
Jonatton Yeah?: Actually, I think we should make this the cover feature. It's pretty, you know...meooow...
Author Avatar: Dan Ashcroft for Charlie Brooker. Similar dishevelled appearance, misanthropy and occupation.
Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Over-excited Nathan has the attention span of a pencil. He is often seen in high street stores and cafes, flamboyantly ordering lots of rubbish, then pissing off halfway through when he sees someone whose popularity he can leech off of. He also makes a habit of leaving Claire in the lurch after forcing her to come out with him.
Awful British Sex Comedy: Toby is caught watching a DVD of Daylight Roddery, a low budget amateur porn video starring a rapist (who looks suspiciously like Dr. Guy Secretan) wearing goggle eye glasses.
Black Comedy: When a show features the line "I'm Nathan Barley and I like throwing people out of windows" which is then spoken by a character who is being meat-puppeted by another character, there is no other definition.
Brief Accent Imitation: Nathan does this to the beardy twat in Regime before him and Claire are ejected from the premises.
Dan also does this to Claire, insinuating that she's in love with Nathan, but is quickly silenced by a reminder that he owes her money.
Butt Monkey: Nervous, socially awkward Pingu, who is the butt of all of Nathan's jokes and pranks while doing all the actual, behind-the-scenes work of updating Trashbat.co.ck. Nathan treats him so poorly that it almost comes across as psychological domestic violence.
Casanova Wannabe: Nathan's friend Toby constantly has girls and sex on his mind almost 24/7. He makes several attempts to seduce Claire but they come across mildly retarded at best. The only time he ever gets any is in the pilot episode when he chats up Dajve Bikinus, his cousin.
Toby: Hi Claire. Did you do me in my sleep last night?
Nathan also fits this, albeit he is a little less conscious about it than Toby. Nathan is superb at dancing, flirting and talking the talk, but his facade immediately crumbles in front of Dajve as soon as she starts hinting towards sex.
Coincidental Broadcast: When Nathan smashes Claire's camera to stop her interviewing the 13 year old slut he just got a blowjob from, the TV switches over to an interview with Jonatton Yeah?, who just happens to be revealing that the girl (and all others featured in Sugar Ape) are actually 6 years older than their stated age. For shits and giggles of course.
Corrupt the Cutie: Claire initially has wide-eyed ambitions about directing documentaries showcasing London's underclass and sociology. When this doesn't entirely pan out, she is forced to accept interviewing Large Ham Doug Rocket every single day, as well as assisting Nathan with producing semi-pornographic wank fodder.
Cloudcuckoolander: Ned Smanks is easily the most spaced out character in the show. He believes that hens are "well dense" (as in lacking intelligence). He likes the game Cock Muff Bumhole, not because "it's good because it's rude", but because "it's good because it looks like it's good because it's rude!"
Jonatton Yeah?: Daniel. Rise of the Idiots.
Ned Smanks: Oh yeah. I rate that easily the best thing I ever read.
Dan Ashcroft: ...What's the second best thing you've ever read?
Ned Smanks: Like, books and shit?
Cluster F-Bomb: Claire Ashcroft is pretty much the only character who uses the F word aggressively, and she uses it frequently and with a certain level of agitation and frustration in every episode.
Claire Ashcroft: This place is a fucking twatstorm!
Cringe Comedy: Dan's failed job interview with The Weekend on Sunday is nail-bitingly awful to watch. Even his former college friend-turned-editor Max Herbert gives up on him when asked to list his top five supermarket wines.
Dan Ashcroft: French...Italian...Spanish...Dutch...and er, French, erm, Southern French...err...
Geoff Moss: French and Southern French...?
Nathan's rapping while in bed with Claire is so godawful that it turns her off completely in 20 seconds flat.
The Ditz: Toby comes across as a bit devoid of basic social graces and self-awareness.
Dresses the Same: When Nathan bumps into a hungover, paint-splattered Dan, he immediately rushes over to Stanley Knives to get the same paint-splattered haircut, convinced that it'll take local fashion by storm.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: This trope summarizes the whole premise of the show, in the very first episode. Dan Ashcroft's scathing Sugar Ape cover feature, "The Rise of the Idiots", an attack on the hipster subcultures he deals with every day, is taken completely out of context by the magazine's entire readership and manages to go viral. Even rival magazine editors and television directors end up hailing it as an important, defining cultural milestone, despite Dan's original negative and lifeless intentions, contributing further to his depression and alienation.
Nathan Barley: That piece on the Rise of the Idiots, awesome.
Double Take: Some loitering gangsters in the street do several of these when Dan walks past them covered in paint.
They do a few more later when Dan walks past them covered in paint with half his hair missing.
Double Think: Mandy tells Nathan that her uncle sexually abused her when she was eight. The damage to her psyche is worsened by the fact she doesn't even have an uncle.
Downer Ending: Dan has a bad ending in hospital; the last, drugged-up visions he sees are of Claire agreeing to be co-director on Nathan's new TV show.
Dude Magnet: Nathan, Toby and Pingu all seem to share a certain attraction towards Claire Ashcroft, but not one of the them succeeds in getting anywhere with her.
Easter Egg: The DVD release features a hidden subtitle track on episode 4, which insults the viewer for being the sort of person who fiddles with the subtitle button on their remote control.
Embarrassing Nickname: Although it lends him a sizeable amount of local prestige and respect, Dan absolutely despises being called 'The Preacherman.'
Even Evil Has Standards: Lampshaded by Jonatton Yeah? when he writes a cover feature on 15Peter20, only to credit it to Dan Ashcroft, earning Dan even more unwanted praise for his "awesome fuckin' opinions".
Everyone Meets Everyone: The first episode shows that while Dan and Claire know each other and live together, and Nathan reads Sugar Ape he doesn't meet Dan and the rest of the staff until they randomly bump into each other in a newsagents, and later in a cafè.
Evil Debt Collector: One barges into Claire's flat in episode 2 and takes her camera, after presenting a bill for thousands of pounds for an unreturned video rental by Dan over seven years ago.
Expy: Not so much a character as a style; the final sequence in the last episode is a clear stylistic lift from another Chris Morris show, Jam.
Failure Is the Only Option: Dan pathetically fails at pretty much everything throughout the show and comes across as the ultimate loser. From pranking Nathan, to getting a bank loan, trying to write a cover article, not losing his house keys, the list goes on. In fact, he can't even get a simple haircut without killing the barber's cat and abruptly leaving with half a head of hair.
On the other hand, Nathan succeeds at almost everything despite Dan's opinion of him as a bottom-feeding twazzock. Sugar Ape are even toying with the idea of giving Nathan his own column in their magazine by the time the last episode rolls around.
"A man with a handgun robbed the Red Dolphin Kebab Bar. We are 90% certain he was an anti terrorist police officer because they've gone all mental you should see them just trying to tie their shoelaces without shooting the fuck out of everything but just in case it wasn't please call the number below but if it was we are sorry. What are you reading this for your obsessional deviant DVD bandit sodsplit."
Hipsters: Nathan and everyone he's proud to be associated with.
Dan looks around at the Trashbat Party in episode 2 in utter dismay, to see the Idiots dressed up as scuba divers, beekeepers, Greek barbarians, the list goes on. And it's not even a fancy-dress party. This is before Dan himself is forcibly dressed up as the Preacherman by the baying crowd.
Humiliation Conga: In the pilot episode, Nathan epically fails much, much harder than he ever does in the main series, where much of the fail and humiliation is passed off to Dan instead.
The conga starts when Nathan giddily promises his crush Dajve Bikinus the leading part in his new film, despite previously promising it to Mandy.
He then foolishly copies a "haircut" from Dan, wrongly believing it to be fashionable when it's anything but. He squirms uncomfortably when Dan rocks up with a proper haircut.
After bumping into Dajve in the high street, he is so ashamed that he hides the haircut under a handbag of all things, which he is forced to scan the barcode for using his head. He then deserts her and runs off like a sissy after noticing Dan across the street.
Once the geek pie is cut off, he attempts to let Mandy down gently about the casting change but chickens out, leading to the most awkward blowjob ever.
Dajve and Mandy finally bump into each other in a nightclub with Nathan, where the truth comes out about Dajve getting the part. Mandy takes the opportunity to remind Nathan in front of all his friends about the blowjob and demands payment for her "services".
Nathan actually pays her 50 pounds. Toby immediately moves in on Dajve, and the rest of the social group swiftly desert Nathan in the club. Ouch.
Hypocrite: Dan and Claire; Dan for scorning the hipsters he was surrounded with while simultaneously being equally pretentious and superficial, and Claire for her efforts to be regarded as a socially conscious, politically aware filmmaker when her key interest was in fact furthering her own media career. Not to mention her criticisms of the model starring in Barley's Bad Uncle video:
Claire Ashcroft: Her only problem is that she had the whole of Selfridge's by the time she was five.
Nathan Barley: And you're really against people just being given stuff, yeah?
Claire Ashcroft: Yes, I am actually!
Nathan Barley: What, like free cameras and edit gear?
Claire Ashcroft: That is totally different!
Nathan Barley: Is it...?
Idle Rich: Barley himself, who often hands out his credit card willy nilly for some stupid purchase.
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Slightly averted, as Nathan doesn't even fire the gun, but his prank in episode 6 is enough to make a terrified Pingu dive head-first out of a second-floor window. Nathan is left stunned and speechless.
Incest Subtext: Toby is well keen to rub hottie Dajve Bikinus as he believes he's got some promising signals from her. He also genuinely believes that these signals are nothing to do with the fact they are cousins.
Toby: I've had some very definite signals, I'm meeting her for lunch.
Nathan Barley: That's 'cause she's your fucking cousin, you bottle!
Toby: Er, rubbish mate, it's 'cause I'm on for a mouthful of tits!
Karma Houdini: Nathan Barley himself defines this trope. Despite his repugnant behaviour and some really awful cock-ups (like the Geek Pie haircut), he comes out on top every single fucking time. Unlike Dan Ashcroft.
Even after his most crippling, most devastating humiliation at the hands of Mandy (see Humiliation Conga above), he still manages to score with an attractive, hopeful young actress only seconds later.
And same again in episode 4; minutes after being universally mocked and laughed out of the theatre for the Geek Pie by a crowd of Idiots, Nathan bumps into two Japanese hipster journalists who proceed to splash him all over their TV channel in Japan as "Mr. Super-Cool".
Episode 5 sees Claire attempting to embarrass and humiliate Nathan in front of all his friends, by telling them he got a blowjob from a 13 year old girl, but doesn't expect them to hi-five Nathan at how awesome it is.
Kick the Dog: The entire last episode consists of Dan exacting the revenge he's always dreamed about on Nathan. Over the course of the episode he succeeds in bulldozing Nathan's ego and reducing him to a teary-eyed nervous wreck.
Large Ham: Flamboyant media bigwig Doug Rocket is missing a few screws, and is aptly described by Claire as "a candle".
Robin: If I can just show you the figures for last week, erm, we lost, we lost, about four hundred grand last week.
Doug Rocket: Wow.
Robin: Yes, and it's going to get worse next week.
Doug Rocket: ...Have you ever taken acid? Because maybe you should.
Misaimed Fandom: In-Universe: Dan's bitter, loathsome writings against today's fashion earns him hero worship and cult celebrity status amongst almost everyone in East London, making him despise himself even more than he already does.
Moment Killer: Nathan's attempted pick-up of Mandy crashes into a deafeningly awkward silence when she suddenly reveals she was fucked by her uncle at the age of eight.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Doug Rocket of the Veryphonics as a fictional stand-in for Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, although a few celebrities were actually harmed, including Vernon Kay.
No Respect Guy: "Preacherman" Ashcroft. He always manages to fall at the last hurdle.
Only One Name: Pingu, whose real name we never find out. Maybe he doesn't even have one.
Also nutty disc jockey Jones.
Only Sane Man: How Dan "I Am Not The Preacher Man" Ashcroft seemed to regard himself.
The Ophelia: Mandy is an 18 year old model and cocaine addict, who believes her uncle sexually abused her when she was eight, despite being fully aware that she's never actually had an uncle. This apparently makes the psychological trauma even worse. She goes on to sing and perform in Nathan's hilariously awful "Bad Uncle" video. She generally appears to be a bit unstable, especially when she gives Nathan a blowjob without him really asking.
Funnily enough, the actor who portrays her is named Ophelia Lovibond.
Phrase Catcher: If the male Ashcroft is in the room and near any kind of idiots, expect him to be called Preacherman or some variation thereof. He even has an entire nightclub full of idiots chanting it at one stage.
Intercom: Who's thaaaaaat!?
Dan Ashcroft: Hawkwind?
Porn Names: Nathan markets Trash Industries' latest film on prostitution as a seedy lads' porn flick with the slogan "A-dickory-lickory-doc", and not the serious documentary that Claire intended it to be. Naturally, she is not very happy about this, despite the film's success and recognition by Doug Rocket as a result.
Claire Ashcroft: 'A-dickory-lickory-doc'? What sort of gimp writes something like that!?
Nathan Barley: Well...
Precision F-Strike: When Ned and Rufus fail to take Dan seriously over his job interview, he stuns them with a quick, out-of-character "Fuck off!".
No matter what Dan says to the intercom at Sugar Ape, whether it's false names or just plain manic depressive groaning, they always manage to guess it's him.
Claire constantly being kept awake by Jones' ultra-loud late night mixing sessions, in contrast to Dan who is always shown sleeping through the cacophony like a baby.
Every single person who watches Claire's "Junkie Choir" film bursts out laughing at it. Claire is offended every single time. It's meant to be serious, damnit!
Dan constantly promising Claire that he'll either "get the money" or "buy you a new one" after her camera is repossessed by debt collectors in episode 2. He never makes good on a single one of his promises.
Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Compare Sugar Ape's drug den-like "offices" to those of The Weekend on Sunday. Dan learns the hard way that he will never, ever make it to the Shiny side.
Small Name, Big Ego: At the Sugar Ape offices Dan thinks everyone he knows is an idiot, obsessed with childish pursuits such as comics, toys and fashion. Convinced that he deserves to write for a more mature and sophisticated audience, he goes to The Weekend On Sunday magazine for a job interview. He's confident that he can get the job and move on, but when he is asked about wine, cars and restaurants he is forced to admit that he knows absolutely nothing about any of these more grown-up interests.
Smug Snake: Sugar Ape's chief editor Jonatton Yeah?, who is clever, Affably Evil and mildly sociopathic. He likes to poke fun at Dan Ashcroft while simultaneously milking his unwanted popularity as much as he can for the good of the magazine. He seems to share Dan's views on the plebs and morons that surround him, but is a lot smarter and more socially savvy in the way he deals with them.
Those Two Guys: Dan's fellow colleagues at Sugar Ape, Rufus Onslatt and Ned Smanks - two spaced out gearheads whose minds are almost permanently in an alternate universe. They play their "ideas" off of each other constantly and are rarely seen apart. Also Heterosexual Life-Partners.
Thousand-Yard Stare: Dan is left somewhat catatonic after returning from his straight-on-straight experience in the men's toilets.
Too Dumb to Live: Seemingly most of the cast, but special mention must go to the Sugar Ape staff members who ride mobility scooters (top speed: 10mph) along a crowded main street, merrily oblivious to the explosive amounts of road rage they are causing behind them.
True Art Is Angsty: Dan is unable to write anything other than scathing critiques and attacks on others.
True Art Is Incomprehensible: Sent up in-universe several times, such as with popular groundbreaking artist 15Peter20, whose entire body of work consists of photos of celebrities urinating.
Truth in Television: If you live in England you will likely know someone like Nathan and the people he hangs out with.
Two Guys and a Girl: Dude Magnet Claire at Trash Industries, and the innocuous perving she is subject to by Nathan and Pingu. Same again at Nathan's flat, only substitute Pingu for Toby.
Undying Loyalty: Nathan hero-worships Dan, never really noticing just how much Dan hates his guts. Even after Dan trolls him hardcore in the final episode, he still comes to see him in hospital and offers him a spot on his TV show.
Unusual Euphemism: The series is absolutely peppered with them, almost all originating from Barley himself, although fellow idiots Ned Smanks and Rufus Onslatt also come up with a few.
Nathan Barley: Kicked her brown door in...painted it white on the way out...
Upper-Class Twit: Nathan has access to a lot of his parents' money and very little common sense or intelligence.
V Sign: Dan is quite happy to give a pair of V Signs to his belligerent co-workers after he lands a job interview with The Weekend on Sunday.
Rufus Onslatt: Double-handed muff, no way man!
Ned Smanks: Yeah, that's not allowed!
Women Are Wiser: Claire and Sasha are the only two recurring female characters in the show, and also the only two regular characters who aren't idiots and don't care to be part of the hipster culture. They're also both very well-grounded and relatively sane.
The Wonka: Eccentric is far too light an adjective to describe Doug, with his makeup, colourful suits, gross misappropriation of Place. funds, "ape hours" and his nostalgic anecdote about John Lennon's head bursting through his floorboards. Nevertheless, his accountant Robin makes sure to please him and do whatever he dictates as director of Place.