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Series: Big Train

Big Train was a surreal and somewhat deranged BBC sketch show, devised by Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan (of Father Ted fame), starring something of a British comedy supergroup: Simon Pegg, Mark Heap, Kevin Eldon, Julia Davis and Amelia Bullmore, amongst others, as well as several prominent comedy writers. It delighted in leftfield takes on standard comedy fare in a similar vein to Monty Python, ridiculous pop-culture parodies as well as some fairly uniquely off-the-wall fantasist humour. It ran for two series in 1998 and 2002.


Tropes:

  • Animal Testing: Inverted in a series of sketches about a man who has second thoughts about his impossible-to-get-out-of situations.
    "You have volunteered to remain in this cell for 10 years with nothing but three books for company, simply so our scientists may ascertain how such treatment may affect an ape of roughly the same size as yourself."
  • Announcer Chatter: Spoofed in the commentary for the World Stareout Championship, a recurring animation from the first series.
  • Ax-Crazy: One of Mark Heap's, who interprets everything as a slight about not being married, and cuts off the end of his own finger with a cigar cutter.
  • Black Comedy: A lot of the sketches are pretty dark.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Kevin Eldon plays a drunken husband at a dinner party who keeps telling embarrassing stories about the other guests, especially his wife; eventually, she stabs him to death with a carving knife and immediately apologises to the other guests, who are a little bit uneasy but very understanding ("We've all done it, haven't we..."). In the meantime, Eldon's corpse is still sitting at the dinner table oozing copious amounts of blood.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Spoofed in a sketch where Chaka Khan is battling with The Bee Gees in The Wild West - It Makes Sense In Context (actually, no it doesn't). Used in combination with not one but two Big "NO!"'s, Chaka pumps Robin Gibb with at least fifty shots from her revolver.
  • The Cast Showoff: Mark Heap's circus training, lots of conversations in Gratuitous French, plus a few musical interludes.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Fucking Lamp
  • Crazy Enough to Work: A sketch involving a man who attempts to distract his boss from the fact that he and his team haven't finished their assignment by dressing up in a bra and panties made out of paper and doing a funny dance. It fails miserably.
  • Precious Puppies: One of the distractions a manager uses on his staff to avoid paying his staff their bonus.
  • Creepy Doll: A man gets turned into a ventriloquist's dummy. He even describes himself as "one of the old-fashioned scary ones".
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: One sketch involved an office where the boss made the unpopular decision of banning public masturbation in the office.
  • Epic Fail: "We'll try again, and this time... try not to go on fire."
  • Funny Animal: Used frequently, by way of a wide array of animal costumes. The most notable example is probably the "Cat & Mouse" fight, which is played entirely straight, except for the costumes.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Used as a plot point in a sketch about a radio DJ who keeps a gang of child slaves in the basement of a radio station to keep him supplied with inane chatter.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Simon Pegg playing a character who gives an incomprehensible mumble of a Rousing Speech before shouting "CHARGE!" and running off towards the enemy alone. He is promptly shot.
  • Le Film Artistique: Parodied in a sketch performed entirely in French with subtitles, where a woman (played by Catherine Tate) announces to her boyfriend that she has fallen in love with "something else" - a set of traffic lights. After he tries and fails several times to win her back, she eventually wants to go back to him, but by now he has begun a new relationship with a lawn sprinkler.
    • There's also film about the war-weary French soldier reminiscing about his teenage love for Une Grande Pomme de Terre (i.e. a large potato), who was stolen away from him by his best friend.
    • Another example has a French woman played by Catherine Tate explain all her woes to her dinner companion at length... at which point, he informs her — in English — that he doesn't speak or understand a word of French. She continues rambling on despite his protests.
  • Limited Animation: Used intentionally in the Stareout sketches, which were mostly composed of a few static frames, with commentators breathlessly extolling what an exciting match it was.
  • No, You Hang Up First: Between a surgeon and his consultant... during the middle of an operation. It doesn't end well for the patient.
  • Obviously Evil: Tim the Evil Hypnotist, who appears to have walked straight out of a 1920's movie. Subverted in that he does exactly what his patient wants, except with an echoing "BWAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! It worked!" at the end of the session.
  • Poor Communication Kills: One of the Cavaliers, prior to a pitched battle.
    "Listen carefully. This is the most important thing I will ever tell you, and I shall not say it again! Mblmblbmblbmblmblbmlbblbl. CHAAAAARGE!" *gunshot*
  • Pantomime Animal: A pet dog the size of (and quite obviously played by) a man. One of the few animals in the series not to talk
  • Production Posse: All of the actors in the first series with the exception of Pegg would go on to work on the even more deranged Jam, which was Big Train with the blackness of the comedy turned Up to Eleven.
  • Rule of Personification Conservation: Generally ignored in favour of Rule of Funny. A surprising amount of sketches would play out as drama if all the characters were human.
  • Serious Business:
    • The World Stareout Championships.
    • Billie Piper's music career for this chap.
  • Shout-Out: At least a dozen per episode; hardly surprising given the subject matter and people like Pegg on the payroll.
  • Single-Issue Wonk: A character who devolves into aggressive paranoia, misreading almost anything as some kind of slight against 'me not being married'.
  • Smug Snake: Pegg's womanising studio executive, who just happens to pick up the Idiot Ball whenever he tries to open a door.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Parodied in one sketch where an editor is finishing up the final cut of a movie. Soundtrack for the funeral scene where a boy and his father are weeping over the grave of their wife/mother? Rocking all Over the World by Status Quo. The live version, not studio.
  • Stunt Double: Also parodied in the same sketch as Soundtrack Dissonance; a white detective gets into a fight with a criminal and the footage immediately cuts to a black stunt double in a blonde wig.
  • Surprisingly Good English: Two Frenchmen regretfully inform a British tourist that they don't speak English. In perfect English. And then do the same in German.
  • Take Our Word for It: A man orders an escort, only for the company to send another man, who calls him naive for thinking he would look like the woman on the advert. The man protests he's not gay, only for the escort to reassure him that he does straight sex as well. Cut to the lights going off...
    "Oh, I see! Now that is clever!"
  • Talking Animal: A theatre-loving dog and a French tortoise, among others.
    • Also inverted, in a strange way. A number of sketches feature people inexplicably behaving like animals, such as a herd of jockeys being stalked by The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: A lot of the sketches revolve around people taking quite unusual things (such as someone's girlfriend turning out to be a mermaid and a man being stalked Terminator-style by the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz) in remarkable stride.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Used in a spoof of RoboCop; in true British levels of competence, a copper wakes up ensconced in three cardboard boxes plus various plastic spoons and milk bottle tops, plus a truncheon wrapped in foil.

Saturday Night LiveSketch ComedyA Bit of Fry and Laurie
The Big KnightsBritish SeriesThe Bill
The Big Comfy CouchSeries of the 1990sBig Wolf on Campus

alternative title(s): Big Train
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