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Radio / The Masterson Inheritance

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"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the first in a series of The Masterson Inheritance — an improvised historical saga of a family at war with itself. Over the next half-hour you will hear a team of performers attempt to spontaneously dramatise the first chapter from the chronicles of the Masterson family, based entirely on the suggestions of our studio audience. No script, no rehearsals, just an audience and a couple of microphones."

The Masterson Inheritance was a BBC radio show which mixed improvisational comedy in the style of Whose Line Is It Anyway? with a parody of Generational Sagas. Each half-hour episode would see the cast (Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, Phelim McDermott, Caroline Quentin, Lee Simpson and Jim Sweeney, several of whom were already regular or semi-regular players on the UK version of Whose Line) be given a particular historical setting and, incorporating suggestions from the audience, improvise a new chapter in the saga of the irrepressible Masterson clan. One of them, usually Lee Simpson, would act as Narrator and keep the plot running, while the rest would play the various characters that appeared, always ending up with multiple roles.

The show lasted for three seasons, from 1993-1995, with two Christmas specials and one unaired episode (which is available, unedited, from Jim Sweeney's website).

This show provides examples of:

  • All Women Are Lustful: Most of the female characters seem to be, as both Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin keep making sex jokes. Josie Lawrence would occasionally try to play an innocent and virginal character, but somehow, since nobody seemed able to take her seriously as innocent and virginal, said character would always turn out to in reality be a Lovable Sex Maniac who Really Gets Around.
  • Anachronism Stew: The stories take place in historical times, but this doesn't stop the players or characters to make tons of modern-day references. This is often Lampshaded by the narrator.
  • Anyone Can Die: For comic effect or just because a cast member is tired of playing that character.
  • Black Comedy: Most episodes had some traces of this, with horrible things happening to the various characters and the entire thing Played for Laughs.
  • British Brevity: There are three seasons, but only twenty episodes altogether (twenty-one if you count the Missing Episode).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Any character played by Paul Merton will be both this and a Deadpan Snarker.
  • Cross-Dressing Voices: Mostly averted; the male performers play male roles while Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin play the female roles — but on a few rare occasions there is a call for one of them to play a character of the opposite gender.
    • Invoked, Lampshaded and parodied in the episode The Sweat of the Mastersons, where Phelim McDermott in one early scene is more or less forced into the role of Josie Lawrence's mother. This eventually leads into one of the two major plots of the episode, in which another (male) character played by Phelim gets a job as a "female impersonator."
  • Deadpan Snarker: The entire cast, but Paul Merton and Lee Simpson especially.
  • Description Cut: Happens all the time, when the actors decide to subvert and make fun of the narration.
  • Double Entendre: Oh, so many. Josie Lawrence seems especially fond of them, but all the cast members will gleefully use innuendoes at the most inappropriate times.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to several characters in some episodes. In the second-season episode, Last Word to the Mastersons two women jump off a tall cliff in short succession and over unrelated issues, causing the survivors to muse that they really should get around to putting up a fence there.
  • The Gadfly: While the entire cast operated on Rule of Funny, Paul Merton would steadfastly refuse to take anything seriously and would often go off on random notes, refuse to go along with a particular idea or plotline, or deliver a Take That! at one or more of the other performers, just to mess with them.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The unaired episode, The Marooned Mastersons. Which is probably why it was unaired — the cast members realized that it would never be broadcast and so included a lot more risqué jokes, including a father/son incestous pairing, lots of stripping, and a character with a penis so big that the shipwrecked Mastersons plan on using it as a raft.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the episode titles, suggested by the audience, have the name "Masterson" in them, because Lee Simpson took care to request this — but on two occasions he forgot, leading to two episodes in which the name "Masterson" does not appear in the title, Scurvy! in the first season and The Quest For The Other Rabbit's Foot in the second season.
  • Idiot Ball: Any character might at any time lose all intelligence and do increasingly stupid things, if the performer deems that funnier.
  • Lemony Narrator: The Narrator, most often Lee Simpson (though Jim Sweeney and Josie Lawrence had their turns as well) tended to be somewhat over-the-top, adding some extra snark to the scenes.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Both Josie Lawrence and Caroline Quentin had a tendency to end up playing characters like these, though they would subvert the trope from time to time as well.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Happens constantly; since all the performers play multiple characters, several characters are introduced speaking a distinct accent — which on many occasions will vanish or change drastically between scenes or even within the same scene because the performer forgot which accent to use or just couldn't keep it up. This is, of course, frequently Lampshaded and sometimes slips over in What the Hell Is That Accent?.
  • Rule of Funny: Drives pretty much everything that happens.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In the episode The Jousting Mastersons, the Baron's illegitimate son Adam makes a spectacular one before the titular jousting:
    Adam: Heya, Dad. Just came to see you, Dad, wish you good luck. Good luck tomorrow.
    Baron: Good luck?
    Adam: Aye, good luck, want you to win, like, you know. Thought I might take care of your jousting... lance. As they call it. You know, overnight, and maybe polish it.
    Baron: Do you mean that?
    Adam: Aye. I'd like to polish your lance with this saw. — with this cloth! There won't be a saw in the room when I'm doing your lance! I'm not gonna saw through it or anything like that! Cause that would be a stupid thing, cause then it would break and you'd die and I'd take over the castle, like, you know, so I'll just use a cloth, no saw. There won't be a saw with your lance in the room with me.
    Baron: All right then. That's the first time you've shown me any affection since you was born!
  • Take That!: The cast would frequently deliver these to one another, though it was all good-natured.
  • Title Drop: In most the episodes, the title provided by the audience will be mentioned, in part or in full, by either narrator or characters.
    • Even more regularly, each episode would end with the narrator making a small, dramatic or semi-philosophical speech about the ending, always finishing with a line about how such things were all a part of "the Masterson inheritance."