After a second series of The Day Today failed to materialise and the team went their separate ways, Chris Morris took the faux news format and a handful of characters and put his creative energy into making Brass Eye, a controversial and vicious satire of the Prime Time News format. The series not only deconstructed the way the news media told stories, it also made sharp jabs at topics - such as the British government's failure to improve the lot of the underprivileged, the negative effect that borstals have on young offenders, and the gullibility of celebrities when the promise of some good publicity is waved in their faces.
Dressing up in a number of disguises, Morris created a series of fake charities and good causes (such as "Nonce Sense", an anti-paedophile campaign), then asked celebrities and politicians to endorse them while reading out blatantly nonsensical rubbish ("Genetically, paedophiles have more in common with crabs than they do with you or me.") from an auto-cue.
The test was to see if anyone would sign up to these charities and spout whatever nonsense they were given without checking any of their facts first - and they did. In droves. In fact, it led to one Member of Parliament on the programme asking a question in the House of Commons about "Cake", a "metabolically bisturbile drug" that Morris had completely made up for the programme.
The result was outrage in some corners of the media and strong approval from the rest, who correctly pointed out that the celebs and MPs were given plenty of time to check the veracity of the charities and could have dropped out at any time. Morris also got in a spot of hot water when he inserted a subliminal message in a Brass Eye episode attacking the then current Channel 4 boss Michael Grade over edits he'd mandated in the episode, the words Grade Is A Cunt were displayed onscreen for a single frame◊. The message (and the edits) were removed for later repeats and the DVD release.
The show lasted just one series of six episodes, but returned in 2001 with the Paedophile Special, which caused even more outrage, largely in conservative newspapers that misrepresented the show as being a "comedy about paedophiles" rather than a satire of the media's then-obsession with sensationalised paedophile stories. In one notable case The Daily Star published an article attacking the "paedophile comedy" opposite a photograph of then-15-year-old singer Charlotte Church◊ in which it commended the size of her breasts. It's not a coincidence that the papers the show mocked were the ones that most got their knickers in a twist over it.
However, the series has gone down in British comedy history as a modern classic, and is widely regarded as Morris' best work.
Sample quote from the series: "If you plot 'number of animals abused' against 'what makes people cruel' versus 'intelligence of either party', the pattern is so unreadable that you might as well just draw a chain of fox heads on sticks. And if you do that, an interesting thing happens: the word 'cruel' starts flashing. So - are we cruel to hunt foxes?"
This show provides examples of:
- Absurdity Ascendant: The show makes heavy use of surreal imagery, which makes the celebrities who fall for it look even funnier.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Several of the celebrities conned into making appearances in support of the fake charities were, upon learning the truth, willing to put their hands up and admit both that the joke was on them and that it was a pretty funny one. A more common reaction, however, was self-righteous humourlessness.
- Artistic License Biology:
Dr Fox: Genetically, pedophiles have more in common with crabs than you and me. Now that is a scientific fact - there's no real evidence for it, but it's still scientific fact.
- In the "Pedogeddon" special. Justified by Rule of Funny:
- It goes without saying, but the human brain does not contain a part that controls time perception, never mind one called "Shatner's bassoon".
- Bestiality Is Depraved:Chris Morris: In Britain in the last century, it was quite acceptable for a young man to lose their virginity to one of London's many whoredogs. Dickens and Prince Albert both boasted of their experience.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: The parodies of CGI diagrams in the news (see the sample quote above) were made by the same people who did the real ones. Apparently, they relished the opportunity to make fun of their stock-in-trade.
- Morris also inserted a subliminal message saying "Grade is a Cunt", in honour of Channel 4 executive Michael Grade, who had demanded edits and cuts in the show.
- Black Comedy: On occasion... The original series finale "Decline" (parodying the perceived decline of moral standards) provides some of the best examples, including the fictional stage show Sutcliffe: The Musical (which was cut from the original broadcast) and a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Jarvis Cocker singing a Silly Love Song dedicated to Moors murderer Myra Hindley:
- British Brevity: Only seven episodes.
- Broken Aesop: The series was deliberately packed to the gunwales with these.(After the presenter's confession to the camera about his heroin addiction is revealed to be a fake) "Luckily, the amount of heroin I use is harmless, I inject about once a month on a purely recreational basis. Fine. But what about other people less stable, less educated, less middle-class than me? Builders or blacks for example. If you're one of those, my advice is leave well alone. Good luck."
- Call-Back: Chris mentioning his own heroin use at the end of the "Drugs" episode would be a reference to a Couch Gag from The Day Today, in which one of the episodes ended with Chris preparing to shoot up after all the studio lights dim down.
- The Comically Serious: The show, non-stop. The celebrities in particular, as the majority of them genuinely were being serious.
- Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch: A meta-example: In many of the tabloid articles attacking the infamous Paedogeddon special, the writers of said articles would admit to not actually having seen the special.
- Could This Happen to You?
- Cringe Comedy
- Critical Research Failure: Invoked. As stated above, the celebrities and politicians were given ample time to actually research what they were going to say, but many of them chose not to.
- Department of Redundancy Department:
- 'The driving statue has also brought pennies from heaven. If you look for a doubt here, you won't find one here!'
- 'But for maximum reach; cake needed an actively political kick in the pills, and that's what it got from MP David Amess MP!'
- Eagle Land: Type 2 with knobs on. Gun crime is apparently so rife in the US that priests have to give sermons from behind bulletproof glass and are fully prepared to return fire upon their congregation.
- Epic Fail: A paedophile is exiled from Earth to spend his sentence in orbit. Naturally, the authorities mistakenly place an 8-year-old boy in his prison capsule."This is the one thing we didn't want to happen"
- Fun with Acronyms: Many times, at least Once an Episode.
- The "cake" campaigns were named F.U.K.D. and B.O.M.B.D.
- The Paedophile Special introduced "H.O.E.C.S. [video] games". Cue celebrities warning parents about paedophiles turning the pixels of a dog's eye into a webcam in these "hoax" games.
- "UK used to mean United Kingdom, but ask anyone today and they'll tell you it stands for Unbelievable Krimewave!"
- Genre Shift: The "Sex" episode parodies the Daytime Talk Show, and the "Crime" episode parodies the UK's Crime Reconstruction show Crimewatch UK.
- Good Victims, Bad Victims: At one point, a chat-show host draws a distinction between people with "Good AIDS" (caught from a blood transfusion) and "Bad AIDS" (caught from unprotected sex or drug-taking). He uses this logic to launch a ridiculous attack against a guest who turns out to have "Bad AIDS":Host: What if a madman broke in here with a machine gun and shot you to pieces? Anyone here yawning would get your blood in their mouth!
- Government Drug Enforcement: The Drumlake Experiment, a school where children are sold medical-grade cocaine and heroin, amongst other things.
- Guns in Church: An exposé on on America's fascination with firearms focuses on "priests who pack a piece to keep the peace".
- Hello, Sailor! (the entire Royal Navy bit in the "Sex" episode)
- Morris as a Royal Navy spokesman, responding to the question "What's wrong with being gay?"Commander Maharggs: Homosexuals can't... swim... they attract enemy radar, they attract sharks... they insist on being placed at the Captain's Table, they... get up late, they nudge people whilst they're shooting, they muck about... imagine the fear of knowing you have a gay man on board a boat, when you retire at night, you think to yourself, "God... will I wake up and find everybody dead?
- Morris as a Royal Navy spokesman, responding to the question "What's wrong with being gay?"
- Hurricane of Euphemisms:David Quoosp: You're a paedophile. You're a nonce. You're a perv. You're a slot badger. You're a two-pin DIN plug. You're a bush dodger. You're a small bean regarder. You're an unabummer. You're a nut administrator. You're a bent ref. You're The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. You're a fence foal. You're a Free Willy. You're a chimney bottler. You're a bunty man. You're a shrub rocketeer...
- Inherently Funny Words: Every single acronym and character name on the show.
- Insane Troll Logic: Played for laughs."Like so many of his kind, Jez North was required to leave school after passing exams. He got a job delivering potatoes - the perfect cover for a serial robe-invader."
- Kent Brockman News: Pretty much every example from that trope write-up.
- Literal Metaphor: 'And last year, the mayor gave them a goldmine. [cuts to the reporter standing next to a mineshaft inexplicably located in the middle of a council estate] It actually worked for a bit, this, until someone clogged it up with sick!'
- Also a segment on "spherical cows", which treats them as real animals subject to unnecessary cruelty (see here for an explanation of the metaphor).
- Logic Bomb: Chris Morris explains that a heroin overdose "can be fatal in the short term, but there has been no research into the long-term side-effects".
- Manipulative Editing: Apparently, British radio presenter Nicholas Parsons read a letter written by TV Zoologist Desmond Morris saying that the plight of "Carla", the non-existent elephant (named after writer and animal rights activist Carla Lane) was physically impossible, for an animal activism organisation wanting to help an elephant that has its trunk stuck up its anus. The resulting footage went, "Aren't we a bunch of fuckwits? An elephant could no more get it's trunk up its arse than we could lick our balls".
- In the Paedogeddon! special the infamous child molester Jez North has his face shown three times, becoming more and more exaggerated with each time until his nose and eyes are massive.
- Metaphorgotten: From "Drugs"—Chris: (floridly) If time is a drug then Big Ben is a huge needle injecting it into the sky. (suddenly somber) But this is "cake", the new killer drug from Prague.
- Modern Minstrelsy — Satirised with an article from the crime episode highlighting the right wing white middle-class press and their fascination with racial profiling, in which a reporter goes "undercover" in blackface and promptly goes completely off the rails, and is shown mugging a woman hours later.
- News Parody: Faux News variation
- Nostalgia Filter: 'Jill and Sainsburgh McManus; are a rattly pair of old puffins who remember Coswick in the days when people could still be trusted.'
- Overly Long Gag: The last notes of the theme tune just keep on striking.
- Pædo Hunt: Mercilessly satirised.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: All over the place. Examples include "braintanglia" and "quadraspazzed".
- Pet Heir: The segment about the herd of cows subjected to a campaign of abuse ends with the revelation that the motive for the crimes is jealousy after the cow's owner left her will to them.
- Prime Time News: Satirises the format, as well as that of Crimewatch UK in the paedophile special.
- Refuge in Audacity: Everything.
- Scare 'em Straight: Parodied ruthlessly as ever in the "Drugs" episode. To convince a young girl to stay off of drugs for life, the school staff convince her parents to fake their deaths. And then they proceed to hold a fake funeral for them.Priest: With one face, they presented to the world, an appearance of respectability, but with the other, they said 'ooh, goodie', let's pump ourselves full of 'magic monkey juice' and take a trip to space land, because we'd rather do that, than spend another minute with that, poor sod! *gestures to their daughter*
- Secret Test of Character:Prison Warden: (points out of window to prison) That is my big shiny shoe, and you are the biggest piece of shit on it! (slams his foot on the desk) LICK yourself off my shoe. (quietly) Lick yourself... off my shoe.
Prison Guard: (screaming) LICKYOURSELFOFFTHESHOE!
(the prisoner leans down to the desk)
Prison Warden: Don't, actually do it! Where's your self re-cocking-spect?! Get out!
- Sensory Abuse: Used at times, especially in some of the Ad Bumpers.
- Shaped Like Itself: During the Blouse segment, one of the band members holds up a card with "Card" written on it.
- Shown Their Work: The advert for a fictional Japanese system to take drugs through a dog ("Canibliss") is, surprisingly, in perfectly coherent Japanese and accurately describes the product as such - a rather impressive level of attention to detail given that it's very unlikely that anyone shown it would know enough Japanese to notice if they did get it wrong or half-arse it.
- Spiritual Successor: Effectively The Day Today with more strongly themed episodes, even more tasteless humour, and real celebrity-pranking.
- Stealth Parody: Some viewers don't actually realise that it's a parody. The celebrities involved definitely don't notice.note
- Stealth Pun: The school involved in the Drumlake Experiment, where students are given access to hard drugs, is a comprehensive school, also occasionally known as a high school.
- Subliminal Seduction: GRADE IS A CUNT
- Trash Talk: The needlessly aggressive news man (like everything else on the show) is taken to the extreme.Chris: You're wrong, and you're a grotesquely ugly freak.
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: 'Room inspections are full of sneaky traps; like the brass moustache!'
- You Look Familiar: The extras are often also repeated, see above.
- Wretched Hive: Coswick, apparently.Ted Maul: For the cops, it's a jungle... where dangerous animals speak swearhilli!