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Series / The Armstrong and Miller Show

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The Armstrong and Miller Show is an English sketch comedy series starring the eponymous double act of Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller. The duo originally broke into British television with a series entitled simply Armstrong and Miller, which ran from 1997 to 2001 on Paramount Comedy and Channel 4, whereas the newer series began six years later in 2007 and aired on BBC1. The third series of The Armstrong and Miller Show ended in December 2010. A fourth was planned but neither Armstrong nor Miller could find the time it would take to make it.

Comparisons to That Mitchell and Webb Look are inevitable, as both shows starred a double act, ran during similar time periods, and were slightly renamed versions of earlier sketch shows (Mitchell and Webb were both, in fact, writers on the earlier Armstrong and Miller). In contrast to Mitchell and Webb, however, Armstrong and Miller do not have readily apparent character archetypes (layman/boffin, straight man/indignant man, et cetera).

Famous Running Gags from the series include:

  • A pair of WWII RAF pilots who speak like modern teenagers (Isn't it? Standard.)
  • Striding Man, who evidently has a need for a great deal of unimportant information.
  • "Origin Of" stories depicting cavemen who invent or discover modern ideas such as job interviews and acceptance speeches.
  • Several sketches in which a man has a perfectly amicable conversation with several people, wishes them goodbye, leans over a desk microphone, and says in his best Bond villain voice, "[[KILL THEM]]".
  • Brabbins & Fyffe, a parody of Flanders and Swann.
  • A series of vox pops in which a man describes his quirks or mental illnesses, ending with "and that's why I became a teacher."
  • Parodies of 1970s public information films note  giving useless or dangerous advice.
  • "Enlightenment, with Dennis Lincoln-Park", in which Miller plays a TV historian who has been entrusted to view some rare and precious object... despite the fact that he is horrifically accident-prone.

Tropes present in The Armstrong And Miller Show:

  • Aerith and Bob: A science-fiction sketch set on board a Star Trek-esque ship. The joke is that the characters and place names (though not those of entire species/cultures) all sound like ordinary English names, such as the leader of a race of aliens being called "Ian Nolan".
  • Affectionate Parody: Lots. Flanders & Swann, Austen novels, The Hairy Bikers, Jeeves & Wooster, not to mention plenty of one-off sketches.
  • Almighty Janitor: A Geordie window cleaner gives an extremely well-informed monologue consisting of sensible ideas for solving various major crises facing the world, such as climate change or terrorism, before finishing with "but what do I know?"
  • Batter Up!: The final losing contestant in the gameshow The Critical Factor is bludgeoned to death with one of these (while simultaneously being suffocated with a plastic bag over his head).
  • Benevolent Boss: Parodied. The head of MI6 is genuinely concerned about his staff's well-being, insisting they relax and decompress, often to the point of hindering operations that threaten national security. He once interrupted a terrorist interrogation so the staff could present the agent with a birthday cake.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • The "kill them" sketches. Plus Miranda and Pru, the owners of Dandylion's cafe in the first series, who are perfectly pleasant (in a bitchy sort of way) when talking to each other, but every sketch ends with them attacking the customers.
    • The head of MI6 is a Benevolent Boss who likes to take his team of spies bowling. He is also a crack shot and will cheerily remind subordinates to get some rest while putting a bullet in an arms dealer's chest.
  • Blatant Lies: Anything and everything that Dimitri says by way of explaining the torture he has had done to his enemies. In one sketch a man is being brutalised in the very next room, whose screams are dismissed out of hand.
  • Butt-Monkey: Declan, from the Striding Man sketches, who is constantly insulted by his employer and his advice scorned.
    • The poor sod in the Dandylions sketches; he only asks for a little help, which inevitably starts a brawl that ends with him being thrown out a window.
  • Big "NO!": Happens in one of the sketches featuring the man who, when out shopping, acts out disastrous events featuring his family and the new purchase.
  • Brownface: In the sketch about the pirate who misses his old lifestyle, Armstrong plays a woman of unspecified tropical origin.
  • Brutal Honesty: The basis of the "Frank Dad" sketches, in which a young boy asks typical questions of his father ("Why did you and mum split up?", "Why did Gran die?" etc) and left stunned by the harsh answers ("It was all your fault", "Her alcoholism", respectively, etc).
  • The Cameo:
    "I'm no more a farmer than Morten Harket! (Off of A-Ha in the Eighties!)"
    • Their Comic Relief sketches include a cameo by David Mitchell (Actor) and Robert Webb ("Kill them!"), and another by Geoffrey Palmer as a senior RAF officer, who manages to set our heroes straight on a couple of points by lapsing into their vernacular.
  • Captain Oblivious: Roger, who walks in on his wife and his boss before or after they have sex — or in an otherwise-compromising position — and he always manages to be convinced that nothing is going on between the two of them.
  • The Cat Came Back: Jilted Jim, the lonely man who keeps bothering the same couple on their honeymoon.
  • Classical Movie Vampire: Pharius and (particularly) Horschstadt are two vampires of the old school, trying and failing to adapt their techniques to the modern world.
  • The Comically Serious: Miller tends to play these roles in sketches.
  • Covert Pervert: Fyffe, apparently. He and Brabbins don't bother hiding the fact that the reason for his umpiring a group of young female tennis players is not actually his love for the game.
  • Country Matters: Subverted only due to Curse Cut Short in the form of the censor at the end of the foreigners' song in an early Brabbins and Fyffe sketch.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The boss in the secret agent sketches. Despite regularly impeding his agentsí work and acting more like a jolly uncle than a hardened intelligence agent, he is demonstrated in one sketch to be a good marksman, cool under fire, and generally much more capable than previous sketches had shown.
  • Curse Cut Short: A lot of Brabbins & Fyffe's songs end this way, with a hasty cut to the Test Card.
  • Dead All Along: Parodied in a sketch with Armstrong as a man who's terrified that everyone he meets is drunk, as if he's in a zombie movie and everyone keeps turning into zombies—including his wife (Sarah Alexander), who he leaves alone for two minutes and when he comes back she woozily confesses "Sorry, Jeff, I'm completely twatted." He makes it to Miller's house and Miller invites him in for tea, but then Armstrong sees empty bottles of booze concealed everywhere and makes off. When he gets home, there's a knock at the door and he opens it—to find his wife and a policeman, who arrests him for public drunkenness. He realises that he was the only one who was drunk the entire time. As his wife and the policeman lead him away, he passes a small boy who says "I see pissed people all the time."
  • Deliberately Monochrome:
    • The RAF pilots sketches. Isn't it.
    • Also, the Brabbins & Fyffe and public information film sketches all use deliberately desaturated colour.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Three children's TV presenters who are publicly humiliated for their inappropriate behaviour, and have to apologise and explain their actions to their audience in child-friendly language. The descriptions in the official YouTube channel suggests that these characters are a parody of Blue Peter. The sketch performed for Red Nose Day 2011 explicitly referred to Blue Peter, as does the DVD release (episode 1 of series 2 only). It appears these sketches are based loosely on the sacking of presenter Richard Bacon and subsequent on-air explanation offered to its child audience.
  • Discriminate and Switch: The couple whose elderly German and English grandparents meet for the first time, are set up as ex-military and begin bickering over the war, only to forgive each other and agree to let the past rest. It's when the topic switches to who was more responsible for the breakup of Katie Price and Peter Andre's marriage that the fistfight breaks out.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    Pundit: ALRIGHT, YES! I'm a drunk! A pathetic, pitiful drunk! And many's the time when I've woke up in a gutter with my clothes caked in piss and shit and vomit! But believe you me, your mockery could never equal my own self disgust. But we've all got our secrets, haven't we? A dark, rotting core inside all of us. (points to one pundit) You beat your wife. (turns on the next) You're hooked on drugs — oh sorry, "painkillers"! (turns on the presenter) And you are knobbing that lassie off the nature program while your poor wife's away in Northampton with the cancer!
  • Dude, Not Funny!: invokedParodied in a set of sketches in series 3. A character will have a slapstick accident and, while they're trying to regain their composure, Miller will walk into view, look into camera and say "This isn't funny, but it actually happened to a friend of mine, so ..."
  • Fake Nationality: In-Universe with a pair of decorators who pretend to be Polish and act like stereotypical immigrants, claiming to each other after the customer has gone that there's no other way they could find work.
  • Father to His Men: Parodied with Armstrong's spy chief, who is concerned about his people's mental well-being and work-life balance. Usually when the country's on the verge of a disaster.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: A common setup;
  • Foreshadowing: The fountain that appears in the title card of the Enlightenment sketches is actually the final artifact destroyed by Lincoln-Park.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • In The Critical Factor, the losing contestants are brutally executed while the presenter (Miller) talks to the round's winner.
    • Fyffe is often seen drinking or taking drugs while Brabbins introduces their songs.
    • This is the entire point of the "exam proctor" sketches.
  • How Do You Say: Used by the man in the Parisian café when he speaks to British tourists.
    • Strange-Syntax Speaker: Having gotten so used to speaking French after emigrating from England, as a result, he now speaks English using both the "wrong" (reversed) syntax and uses literal translations of phrases.
  • Inventing the Wheel: Played For Laughs. In "The Origin Of ..." sketches, there are plenty of cavemen but they don't invent the wheel. Instead, they invent things like small talk, unusual baby names and hairdressing. It's as much a joke about modern life as it is about the cavemen.
  • The Jeeves: In a parody of Jeeves and Wooster, Mr Stafford is a bigot who acts with criminal disregard for others, and then asks for his butler Veal's help sorting out the mess. Veal is horrified.
  • Jerkass: Quite a few, spread throughout the sketches.
  • Kill It with Fire: One of the losing contestants in The Critical Factor is executed by being knocked out, having petrol poured all over him, and a match struck.
  • Manchild: The bored exam invigilator whose antics to amuse himself include pretending to be a ninja who rips off a student's head and kicks it about like a football.
  • National Stereotypes: Brabbins and Fyffe's "Foreigners".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Dimitri from the first series, a take on Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich.
    • Brabbins & Fyffe, very clearly based on Flanders and Swann.
    • Gordon Ramsay in a one-off sketch, in which he's beaten to death and served to the customers of a restaurant.
    • The Hairy Bikers in a series of sketches in which their middle-class inclinations keep getting the better of their attempt to demonstrate food found in the wild.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of one contestant (played by Armstrong) to the fact losing challenges in the Critical Factor means death.
  • The Oner: the "Enlightenment" sketches.
  • Only Sane Man: In "How Many Hats?", Benjamin Graham, played by Miller, who is the only person involved who appears to realise the inanity of trying to guess how many hats are being worn by a person sitting in plain view just a few feet away from the contestants. The others eventually attempt to physically silence him when he points it out.
  • Oop North: The Geordie window cleaner.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Played for laughs, obviously. A pair of old-fashioned vampires try to get virgin blood as if they're "on the pull" but are often beaten or outwitted by modern Twilight-inspired vampires.
    Pharius: Since when could vampires do that?
  • Picky Eater: A Fish out of Temporal Water at a raucous Tudor feast. The only thing he finds he can eat is an apple... which he spits out because he doesn't like Braeburns.
  • A Pirate 400 Years Too Late:
    • Parodied this in a sketch which involves random people getting press-ganged by the Royal Navy into joining the "South Harbour Club Patrol" after buying t-shirts reading exactly that. And if that concept isn't 18th century enough, then Somali pirates attack South Harbour... by firing audible cannon broadsides.
    • In series 3, an actual pirate in the stereotypical style is now living the life of a middle-class house husband. He longs to return to the old life, but his wife is insistent that he doesn't.
  • Poirot Speak: The main trait of the Miller character who hangs out in a Parisian café. Although a native of Reading, he has lost fluency in English since moving to France six months ago, and consequently speaks with an English accent and French syntax. Later taken up to eleven when he meets a fellow Brit who has lived in Germany for two months:
    Man: My train goes not, so I must a nearby street reasonable price young man hostel find.
  • Politeness Judo: Jim takes advantage of the honeymooning couple's politeness and sympathy in order to leech their time (and alcohol).
  • Potty Emergency: Brabbins & Fyffe's "Train Song" (aka "Have you ever had to take a shit on a train?")
  • Religious Vampire: In one Pharius and Horschstadt sketch, the girls they are trying to seduce talk them into joining a group of evangelical Christians.
  • Running Gag:
    • "...I accidentally bit him on the nose. Quite hard."
    • "Kill them."
    • Miranda and Pru starting a fight in Dandylions Cafe, which always ends with the same guy getting thrown out of the window.
      Miranda: Pru, It's kicking off!
      • In addition, the identically-dressed customers played by the same actors always get beaten up in the same way: Karen Hayley (in the grey jacket) always gets punched in the stomach, Jim Howick (in the woolly hat) always gets his face bashed off the counter and is always the guy who gets thrown through the window, and Lucy Montgomery (in the dark blue jacket) always gets food dumped on her head. In one episode, Miller grabs Montgomery and plunges her head into a saucepan full of soup.
    • "Shit...I forgot to put the bins out."
    • [singsong] "Can you lend me twenty euros?"
    • "And it is of course, absolutely priceless" [said before Dennis Lincoln-Park destroys yet another valuable artefact]
  • Same Language Dub: The "Origin Of" sketches are all dubbed over because they were shot near an airport and there was nothing that could be done to avoid the sound of planes taking off and landing.
  • Scenery Censor: Played utterly straight in the Nude Practice sketches, which consisted of completely straight versions of country vet dramas in which the only comedy element was that both Armstrong and Miller went about their serious large animal veterinarian practice entirely naked, with genitals concealed by newspapers, teapots etc. Continued to be played straight when Sarah Alexander's character Roberta joined the practice, subverting her obvious role as Ms. Fanservice, up until the moment that her character gained the trust of a local farmer — at which point this trope was spectacularly averted.
  • Serious Business: In one sketch, a supervillain is behind a shop that sells pots at their full price while claiming that they are half price. Disgusted by this diabolical scheme, his former partner says that he is "the closest thing to pure evil I've ever seen."
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The point of the Regency-era ball sketches, in which the upper-class attendees seduce one another using very sophisticated descriptions of the extremely graphic sexual acts they would like to perform.
  • Shown Their Work: As noted in the DVD extras, the team took great pains to ensure that their period-sketches were accurate. In "How Many Hats" this extended as far as working out exactly what year this show would have taken place in, and finding a period-appropriate picture of Princess Margaret for the ending.
  • Spit Take: In one of the "Enlightenment" sketches. Not from surprise, but because Lincoln-Park has just drunk some foul-tasting home-made communion wine. Unfortunately he does so in front of some candles, and the ignited alcohol incinerates a priceless holy relic.
  • The Stinger: Every episode ends with one, typically the finale to a sketch already shown in the episode. In the last episode of the first series, for example, a producer turns the "Kill them" line on the two stars after the wrap-up for the series.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Andrew in "Nude Practice" finishes every phone conversation by barking "BYE!" down the phone.
  • Take That!: The name of the hapless Dennis Lincoln-Park appears to be that to Linkin Park.
  • Visual Pun: In one sketch, a man who's been taking certain pills he ordered off the internet receives a giant statue of a rooster. Also overlaps with Stealth Pun, because it's never actually described as a huge cock.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Guaranteed to happen whenever Miller's Man with a Ponytail reveals his particular style of coiffure.
  • Vulgar Humor:
    • Played with. The dentist from the first series is the sketch that produces the most Squick of the number that the two do, discussing highly disgusting activities or very graphic sexual practices in great detail. However, the humour doesn't come from the vulgarity, it comes from Miller's expressions and the fact that the dentist has his fingers in the patient's mouth the whole time.
    • Brabbins & Fyffe, being a filthier take on Flanders & Swann, is another Played With example. They're incredibly dirty but their songs remain very classy and witty. Before they're hit with the impromptu censor, anyway.
  • Walk and Talk: A recurring sketch features a man striding purposefully down endless corridors, The West Wing style, while underlings duck in and out delivering him assorted pointless trivia.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties:
    • Several Brabbins and Fyffe sketches cut to the Test Card note  when they start getting too filthy to broadcast. Usually this is used as a Curse Cut Short, although a song beginning "The loveliest thing about teenage girls..." is cut off before it can go any further.
    • "How Many Hats" ends this way when the panellists start attacking their fourth (Miller) for calling them out on the ridiculously obvious/pointless nature of the game. The announcer cuts to a period-accurate picture of Princess Margaret.
  • Wham Line: invokedThe point of a series of sketches in which couples describe their relationship to the camera. They end with one of them saying something which would ruin relationships normally, such as one partner being described as a managing director, and the other as a Nazi sympathiser.