A series of 39 short British TV comedy films, mostly produced in the 1980s and early 1990s but running intermittently until 2016. A retrospective was produced in 2005. The programmes were originally shown on Channel 4 (the first aired on the channel's opening night), though one season aired on The BBC and the most recent episode appeared on Gold.
Most episodes are standalone shorts, although some are connected, such as the two Famous Five parodies, and Bad News Tour / More Bad News. Many episodes are pastiches of one or more standard genres, for example British sex comedies (Dirty Movie), spaghetti westerns (A Fistful Of Travellers' Cheques, about British holidaymakers in Spain) or post-apocalyptic dramas (The Slags). As such, a lot of the humour is of the "clever" variety rather than the laugh-out-loud funny variety. Other episodes, such as Five Go Mad In Dorset and Five Go Mad On Mescalin are more direct parodies. Yet others, such as Bad News Tour and Eddie Monsoon, A Life are mockumentaries. The episodes are usually well shot in a cinematic, artistic style that echoes that of the genre in question.
The core cast was a group of alternative comedians including Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Peter Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, and Keith Allen. As a result, a lot of the episodes were heavily satirical in nature.
Led to the feature film Eat The Rich about, well, eating the rich.
Many of the tropes used in pastiche episodes are exaggerated and parodied.
By the way, not related to the 1987 The Comic Strip animated series.
Includes examples of:
- Affectionate Parody — Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a mostly loving parody of the various cliches of 1970s detective shows (mainly the meandering plots interspersed with lots of pointless car chases, shooting and people shouting "Guv!" at each other). It's less affectionate towards 1990s detective shows; the 1970s shows might be hokey, but they don't put people to sleep.
- Author Appeal — Several episodes written by Adrian Edmondson feature his long-term work partner Rik Mayall in various stages of makeup and femininity, a trope often seen in their other works.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word — In Space Virgins From The Planet Sex the kidnapped earthmen are informed that they will not be referred to as sex slaves, although until every woman aboard the ship is pregnant they will be forced to have sex with those who have yet to conceive.
- Blah Blah Blah — Five Go Mad In Dorset features several scenes where characters walk past the members of the Famous Five muttering "Blah blah blah, stolen plans, blah blah blah, missing scientist, blah blah blah," and so forth, with only the "important" parts of the conversation breaking through the endless "blah blah blah".
- Censorship by Spelling — In The Beat Generation:Girl: I'm having my P-E-R-I-O-D.
- Contrived Coincidence
- A brilliant lampshading in Five Go Mad in Dorset, when the Five see the villains must have vanished into a secret passage and are wondering how to open it. "I'll try tugging this branch three times!" says Julian, selecting a random branch and doing so, which of course works.
- In Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown the most effective detective turns out to be the Jason King expy, whose technique is to drive around at random sipping claret, yet always manages to end up in exactly the right place to solve the mystery.
- Deal with the Devil — In Demonella the devil (Jennifer Saunders) offers a record producer success, power and fame in exchange for his mother's recipe for chicken soup.
- Fruit of the Loon — Jennifer Saunders as "Meryl Streep" as Mrs. Scargill in The Strike is never seen without an orange. Why? No reason, it's just... part of her character.
- Historical Recreation — Summer School is an early send-up of the genre. The premise for the title institution is an attempt at historical recreation of a Stone Age/Bronze Age settlement that ends disastrously when one of the students is mistaken for having died and an attempt to burn his body on a funeral pyre leads the entire settlement to be burned to the ground.
- I'll Take Two Beers Too — With steaks in A Fistful of Travellers' Checks.
- Improbable Aiming Skills — Spoofed in Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, when the Seventies TV detective's aiming skills stop working because he's shooting at a Nineties TV detective who uses different conventions.
- Left It In — In More Bad News, Vim/Alan breaks the fourth wall and threatens to sue the producers if they leave in a particularly embarrassing item about him. Unfortunately for him he later gets beaten up and left in a coma, so the item stays in.
- Mars Needs Women — The premise behind Space Virgins From The Planet Sex is that the last man on an alien world is too old to procreate but they have been lucky enough to find the voyager probe with its illustration of what naked human look like and it seems their men will suffice.
- Take That!: Lots.
- The Five Go Mad... episodes aren't particularly kind to the works of Enid Blyton.
- Strike parodies Hollywood in general by featuring a writer's gritty Kitchen Sink Drama about the 1984 Miner's Strike gradually become an over-the-top melodrama starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep when Hollywood adapts it.
- While Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is more of an Affectionate Parody to the 1970s cop show it riffs on, it's less affectionate towards the 1990s cop shows it spoofs. In particular, the dour Northern copper who's constantly Wangsting about the fact that "there's no more ships on the Tyne" is an overt piss-take of Spender, a contemporary cop show which starred Jimmy Nail pretty much doing exactly the same thing, except played entirely seriously.
- Gregory: Diary of a Nutcase parodies The Silence of the Lambs, as well as other psychological thrillers based around insane serial killers, by contrasting the flashy, glamourised Hollywood take on a serial killer with the squalid reality of a deeply disturbed man who genuinely needs help.
- The Hunt for Tony Blair is pretty affectionate to the old 1950s-1960s style Film Noirs it parodies, but is not particularly affectionate towards Tony Blair himself.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Many episodes. Not a good programme for emetophobes.