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 films The Supergrass, Eat the Rich, The Pope Must Die and Churchill: The Hollywood Years.
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:
- Abandoned Area: Parodied in "Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown" when our heroes find the Docklands are being redeveloped.Bonehead: Where's all the wasteland and the disused factories, Foyle?Foyle: Where's all the rusty girders?Bonehead: Dammit, there's no puddles to run through!
- Affectionate Parody:
- Five Go Mad in Dorset was such a spot-on parody of The Famous Five that Enid Blyton's estate loved it.
- 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".
- Bolivian Army Ending: A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques, where the ending is a homage/parody of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There is a wonderful pause before the ending where the viewer wonders whether it's really going to happen...
- Cacophony Cover Up: Mr. Jolly of Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door hacks his victims to death with a meat cleaver while playing classic Tom Jones tunes to drown their cries.
- 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.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Enid Blyton Famous Five parodies lampoon the racist, sexist, and classist elements in the original works, such as having the Five mock a black baggage handler ("That man looks foreign!" "Yes, I expect his name's Golliwog!") and comment on how the villains are thick-lipped and bearded or have lower-class accents.
- Deliberately Monochrome:
- The Beat Generation is shot this way in keeping with the French New Wave style, complete with jazz score.
- The Hunt for Tony Blair in keeping with the fifties noir vibe.
- Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: In South Atlantic Raiders, one of the characters is trapped in a prison cell with a huge prisoner who says, threateningly, "Oh dear, you're going to get a very sore botty." (In the original broadcast version the hero takes one look at the big guy's genitalia and cries "oh, God, no!", but the line appears to have been cut from the DVD release.) However, our hero escapes before he can be raped.
- Dreadful Musician: All the members of Bad News: Vim (vocals and lead guitar), Den (rhythm guitar), Spider (drums), and Collin (bass) are individually examples of this, as well as the band being self described as "the worst rock and roll band in the world". There were two episodes made about them and they also released an album, which was mostly the band bickering and included one and a half takes of the worst version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" as well as some deliberately awful original songs.
- Dying Dream: Les Dogs has a man crashing his car at the very start of the episode; he then goes to a surreal wedding where he seduces the bride. Just as they are about to have sex, her eyes turn into headlights - there is a screeching sound and the film cuts to black.
- Exact Eavesdropping: In Five Go Mad In Dorset, the Famous Five overhear two villains conspiring: "Blah Blah Blah kidnapped scientist blah blah. Blah blah Kneecap Hill blah blah. Blah blah atom bomb blah." That's right - the villains actually say "Blah blah".
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: Consuela. Happy ending, credits roll, needle zip, more stuff, sad ending, credits roll.
- Fingore: In Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, Mr. Lovebucket cuts one of his henchman's fingers off with shears for writing "Mr. Lovebucket is a wanker" on the window of his car.
- Fluffy the Terrible: "Jayne" is the title character from Mr Jolly Lives Next Door - he's a hitman.
- 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: A Fistful of Travellers' Checks does it with steaks. One of the cowboy wannabes orders two steaks and his friend immediately also orders two steaks in an attempt to out-macho him. This escalates until they are ordering ten steaks apiece.
- 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.
- Just Plane Wrong: In Four Men in a Plane, our heroes take off for the middle east in a four-engined airliner, but when they land it's only got two engines. It's not the plane of the title, by the way that is a single-engined light aircraft.
- 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.
- Luck-Based Search Technique:
- In Five Go Mad In Dorset, the titular protagonists open a concealed door by yanking three times on a random tree-branch.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mistaken Message:Mr Jolly Lives Next Door features an escort agency accidentally receiving a letter meant for a hitman. The message? "Take out Nicholas Parsons".
- Mockumentary: Eddie Monsoon, A Life is a mockumentary about an insane, failed TV host.
- Mystery Magnet: Lamented by one of the five in Five Go Mad in Dorset. This greatly upsets one of the others, who lives for their adventures.
- Nonchalant Dodge: From Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown:
- Not Afraid to Die: In Oxford, the gun-toting bad guy is confronted by a group of elderly professors who aren't afraid to die because they're all over 60.
- Orphaned Punchline: This joke Mayall tells in Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door:And she said, "Well, I don't think you're a fishmonger. I think you've done a plop in the wrong lavatory".
- Polar Opposite Twins: In Didn't You Kill My Brother?, Sterling and Carl Moss are in many ways parodies of opposing political positions - opportunistic capitalism and idealistic socialism. The rehabilitated, self-educated Carl is community-focused and wants to build a better world, whereas his unrepentant criminal brother Sterling is simply interested in profit.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: The French and Saunders-penned "Consuela (or, The New Mrs Saunders)" feels like a precursor to the parodies on their own series.
- Pop-Star Composer: Kate Bush wrote and performed the instrumental score and theme song to GLC: The Carnage Continues. Said theme song is a parody of the Shaft theme, only it's about Ken Livingston.
- The Precious, Precious Car: In Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, Mr. Lovebucket's abiding love is his Citroën DS car. It gets rammed into and a telephone pole falls on it.
- Pretty Boy / Bishōnen — Adrian Edmondson, and consequently, many of his characters.
- Real Dreams Are Weirder: From Didn't You Kill My Brother?:I had a dream, my friends, oh yes, I had a dream then suddenly my dream changed, and I was standing in a swimming pool full of small brown puppies and each of the puppies had the face of a 19th-century politician and then one of the puppies, that had the face of Lord Palmerston, suddenly started screaming at me, "Where's the spoons, where's the spoons, where's the bloody spoons?"...Any questions?
- Sequel Episode:
- Five Go Mad in Dorset was so successful it got two follow-ups - Five Go Mad on Mescalin and Five Go to Rehab.
- Bad News Tour was followed by More Bad News.
- The Strike has a joke where Charles Bronson plays Ken Livingstone in a film about the TLC. Sure enough, this was followed up in GLC: The Carnage Continues.
- Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown brings back Bonehead and Foyle from The Bullshitters: Roll Out the Gunbarrel.
- The special Four Men in a Car was followed two years later by Four Men in a Plane.
- So Unfunny, It's Funny: A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques had the following "joke":Cafe Owner: Aw, come on guys. Ten steaks each? Are you joking?Miguel: Do we look like comedians?Cafe Owner exhales wordlessly.Carlos: What do you call a man with his ding-a-ling in a piece of melon?Cafe Owner: I don't know.Carlos: Christopher.Miguel laughs raucously. No-one else reacts.Carlos: See what I mean? Now get the steaks amigo!
- Soundtrack Dissonance: In Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, the eponymous and misnamed Mr. Jolly was a hit man who would invite his victims to his flat and then play upbeat Tom Jones records very loudly to drown out the sound of their screams.
- Studio Chatter: Bad News' debut album Bad News has more of this and Hilarious Outtakes than finished music.
- Take That!: Lots.
- The Five Go Mad... episodes aren't particularly kind to the works of Enid Blyton.
- The Bullshitters: Roll Out the Gunbarrel portrays Martin Shaw as a pretentious luvvie. Keith Allen and Peter Richardson were annoyed at how he'd view The Professionals as beneath him.
- 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.
- Teleporter Accident: The Yob parodies The Fly (1986) by having a scientist accidentally merged with a soccer hooligan. Also, at the end of the episode, a macho stud ends up with the lower body of a tomcat.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist:
- The titular Susie is an unfaithful wife, a negligent mother, an apathetic teacher and an all-round selfish bitch.
- Mayall and Edmonsdon's characters from Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, who go from drunken louts to murderers.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Many episodes. Not a good program for emetophobes.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Eddie Monsoon of Eddie Monsoon A Life?. A drunken, drug-addicted, self-destructive television presenter who is interviewed while in rehab. His star has fallen so badly that when he interviews random people in the street, none of them even know who he is (the sole exception being his uncle).
- Yellowface: War has Robbie Coltrane as a Japanese businessman-cum-prison warden named Harry Kiri in a parody of Tenko's Major Yamauchi if he were a capitalist.