wed 12/05/2021

Shooting Stars, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Shooting Stars, BBC Two

Shooting Stars, BBC Two

Vic and Bob’s surrealist panel comedy still retains its surprise

“Oh my Gaaaad, you guys are crazy! That’s terrible. How could you say that?” exclaimed Shooting Stars contestant Brigitte Nielsen, unfortunately reinforcing our preconception that Americans just don’t get us Brits and our irony. Although it’s not really irony that Vic and Bob deal in, it’s a kind of vaudevillian surrealism. And they’ve shrewdly worked out that you can say just about anything to anyone as long as its impact is softened by its carefully crafted absurdity and the fact it’s been delivered by two loveable smirking heirs to Eric and Ernie’s twin thrones.

If surrealism was, as Comte de Lautréamont put it, "as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella", then the comedy of Reeves and Mortimer is as funny as the chance meeting of two or more equally incongruous realities, but juxtaposed for maximum comic effect rather than maximum metaphysical resonance.

The first time I saw Vic Reeves was on the music show The Tube in 1986. As I recall, Reeves was on a boat on the Thames giving an impromptu commentary on some London landmarks. As a casual aside, he mentioned that Brian Eno lived in a small flat at the top of Big Ben. It was one of those unforgettable moments – on a par with when I first encountered Monty Python - where comedy seems to completely rewire your brain as the tears of laughter stream down your face.

 

But nearly a quarter of a century has past since then, and this, the eighth series of their unhinged game show. Surely what was once so refreshingly different is now just an established light entertainment show going through the motions? Certainly the format has changed little since their early Channel 4 programmes, except for the fact that the pair now have half a dozen celebrity “contestants” to bounce off. But curiously enough, in Vic and Bob’s case, familiarity hasn’t bred contempt. In fact, if they were to drop, say, the “Dove from Above” round, there’d be a national outcry. It’s a strange turn of events given that their surreal slapstick and deft wordplay heavily relies on surprise for its impact. And yet my funny bone remained tickled throughout the half-hour of this opening show of the eighth series.

Obviously, a good supporting cast helps. Jack Dee sits stoically through Reeves’s increasingly vivid similes for his grumpy face, Ulrika Jonsson sportingly laughs off references to her impending menopause and alleged sexual promiscuity, and Ross Noble… Well, Ross Noble was there to illustrate a curious phenomena of Shooting Stars. Which is that even the most accomplished post Pythonesque comics who have followed in Vic and Bob’s footsteps seem to flounder in their presence, as if too many flight-of-fancy loonies spoil the comic broth.

The same thing seemed to happen when Eddie Izzard was a guest. Vic and Bob are at their best with guests that are – now, how should I put this? Blank canvases. But there is one personality who seems able to share their absurdist’s spotlight without paling in its glare, and that’s the brutally if innocently sexist Angelos Epithemiou (created by actor Renton Skinner), a replacement for Matt Lucas’s giant cockney baby. Sainsbury's carrier bag in hand, and personal hygiene problem heavily signposted, Angelos is an anorak-wearing lantern-jawed idiot who – like Lucas – plays by his own rules and seems to be there to amuse Vic and Bob as much as amuse the audience.

So, yes, Shooting Stars is still funny, and very funny at times. I believe it all comes down to the fact that Vic and Bob treat the poetry of the humorous juxtaposition with the respect it deserves. If the telling detail is missing it falls flat. For example, here’s a question Vic asked on last night’s show: “If you slit open a zebra, how many people usually climb out and run off?” The answer, which needless to say Ms Nielsen didn’t know (although her guess of “one and a half” was uncannily close), was, “Two. Always a girl and a boy - nicely turned out and quite polite.” It’s the fact that the boy and girl “ran off” and were “nicely turned out” that’s still making me smile as I write this. It’s a science, or perhaps more accurately, a fine art, this comedy lark. Who needs Gilbert and George when we’ve got Vic and Bob? And last night they certainly provided a bit of much-needed escapism as London continued its sad descent into anarchy.

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