Look Around You

Thursday, October 17, 2002 by

The thing about parody is, you’ve got to get the details exactly right in order to pull off the conceit. If it rings untrue in any aspect, then it feels as though the reality is being twisted simply to serve the comedy. And that’s just cheating.

It’s perhaps ironic then that Talkback’s new mock schools’ programme Look Around You succeeds beyond all expectation in accurately reflecting its source material – but fails to hit home with any laughs. So why is this?

For this reviewer, anyway, Look Around You has remained terribly one-note. It appears that the comedy is supposed to stem from the juxtaposition of earnest presentation and nonsensical content. The few “proper” gags that have been slotted in alongside this approach have themselves been laboured and uninspiring. The unravelling of the word “Maths” into a long and convoluted acronym last week was a tired old joke, but remained one of the few examples of constructed humour rather than – well – just saying something a bit stupid.

And it’s a shame, really, because there is so much potential here. From the snippet of the school’s clock to the retro-Talkback logo it’s obvious that there’s been a lot of care put into Look Around You. As such, it still remains a vaguely pleasant viewing experience, with its nostalgic warm synthesised music, nicely ponderous presentation and crackly old film stock. But it’s just too easy to ignore.

Let’s take a look at another parody that is arguably more successful in raising laughs. That Peter Kay Thing, which is currently being repeated on Channel 4, takes parody as its starting point, but doesn’t rely on it for the humour. The spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary format is really the least of the programme’s charms, even though it gets the parody exactly right (Andrew Sachs on commentary, the occasional dodgy zoom and participants’ eyes flickering almost unconsciously to the camera at moments of stress). It’s all just a framework for Peter Kay’s peerless characterisation and old-fashioned sense of humour, allowing a great deal of comedy and an element of story to unfold.

Perhaps it’s an unfair to compare Look Around You to That Peter Kay Thing. After all at only 10 minutes in length Look Around You is meant to be slight. And similarly, the programme is not about character – it’s purposely sterile and distant. But it does seem to rely so heavily on the parody aspect that other possible layers remain unexplored. The end result is 10 minutes of telly that provide some nice background colour if you want to read a book or, put the kettle on or make a sandwich.


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