The League of Gentlemen

Friday, February 18, 2000 by

Last episodes in comedy serial are often grand affairs.

The final League of Gentlemen combined the usual bizarre mix of humour (electrocuting a boy and his bird in the same episode as employing the bookish pun “hoist by my own pet toads”) with an attempt to provide some much required closure. Unlike soaps, sitcoms make constant references back to the premise that underlies the “sit”. Final episodes usually involve threatening the continuation of the series’ central concept.

For The League it would require true eclecticism to fulfill such a climactic brief. So we saw shades of Brookside(the epidemic), All Creatures Great and SmallMonty Python (the charity shop ladies),The Wicker Man (again) and even Charles and Di’s wedding (as Barbara refers to her spouse incorrectly as “Charles David”). As the episode unfolded strand upon strand converged.

Yet, strangely enough, all of the best stuff was the peripheral business. The Trivial Pursuit sketch (lifted from their radio series) saw Charlie and Stella point-scoring in fabulously familiar fashion, replete with consummate, confident performances (particularly Gatiss’ hair). This was quickly followed with Iris vs Mrs Levinson – another high octane argument, and another climax within a climactic episode (with some great cod-soap dialogue: “I pity you lady” says Iris in her best Rita Fairclough fashion).

Other sketches provided fine entertainment too: Legz Akimbo’s grotesque, issue-led theatre perfectly captured the worst excesses of such touring companies convinced that half-baked representation and theatrical “magic” will suffice instead of proper sets. In general the direction and tone remained as fluid, cinematic and “uncomedy” as it has ever been. However, this was the concluding episode and a convergent point was required.

So, it was at the Local Shop that the series found its slightly unsatisfying conclusion. A poorly rationalised lynch mob allowed The League the indulgence of a Hammer House style ending. As Edward and Tubbs burnt in their shop it became apparent that the laughter track had been missing for some minutes, and a realisation dawned that this time the affectionate acknowledgements of cinematic influences had temporarily taken ascendancy at the expense of the humour. On this occasion The League‘s genuine cultural enthusiasm had strayed a little too far into self-indulgence. As the series credits rolled for the last time, one was left hankering for one final sketch or joke.

Make no mistake, this has been an extraordinary series, building conspicuously on the grotesque and referential material initiated first time around. The density of allusions and breadth of humour has genuinely extended the medium. Whilst others attempt to further the existing boundaries of comedy (The Fast Show pushing the comedy catchphrase to the nth degree), The League has looked not to pastiche genres but to embrace them, employing dramatic conventions to enhance drama not comedy. They have embarked for a destination of their own, abandoning the perceived duty of modern comedy (to further progress the work undertaken by Coogan et al) and have instead concentrated on creating a world that reflects their own preoccupations. In retrospect it is clear that they have composed a complex, intertextual body of television that retains an earthy sense of humour. Their challenge now is to ensure their evolution is not at the expense of this delicate equilibrium.


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