Look Around You

Monday, January 31, 2005 by

Tucked away in the BBC2 schedules in a 10-minute slot back in 2002, Look Around You was considered by many to be a little gem of a show from writer-producers Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. Ably spoofing the golden era of BBC Schools programming that just about every kid in the country would have been exposed to at least once a week back in the 1970s and early ’80s (invariably on one of those huge televisions that were encased within a lockable black ash-effect cabinet) the programme was a surprise hit and was subsequently rewarded with a DVD release.

Now, in its second run, Look Around You has been expanded by 15 minutes or so and “promoted” to a 10pm slot in BBC2′s Monday night line-up. Can what was a concentrated serving of humour survive such a dilution? On the evidence of this first episode, the jury would appear to be out. Parts of episode one were amusing, while a few other bits fail to raise even the mildest of titters (witness the dreadful Data Bank inserts that appear periodically – odd question and answer posers that were just not very funny at all).

Neatly opening with the 1970s-style BBC2 ident – you know the one, the hideous orange, white and black affair with the “2″ made up of thick lines – everything appears to be just as it should be. From the gloriously retro title sequence (which, in fact looks a bit too polished to have originated in the era) to the funky synthesised music by “Gelg”, Look Around You clearly stands out as one of a kind. Visually, everything is as it should be: from the tasteless brown and beige colour schemes on show everywhere – from the presenters’ clothing to the vast studio backdrop, to the stock footage of clunky old computers that is used liberally throughout to create the right ambience. Rather than repeat the theme of the first series where presenters Peter Packard and Jack Morgan carried out bizarre scientific experiments in silence, bar Nigel Lambert’s measured narration telling us what we were seeing, this time around the writers have chosen to spoof the Tomorrow’s World of the Michael Rodd/Judith Hann period. Amazing new inventions were the order of the day back then, and Look Around You seeks to imitate the theme.

Music is the subject of the episode, with a grand contest being carried out in the studio to find out what sort of tunes (according to the competition judge, the Ghost of Tchaikovsky, played by guest Harry Enfield) we were supposed to be listening to in the year 2000. The contestants are Tony Rudd, Toni Baxter and Anthony Carmichael who each perform a song that is completely wide of the mark. Machadaynu is “sung” by comedy genre favourite The Actor Kevin Eldon, while Toni Baxter presents us with a Sara Brightman-esque vision of the future with her song Sexual Interface. Best of all though is The Rap Song from well-spoken young man Carmichael who demonstrates to us just how good rap music could have been.

The presenting team is expanded from two to four, with the addition of Josie D’Arby as Pealy Maghti and Olivia Coleman as Pam Bachelor. D’Arby in particular comes across very well, utilising her skills as both an actress and children’s telly presenter to craft a believable host to go alongside Packard and Morgan. While she fits the bill very nicely, Coleman spends most of the episode looking nonplussed. Pealy has a fixed smile throughout and is the one who introduces us to Synthesiser Patel – a man so in love with the new-fangled instrument that he has taken to changing his name by deed poll. However, probably the best character on show here is Leonard Hatred, a man so tormented by noise throughout his life that he has invented the incredible Psilence – silence in a can. Hatred is played by Mark Heap, who looks exceedingly menacing for a man who apparently likes the quiet life.

The problem with Look Around You mark two is that it is incredibly difficult to see how the series can be spread over the course of six weeks successfully. There are laughs to be had here, but this was only the first episode and it is hard to see how the ideas behind the show can be maintained. Care and attention to detail has been taken over the visual presentation, and the observational gags (such as the presenter tripping over the cables on the floor) are at times spot on, but the programme feels far too one-note to be able to keep up the laugh count and maintain the interest of the viewers.

What guffaws there were were spread much too thinly and the pace is too sluggish. Perhaps, by the end of the run Serafinowicz and Popper may reflect that they should have done another series of snappy 10-minute episodes, rather than these much slower-paced 30-minute affairs.

Oh, and Jack’s follow-up song to Little Mouse, Reggae Man, wasn’t very good either.


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