Monday, October 06, 2008

Capes of Good Hope

Three episodes down and I feel that the time is right to comment upon ITV2's new superhero comedy series No Heroics. I love it.

Read that again. ITV. Comedy. Love.

These are not words and phrases that normally go together. While ITV may make quality, if predictable, drama it doesn't really do comedy very well. In fact, I can't think of an ITV comedy series that's been funny since Rising Damp in the 1970s. The BBC has always led the field here, even 'rescuing' comedy from ITV. Men behaving badly started on ITV and failed dismally. It moved to the Beeb, was recast and tweaked and became hugely successful. The same happened with Kenny Everett's television show. Meanwhile, shows that moved from BBC to ITV invariably went downhil. Think Morecambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies here. So it is a real pleasure to discover an ITV comedy that is truly, deeply funny.

No Heroics spins series like Heroes on their heads. It's set in London in the present day with the only palpable difference being that superheroes exist. It's the real world; they're black and white, male and female, straight and gay. They're competitive, they drink and they smoke, they have good and bad relationships. They have problems. The series centres on a group of four friends: The Hotness (played by the perfectly named Nicholas Burns) who is a kind of pathetic Human Torch; immensely strong but quietly desperate She-Force (Rebekah Staton); the swarthy Time Bomb (James Lance) who can see 60 seconds into the future but whose life is a trail of hedonism, violence and bad sex with blokes in public toilets; and Electroclash (Claire Keelan) who, despite her privileged upbringing, now uses her power over machines to get money out of ATMs and free fags from dispensers. The friends meet regularly at The Fortress - a 'capes only' pub - whose doorman has the extraordinary power to summon monkeys. Unfortunately, it's also the drinking hole of their nemesis Excelsor (Patrick Baladi), the most popular, handsome and successful superhero in the land, and his sycophantic gang of hangers-on.

Here's the trailer. Be warned - there is bad language and 'adult themes'.

The series, created by Drew Pearce, is an affectionate nod to the comics; there are all kinds of in-jokes like the name of the pub and the fact that there are postcards behind the bar from Gotham City and Metropolis and drinks with names like V for Vodka, Gin City and Green Lantern Ale. It's also a hell of a lot funnier than the BBC's painfully soporific My Hero. Rather than stay with lazy sitcom themes, Pearce has probed a deeper seam of comedy by getting into the private life of the superhero. Consequently, we see jealousy over Excelsor's ability to fly and to get to the scene of the crime first. We meet superhero groupies and sidekick wannabes. Funniest of all are the 'cape fans'. At one notable meeting, one ardent fan asks She-Force to sign his life-sized cardboard cut-out of her ... which she's happy to do until she notices a strategically bored hole.

No Heroics is clever, pacy, well-directed and perfectly cast. And it's funny! It's really very funny. So does this mean that ITV2 is the new BBC3? If this is what they're offering us, I will find myself visiting ITV far more frequently than I do now.

Just one more thing ... a word of caution from comics writer Warren Ellis: 'Do me a favour, though: if you’re in Britain and you can get ITV2, watch it on the box rather than going to torrent sites or surfthechannel an hour later, yeah? Ratings systems don’t count torrent loads. This is why ratings charts think everyone in the country watches Bruce fucking Forsythe on a Saturday night and why TV companies are terrified of commissioning any scripted series requiring an IQ larger than your shoe size to follow. Ta.'

Consider yourselves warned - ye reap what ye sow.


Janet said...

Well, on YOUR recommendation, we'll have to watch. We haven't yet.

BTW, "Joined-Up Thinking" just arrived in my office - yippee! Given my line of work, I especially can't wait to find out how crude oil is connected to the Sex Pistols. Butter, maybe...but crude oil????


chris hale said...

This sounds like fun. I'll definitely give it a try.

BTW, do you think this means the world is now ready for Domestic Science Man?

John Soanes said...

I do enjoy the show (and I watch it on the Steam-Powered Baird device), though it's oddly buried in the schedules. I think that maybe 11pm on ITV1 would be fine for it, surely?
Though it does feel more like a C4 show, really.
Anyway, it's very rare for me to watch an ITV sitcom. Wonder if they can commission two in a year that I enjoy?

Jon M said...

Have to catch that! Mind you I loved Mystery Men so maybe I'm not a good barometer of taste! (Eddie Izzard's Tony P...snigger)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - Enjoy! It's alll about the trilobites ...

Chris - Ah, Domestic Science Man! How I'd love to bring him out of his semi-retirement. Who knows?

John - It does feel more C4 than ITV but I have read that ITV2 is making a play for that kind of market. If so, that can only be good news for us wannabe sitcom writers!

Jon - I have mixed feelings about Mystery Men although I will admit to watching it whenever it is on. For that fantastic cast if nothing else ... Stiller, Azaria, Rush, Izzard, Macy ... Why wasn't it a huge success and instant classic?

SarwatC said...

I think I've been waiting all my life for this! Mystery Men was a good, but this clip had me laughing like a drain!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Hey Sarwat, me old mucker! Nice to hear from you. If you can get hold of the series so far, do so. It's superb.

Do drains laugh?