It doesn’t seem that long ago since David Mitchell and Robert Webb were making us all squirm in delighted embarrassment at their antics on the sublime Peep Show, so it comes as a slight shock to realise that this is already their fourth series of That Mitchell and Webb Look.
Whilst perhaps not boasting the most imaginative of names or formats, the new series of the sketch show delivered what one can only ask of any such programme – half an hour of pleasant viewing. Quirky, colourful and fast-paced, it will leave any fan of Mitchell and Webb satisfied, though the unconverted may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Mitchell and Webb’s strength lies in self-referential humour, and the programme is often at its best when the two are playing themselves rather than a crazy character in a wig. In an inspired opening sketch, the duo address the audience in BBC Resources t-shirts and apologise for the following “sneering pantomime of impudent crud”.
Apart from the obvious hilarity of the wry and deadpan assumption that we would rather be watching “lots and lots of journalists and politicians talking to each other… what a rare treat”, it is clear that both Mitchell and Webb have a love for language and revel in the pronunciation of “impudent crud”. This eloquent use of language can be found throughout the show, such as a sketch about Caesar’s use of the third person that highlights the ridiculous absurdity of language.
Old sketches returned here, some more welcome than others. A particularly funny episode of ‘Get me Hennimore!’ – a parody of 70s sitcoms with ludicrously contrived set-ups – saw Hennimore (without giving away too much of the plot) inadvertently offending important visiting Nigerians.
However, ‘The Quiz Broadcast’, a post-apocalyptic game-show from series 3, was a less welcome return. Seeming tired and over-used, it was a miss rather than a hit. Luckily for Mitchell and Webb, it was one of very few misses. A particular highlight was a sketch guest-starring the lovely Keeley Hawes, which was a classic example of their trademark normality-descending-into-surrealism.
Where Mitchell and Webb succeed is in their nuanced observations about the mundane interactions of daily life, particularly adverts. Their send-up of bargain supermarkets had me chuckling knowingly as the flashy signs advertised “Bacon octopus shapes, covered in glitter, only 99p!” and the iBag was particularly inspired.
While this kind of satire is common amongst comedians, especially in sketch shows, Mitchell and Webb manage to drive the point home in a manner that is not only extremely funny but also has you shaking your head at the absurdities of the world around you. It may be a “sneering pantomime of impudent crud”, but it sure is clever.
Originally published on The Yorker 14th July 2010