Upstart Crow is Ben Elton and David Mitchell‘s contribution to the BBC’s 400th ‘dead Shakespeare’ month-long love-in and, following, Peep Show, I didn’t think the latter could put a foot wrong…
But then I heard canned laughter within just 7 seconds of the opening credits ending.
Set in the 17th Century, the period setting for Ben Elton’s sitcom makes you want to compare it with Blackadder. Well, go ahead – one was excessively hilarious, the other was so unfunny it was painful to watch. On which side do you think this one falls?
As the bard, Mitchell, refers to his script for “Henry VI Part One”, to which Harry Enfield (as father, John) replies, “Part One? You mean there’s more?? God, I was bored”. Now he’ll know how the rest of us feel after watching this pathetic attempt to crowbar ’70s-style sitcom Saturday night humour into a post-watershed slot on the wrong channel.
Other examples include erroneously referring to Romeo & Juliet as ‘Romeo & Julian’ because that was the working title, Dominic Coleman dressed like a woman with none of the panache of Tim McInnery’s Lord Percy, the profession of bear-baiter referred to as ‘Master Baiter’, and when a posh boy enters the scene, a blatantly-obvious David Cameron/Eton reference comes from Mitchell with “It’s not what you know, it’s what dead farmyard animals you rodgered at university”.
Add in canned guffaws simply from the word ‘prick’ being uttered, and the phrase ‘strum my lute’ used in a poor innuendo bid to make it sound rude, plus ‘Bollingbrooks’ said because you know they mean ‘bollocks’.
It’s so bad that it compounds the fact that Ben Elton stopped being funny after the 1980s ended, and it almost makes you wish for a replacement in the form of a second series of the thankfully-cancelled The Wright Way.
The last person to be beheaded in the UK was Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, on April 9th, 1747. I’m quite sure we could bring it back because it’s all that is deserved for Ben Elton, and the likes of Harry Enfield, David Mitchell, Mark Heap, Rob Rouse, Liza Tarbuck, Gemma Whelan and Paula Wilcox, all of which who will know better. And Heap’s pantomime shouting is NOT a substitute for Stephen Fry’s Lord Melchett.
This is so lazy, it’s in a coma. It could only be made worse if it was renamed Peter Kay’s Upstart Crow.
Update: On Points of View, on Sunday May 15th, even Jeremy Vine looked not to believe the baloney response from “BBC Spokesperson” about the “canned laughter”. We KNOW it’s recorded on the night, but no challenge was made about the fact they then edit it to suit, moving laughs about to pep up jokes that didn’t get any laughs. Typical Points of View, then.
Upstart Crow Series 1 is available to pre-order on DVD ahead of the release date of June 20th, and the series continues next Monday on BBC2 at 10.00pm. If you missed it, you can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer, up until June 8th, and click on the DVD packshot for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 0/10
Director: Matt Lipsey
Producer: Gareth Edwards
Creator/Writer: Ben Elton
Will Shakespeare: David Mitchell
Mary Arden: Paula Wilcox
Susannah: Helen Monks
Anne Hathaway: Liza Tarbuck
John Shakespeare: Harry Enfield
Kate: Gemma Whelan
Bottom: Rob Rouse
Sir Robert Greene: Mark Heap
Condell: Dominic Coleman
Burbage: Steve Speirs
Kempe: Spencer Jones
Florian: Kieran Hodgson
Apothecary: Larrington Walker
Torturer: Gary Douglas
Lord Southampton: Adam Harley
Marlowe: Tim Downie
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.