Tittybangbang – The Complete First Series Review

You have to at least give the BBC credit for their investment in new TV Comedy. The more cynical would probably see them as struggling to meet their charter and find some way of filling their schedule on BBC Three with something other than repeats – it’s surely not viewing figures that have kept Two Pints of Lager… running as long as it has – but the channel has broadcast a number of series that have achieved some measure of success from the cult following of The Mighty Boosh, the cognoscenti favourites of Michell & Webb and Rob Brydon, to the high-quotability catch-phrase factor of The Catherine Tate Show or the phenomenon of Little Britain. Somewhere in between all those comedy types lies the BBC Three comedy series Tittybangbang.

Certainly there is little that appears new or innovative about the show – it relies on the same sketch-show format of a small team or duo acting out a series of regular dumb/irritating/deluded/grotesque/misfortunate/accident-prone characters that were the mainstay of the The Harry Enfield Show and The Fast Show or indeed Little Britain. Like those shows, the characters never grow or expand a great deal beyond the stereotypes they represent, and the humour derives mainly from them confronting a new situation – or variation on the same situation – with the same quirks and tics that make up their behaviour. Thus Harry Enfield’s “Only Me” becomes “Don’t Look At Me”, the “shy” Italian maid constantly looking for attention, and The Shut Up Family with their Duck and Chips are a variation on Wayne and Waynetta Slob. It’s a very limited format for a comedy show which, with the addition of one or two new characters, can be stretched to maybe two series. Any further and they become repetitive and unfunny, and any attempt to expand such characters at all, as in Season 3 of Little Britain, is usually disastrous.

While it lacks the neat umbrella coherence of Little Britain’s remit of (self-)marginalised little-Englanders with their prejudices and hang-ups, there is a similar degree of clever observational humour of modern social phenomena with a unique female perspective Tittybangbang in the characters of Carol-Ann, the mother who is disappointed that her mild-mannered daughter (“She’s got a knife!”) isn’t wild enough to get her on the Trisha show and the Urban Ghetto Princesses patois critical analyses of the likes of the out-of control Jeremy Paxman, Gordon Ramsey and Bono. The amount of laughs these one-note characters can generate however is fairly limited, and recurrent sketches simply replay the joke over again and again - any subsequent laughs being generated only by the familiarity and the wonderful character performances by Lucy Montgomery and Debbie Chazen. Basically though, if you’ve seen one of the shows, you’ve seen them all.

It’s in the fine performances of the two comic actors that the show is really successful. Unusually cast at auditions for the show, rather than taking the traditional route of writing and honing their own comic creations through stand-up, Montgomery and Chazen make these characters fully their own, whole-heartedly entering into what on paper would seem to be fairly thin creations and making much more of them through their actual performances. Lowering the bar that has been set by some of the more grotesque and freakish characters of Little Britain and Bo Selecta, this includes the naked-from-the-waist-down Ladies Knitting Group, the pathologists Parker & Harris who enact their with necrophiliac tendencies at crime scenes, and is often most disturbing when Montgomery is prosthetically metamorphosed into male characters. It helps when there is a little humanity behind such characters – something both comedians are equally adept at conveying – and the show consequently comes into its element more in the freaks and grotesques that elicit sympathy as much as they repulse; in Maxine Bendix, the plastic surgery victim who suffers from body parts falling out and seepage from various implants; in the Twitching Darters of the Scorton Ladies Darts Team, with Debbie Chazen’s Paula who is on “the same tablets for her nerves as Kerry Katona after she broke up with Brian McFadden”; and in Don Peacock - Lucy Montgomery whose depiction of maleness is only slightly less disturbing than Don’s proclivity for “a little widdle” on his ladies from the escort agency.

Tittybangbang – The Complete First Series is released in the UK by Contender as a 2-disc set. The DVD is made up of six thirty-minute episodes on Disc One, with the Extra Features on Disc Two. I’m not sure if this constitutes the whole of the first series, as the line-up of characters and sketches in each episode didn’t seem to chime with my memory of the few I had seen broadcast. It’s possible they have been rejigged slightly for DVD release. It’s equally possible that my memory is at fault here, as the episodes do tend to be all very similar in content. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The transfer is presented in 16:9 anamorphic and is relatively clean and colourful, but there is a fair amount of aliasing and macroblocking artefacts. The audio handles the standard TV definition Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track reasonably effectively. English subtitles for hard of hearing are included.

There is a Commentary track on Episode 1 by scriptwriter Bob Montimer. He tries to wisecrack his way though the episode, which is played totally silently, and it’s not funny - the silences can be very cruel. Disc 2 extras include six Unseen sketches (17:55), one Peter Wade sketch, one Harrogate Ladies, two Sheila The Market Thief episodes (the funniest of the bunch) and two unused characters for Water Aerobics and Thank You. Also included in this section are a full-length unedited and non-manipulated Don Peacock dance, some Mel, Colleen and Nathalie adlibs and a compilation of some Don Peacock mistakes. Outtakes (4:12) inevitably feature a lot of corpsing (somewhat appropriately involving the pathologists), and although the Harrogate Ladies Sewing Club feature, thankfully we don’t see any further unsightly mishaps. A short Behind The Scenes (11:15), allows us to meet the real people behind the characters, talking about how they approach the roles as they are prosthetically made-up and rehearsing a few of the routines with Bob Mortimer.

There’s nothing fresh or inventive in Tittybangbang and many of the recurrent gallery of characters are rather one-note, only slightly pushing the boundaries of good-taste, but the fine performances of Lucy Montgomery and Debbie Chazen certainly make them much funnier than they might otherwise be. The show has just returned for a second season, so it must be hoped that they find some way of progressing it further and introduce some new characters. The image on this DVD release is merely adequate – disappointingly it’s probably worse than TV broadcast quality - and the extra features aren’t exactly plentiful, but a few additional sketches and outtakes might persuade fans of the show to pick it up.

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