It was buried away in the schedules when broadcast, but if you missed this series, its imminent release on DVD means you can soon catch up. Karl Wareham takes a look at a surprisingly bare bones disc.
Comedy is such a personal thing, and 15 Storeys High might just well be a very personal thing. Written by, and starring, Comedian Sean Lock as Vincent, a resident of a tower block in some unnamed, decaying, part of London. There is no real plot, as such, each of the six episodes here deals with the minutiae of Vincent’s life and his interactions with other residents of the estate. He shares his flat with Errol, played by Benedict Wong, who has his own problems, like being almost completely naïve and innocent and with his own odd value system. Each episode is also punctuated with small glimpses into the lives of other characters in the block; drug users, religious maniacs and perverts mostly. It’s a very odd show, this one, a curious hybrid of sit-com cum sketch show.
The first thing to say about this show is that if you’re looking for straight forward, joke/punchline humour you won’t find it here. The humour here is borne from the twisted logic that the show follows, and the way it fits in with Vincent’s world view, and the viewer feels slowly sucked in. Vincent works to his own strict logic. His reaction to getting unwanted olives on a pizza is to send some olives in an envelope back to the pizza parlour. “Giving olives to people who don’t want olives. Two can play at that game.” If you find that idea funny, then you’ll probably love this series.
Sean Lock has tapped into a rich vein of comedy here. It’s normal life, with all the idiosyncrasies of ‘other’ people amplified and distorted. It’s uniquely British, referencing Loyalty cards, game shows, and Jim’ll Fix It, but all looked at in a slightly askew way.
15 Storeys High is a very clever, literate comedy. It never underestimates the intelligence of it’s audience by feeding them the punchlines in advance. Some jokes are left hanging in the air, to be picked up again a few scenes later and sometimes only make sense on a second viewing. A characters odd behaviour is suddenly explained in a way that makes perfect sense, such as the explanation for Errol’s phobia of decorating magazines in episode 2. The series contains a lot of these little gems; trivial incidents suddenly become catalytic due to circumstances and predictability is something that the show cannot be accused of.
Benedict Wong and Sean Lock have great chemistry together. Both are endearing oddballs, and one of the interesting things about the way this series works, is that we see each other’s foibles through the eyes of the other. It can be quite unnerving at times, as it ensures that there is never a straight man for the audience to sympathise with. Our ‘voice of reason’ that is set against the insanity of life in the tower block suddenly gives way itself to insanity and that’s quite a risk for a sitcom to take. Even The league of Gentlemen, which this show sometimes imitates, with its genius twisted universe made sure that there was always someone straight to react against the horrors they unleashed. With 15 Storeys High, that safety net is removed.
Benedict Wong is a superb comedy actor, and ‘Errol’ could easily be one of the great comedy characters. He is totally deadpan and the lines delivered in such a deadpan way, “I just don’t think people should be naked in their living room. That’s where you have Christmas” and his ambitions include “working with fish, singing with Madonna and eating a croissant.”
The direction also places this above most other sitcoms. It’s a derelict, depressing London on offer, and the camerawork highlights this. The film looks slightly over exposed, and the show has a glossy look that contrasts the squalor displayed. The camera is often low or sometimes hidden, which just adds to the sense of claustrophobia. An example of this is the one time ‘tourist’ London is acknowledged is in a shot of Buckingham Palace; the camera is placed low down, at a distance and from such an angle that an office block can be seen, which completely undermines the uniqueness of the location that a lesser director might have highlighted.
The only criticism that can really be levelled at the series is that, at times, it does not quite go far enough. Occasionally, punchlines are too over the top and glib to fit in with the rest of the series.
Of course, some people won’t like this series at all and you really can’t blame them. The characters are unlike able and often unpleasant. There is a depressing quality to the show and a real atmosphere of despair from which the humour operates. But if you think you can stomach it, 15 Storeys High comes highly recommended.
Meet Vince’s new flatmate, Errol, and witness the trouble a two seater sofa can cause.
A war of words between Vincent and the local kids threatens to escalate into all out war.
A bargain energy drink from an Eastern European supermarket (all the energy of a rat in a can!) causes Vince a few problems.
Nothing goes smoothly when Vincent teaches a model to swim.
VIncent falls in love with the woman upstairs, but can he pierce her icy heart?
The past comes back to haunt Vincent
A non-Anamorphic print, but still bold, bright and a good level of detail, it looks far better than your average TV comedy.
Now this is a real rarity in this day and age. No extras whatsoever. It’s like 1998 again, with interactive menus and scene selection as the only bits to play with. Astounding and it might just keep you busy for a while as you click around the menu’s thinking, ‘No, there must be a commentary track or at least an interview with someone on here somewhere?’. But no, alas, it is not to be. What have we done, Carlton? Why do you hate us so?
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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