The Mighty Boosh has
run for three non-consecutive series on the BBC, and has been rebroadcast
here in the States on BBC America and now on Adult Swim. The show
is an abstract comedy about the adventures "through time and space"
of Howard Moon and Vince Noir. The first series is set at their
place of employ, the "Zooniverse," a bizarre riff on a regular zoo
(animals talk, the director knows nothing about animals, etc.).
The second series takes the leads out of the zoo and into a Dalston,
London flat. In the third series, Howard and Vince work at a shop
called Nabootique. Across all three series, the format remains
basically the same; their surroundings are virtually irrelevant and
serve merely as a point of departure for strange adventures into previously
unknown dimensions where they meet fantastical creatures, engage in musical
numbers, and accomplish nothing of lasting significance. The
Mighty Boosh is immensely popular in Britain and has found a sizable
following in this country, and elsewhere.
There's no accounting for
taste. It's a two-way street, and despite that maxim's warning,
I'm still trying to dissect my baffled dislike of The Mighty Boosh.
I came to this new boxed set (which includes all three seasons, plus
an additional disc of new extra content) completely fresh, having never
seen a single episode before. But I started watching with a fair
amount of anticipation, because the series has been described to me
in glowing terms by several friends with whom I have much in common
and whose taste in movies and television I wholeheartedly trust.
It has also been well reviewed. Beyond that, British television
is often excellent and I'm an enormous fan of many British series.
I was confident that at the very least I'd have a marginally positive
reaction to the show, if not a stronger appreciation. As it turns
out, I was alternately maddened and bored by this promising yet flat
show that tries way to hard to be edgy, "alternative," unique, and
funny - but fails to achieve any of those things with any consistency.
Truly amusing moments pop up here and there - but the stories are
like an eighth-grader's creative writing assignment; the pointless
lunacy is always forced and arbitrary. In the end, my reaction
to this set was a dull boredom; a consistent desire to stop watching
was trumped only by my responsibility to write this review, a task I
now face with a confused sense of being stymied by a program that
I expected to like but did not.
Like Monty Python's Flying
Circus, the title of The Mighty
Boosh has no real significance, nor does the show's tagline: "Come
with us now, on a journey through time and space, to the world of The
Mighty Boosh." Although laced with elements of fantasy, the
program is really just a rather narcissistic showcase for the antics
of its creators, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Perhaps it's
not fair to label these two comedians as particularly narcissistic -
however, I find this to be the only logical reason for the show's
existence. The Mighty Boosh
is not character-driven, or plot-driven. The humor is not situational
or subtle. The entire show is driven by zany sketch-like shenanigans
that are virtually content-free - just a string
of jokes, most of them lifeless. The jokes don't build on one
another, as is the case in most comedy shows. Character bits are usually
developed over time, resulting in continually-raised comic stakes.
Here, jokes are just spread rather thin over each episode. Our
"appreciation" of them does not hinge on knowing something specific
about the characters, or on carefully-staged situations and conflicts.
The jokes exist in a near-vacuum, sucked away into nothingness
at the moment of their execution.
This may be more a reflection
of my own comedy "values" than it is a substantive criticism of
Barratt and Fielding. Nonetheless, a sense of connection to and
investment in character is a hallmark of all good entertainment, regardless
of genre. All we have to hold onto in The Mighty Boosh
is Barratt's rather dense, self-important Howard Moon and Fielding's
charming grin and elaborate hairdo. This is not enough.
Absurdity is one of the key
syntactical features of comedic language. I don't think absurdity
has, or can have, rules. However, when compared side-by-side to
another absurdist, avant garde show like Tim and Eric Awesome Show,
Great Job! on Adult Swim, some interesting points of comparison
arise. (To be sure, Tim and Eric is not to everyone's
taste, and the show's comedy is not always successful, yet it is original
and takes absurdity to new places.) The Mighty Boosh
gives lip service to the traditional structure of a half-hour sitcom;
there is no laugh track, but each episode is stage-bound, and contains
some semblance of a self-contained plot. By contrast, Tim and
Eric rarely utilizes coherent storylines, is very fragmented, and
the internal "logic" of each episode is really based on an intuitive
post-production editorial approach. The comedy "bits" of
Tim and Eric are created for comedy's sake alone - sometimes
one laugh is good enough - and then each episode is compiled after
the fact, utilizing odd opticals, music, animation, and sound effects
to create an illusion of cohesiveness. That illusion, however,
is an organic part of what Tim and Eric is "about," which
is an abstract, absurdist send-up of the television-oriented aspects
of our society.
The Mighty Boosh
has no grand pretensions, which is fine. But instead of embracing
the more outlandish aspects of Barratt and Fielding's comedy and running
with them, the show remains bogged down in the soggy trappings of traditional
half-hour comedy programs. This is why the situations seem forced.
This is why we don't feel invested in the characters. This is
why the jokes are all one-offs, disconnected from a larger whole.
The structure upon which Barratt and Fielding have decided to hang their
comedy is rather old, and inappropriate to their brand of humor.
A freer approach, less stage-bound, and more intuitive, would likely
have served them better.
Series One episodes "Killeroo," "Mutants," "Bollo," "Tundra,"
"Jungle," and "Charlie"
The episodes "Bollo" and "Tundra" contain commentary tracks
by Barratt and Fielding, joined by performer Rich Fulcher. Not
surprisingly, my interest in these tracks - in which the participants
are lively and discuss the show enthusiastically - mirrored by level
of interest in the show itself. Fans will likely find them far
more enjoyable than I.
Commentary tracks with Barratt, Fielding, and Fulcher are included
on "Electro" and "Hitcher." The other features for Series
One begin with Inside the Zooniverse (28:04), which is a solid
behind-the-scenes piece. Mighty Boosh: A History (9:37)
details the Barratt/Fielding duo's previous life as successful stage
and radio performers. There is a set of Outtakes (6:19),
a compilation of Boosh Music (12:10), and a Photo Gallery.
All episodes include commentary tracks featuring creators Barratt
The original series pilot - an alternate version of "Tundra"
from Series One - starts things off (28:40) and features an ill-advised
laugh track which was wisely dumped. Boosh Publicity
(19:11) is an interesting documentary piece that tracks efforts to promote
the show. Making of Series 2
(28:40) is a behind-the-scenes look at the show. Next is a skippable
Photo Gallery, an Outtakes reel (5:06), a generous helping
of Deleted Scenes (14:23), a short film called Sweet (10:43)
with Barratt and Fielding that predates the series, and another compilation
of Boosh Music (15:37).
There are commentary tracks on "Eels," "Journey to the
Centre of the Punk," and "The Strange Tale of the Crack Fox."
Making Boosh 3 (27:35) takes us behind the scenes once again.
Boosh Publicity (29:23) follows the creators as they promote the
show on radio, television and elsewhere. There is a lengthy bunch
of Deleted Scenes (22:35), a promo for Mint Royale featuring
Fielding and others (3:35), another Boosh Music
compilation (9:21), a short reel of Outtakes (5:21), and a
trailer for the third series.
New to this release, this disc contains even further bonus material.
An introductory screen warns us that the content on this disc has been
designed to take us on a "random journey." My "journey"
took me first to the documentary The Mighty Boosh: A Journey Through
Time and Space (57:20), a comprehensive look at the series.
Boosh Pilot Deleted Scenes (4:11) were next. Then I found
a Boosh Q&A at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (45:58),
and sketches for an unproduced 1997 show called (Un)Natural Acts
(15:03). Boosh Night Live (16:09) captures the feel of
a Barratt/Fielding live show. Navigation at this point began to
get extremely irritating, and I stopped searching for content, although
there is almost certainly more here.
In all, the set contains a
wealth of extra features that will likely satisfy fans deeply.
I still feel like I should have liked The Mighty Boosh even though I didn't. The meandering, loopy, unfocused comedy is forced, contrived, and somehow false. It self-consciously reaches for jokes and "zaniness" rather than demonstrating an intuitive comic sensibility. This boxed set combines very good technical presentation with an enormous quantity of bonus material. Fans will love it. Although not my cup of tea, I realize that the show has a following, and therefore the uninitiated should give it a look, but rent it.