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League of Gentlemen: The Complete Series 1, The

Warner Bros. // Unrated // October 24, 2000
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 15, 2001 | E-mail the Author
"Welcome to Royston Vasey -- you'll never leave!"

Eddie Murphy seems to have revived his flagging career by playing multiple characters in a single film -- up to eight in "The Nutty Professor II". Cute, right? In "The League of Gentlemen", Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith play virtually everyone in the sleepy hamlet of Royston Vasey -- the IMDb lists 36 characters between them, though a web search seemed to indicate that the actual number is closer to 60? Yikes.

"The League of Gentlemen" is one of those shows that I always meant to watch but never did, and when a DVD containing the entire first season was announced, I immediately added it to my burgeoning 'To Buy' list, only to...well...not buy it. Sure, close to three months passed, and I never did watch the show during its run on Comedy Central, but the disc finally dug its way into my collection. As someone who ravenously seeks out dark comedy and British humour, this series, a brilliant combination of both, makes me sort of regret waiting as long as I had.

Royston Vasey is the home to a number of peculiar locals, including the xenophobic owners of a shop for local people, a transvestite cabbie on the verge of a particularly nasty sounding operation, a completely inept veterinarian, obnoxious horror movie fans, a heavy handed reverend, an aunt and uncle with a bizarre series of rituals related to their home, and...many, many, many more. There's not one central plot or running theme throughout all of the various stories, and although the tales rarely intertwine, Royston Vasey is so fleshed out that it almost does seem like a real small town, threatened by the construction of an impending road...

All six episodes of the first season are included, and they are:
  • Welcome To Royston Vasey
  • The Road To Royston Vasey
  • Nightmare In Royston Vasey
  • The Beast Of Royston Vasey
  • Love Comes To Royston Vasey
  • Escape From Royston Vasey

Since "The League of Gentlemen" is a British television series, each episode runs right at half an hour rather than the American standard of 22 minutes plus commercials. Six episodes may not sound like much for the money, but its running time is equivalent to 8.18 episodes of "Friends". Really. Add in the commentary for each episode and the missing footage, and you're up to somewhere around six and a half hours of unbridled wackiness. I tend to be a little hesitant about picking up large collections of TV episodes because I can't really see myself watching 12 hours of any series more than once or twice. "The League of Gentlemen: The Complete Series 1" is short enough that it can be seen in its entirety in a single sitting, but long enough that the disc still has an...archival feel to it.

Video: The initial buzz out of the rumor mill was that this disc was going to be full-frame, and although some posts on bulletin boards I read seem to indicate that a number of players do default to 4x3 with "The League of Gentlemen: The Complete Series 1", these six episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Never having seen the Comedy Central airings, I can't really compare/contrast, but "The League of Gentlemen" did look far too soft on occassion, though the supplemental footage doesn't share this problem. Does that mean the softness is intentional? Beats me, but it's not too distracting. Black level is inconsistent but generally strong, and the unusual color palette that caught my eye on the Comedy Central promos seems to be accurately represented. Grain appears from time to time, as well as a sort of frequent digital haze. The image seems a little too dark on occassion, but generally pleasing.

Audio: The laugh track is distracting and irritating initially, though by the second episode, it didn't seem quite so intrusive. I don't know how many other people share my intense loathing of laugh tracks -- one of my old college roommates didn't understand why I'd opt to watch the "Get A Life, Volume 1" DVD without one -- but it seems especially out of place here, as "The League of Gentlemen" isn't just some average goofy, joke-a-minute sitcom. The way the dialogue was recorded in some scenes is awkward, though I can't really fault the authors of the DVD for that...and I didn't notice any hiss or distortion in the episodes, though they rear their nasty little head in the deleted scenes. Music is used sparingly, mostly for the opening and closing of each episode, but what little there is sounds good and with plenty of range.

Supplements: I'm fairly certain that "The League of Gentlemen" is the first disc I own to label a commentary as being 'fun' on the packaging. It really is fun, as well informative... The commentary, which is featured on all six episodes, features the three main actors/co-writers, along with one other writer...I believe... The origins for many of the characters and sketches are revealed, along with a seemingly endless barrage of production details, tales of the League's radio days, and the number of toads in the Dentons' home. I'd go as far to say that for the early episodes in particular, the commentary made the show seem much more engaging than without... The cast has plenty to say about each episode, and I was surprised that things rarely seemed to drag, even into the final episode.

With such a large cast of characters, the "Local People" guide can come in handy, listing most of the characters throughout the season and providing a bit of information about each. 'Special Stuff' consists of quite a few photographs and assorted stills with accompanying text. Eleven 'missing' scenes, in anamorphic widescreen and preceded by a screen saying SOMETHING, are also included. Some are not deleted scenes in the usual sense, as some are versions of included scenes cut for time or language, and one is an establishing shot before some computer fanciwork (similar to the "Hollow Man" disc). Rounding out the extras are a promo for another upcoming BBC release, "Father Ted", and an incredible looking ad for BBC America that can be viewed separately or before viewing the six episodes together.

Conclusion: Well, I was about to recommend watching an episode or two on Comedy Central before plunking down the cash for this set, but it doesn't look like it's on there anymore. The ads for BBC America show a brief clip, so maybe it's airing there now. I don't know. Anyway, though the $30 price tag may be off-putting for a sight unseen purchase, if you consider yourself a fan of dark British humour, this collection of widescreen, unedited episodes of "The League of Gentlemen" is worth a purchase. Highly recommended.
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