That Mitchell and Webb Look (TV Series 2006–2010) Poster

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An alternative, old-fashioned sort of comedy for discerning audiences
davideo-220 April 2008
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

In terms of mainstream success, Walliams and Lucas are the uncrowned kings of TV sketch show comedy. Little Britain has enjoyed a phenomenal success, that has branched out into TV specials, merchandising and overseas success, in places like Australia. But, while it can undoubtedly be a very funny show, it has been accused by many of relying on vulgarity and one-joke character catch-phrases to get by, and, sad as it is to say (being a big fan myself), this is very much true. Certainly, it has set a trend for modern comedy.

So what's needed is an alternative, which we get in the shape of That Mitchell and Webb Look. Their best work, it is said, is Peep Show, which I must confess I have yet to see (will have to tune in when the new series begins on May 2nd.) With so many people saying it, it is most likely true, but we'll have to see...But this sketch show, despite containing a lot of duff stuff, certainly shows a neat sense of comic talent. It all feels very old fashioned, a throw-back to the likes of Fry and Laurie and Monty Python. Stepping back isn't as much progress as stepping forward, of course, but humour of their day certainly relied more on a genuine sense of comic talent than by being as gross out as possible. Both Mitchell and Webb are obviously well educated men of the Cambridge/Oxford set and some apparently feel the show is a bit snobby unless you're of the middle class persuasion but then what were...well, Fry and Laurie and Monty Python? A fair bit of the humour is very subtle and sophisticated and you do have to pay attention to the gags to get the most out of them. Being of the sort who likes my humour very silly, some of my favourite sketches include The Incredibly Posh People Who Are Still Unaccountably Waiters/Vicars/Tailors...,The Green Clarinet and Numberwang. The Snooker Commentators I find to be rather boring, and Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit was a bit of a wasted opportunity. And then there's the surreal/post modern sort of humour, including the camera cutting into Mitchell and Webb supposedly chilling out between shoots, not to mention The Surprsing Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Ceaser, a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Watson as homeless winos/drug addicts who prowl the streets robbing and pillaging.

As a comedy duo, Mitchell and Webb are rather different. Webb is far less restrained than Mitchell, very in your face with his humour with whacky, wild characters such as Raymond Terrific from Big Talk and The Green Clarinet Man. Mitchell relies more on subtlety and sophistication, a reserved English gent from the old school of comedy.

The most surprising thing is how low budget it all looks, with some rather modest production values through-out. It doesn't seem to have as many fans as it could have, either, with the few comments here on the IMDb site, and a modest time slot on BBC 2 Thursday nights. But then this is old fashioned humour all the way, an alternative to those tired of constant crassness and vulgarity, so it's fate was sadly sealed anyway. ****
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Has enough hits of imagination and wit to cover the weaker characters and worthless laughter track
bob the moo7 November 2006
Coming off the brilliant Peep Show to do something new was never going to be an easy task for David Mitchell and Robert Webb simply because of how brilliant Peep Show was. Their sketch show came to BBC2 at the same time as the new series of Extras in an apparent attempt to draw success from that. The ploy seems to have worked in getting viewers in the door but it is the material that has to do the work of keeping them and, as such, this is a pretty good "Look" because it has sufficient laughs across each 25 minute period to do the business.

As with any sketch show it is very hit and miss but it has more hits than misses. The type of humour will appeal to those who liked Peep Show because it is imaginative and quite clever, almost drawing laughs from me by surprise. This can be seen in some of the best characters in the way that they are plucked out of the air and are all touched by a wonderful sense of absurdity that makes them work so well. Angel Summoner, Sir Digby Chicken-Caesar and a few others are good examples because they just seem to come out of nowhere rather than being slight extensions of clichés or stereotypes. Conversely then the weakest characters do rely on these things and by this I mean the snooker commentators. Out of all the characters they seem to have been selected to run across each episode and sadly they are just not very funny after the first outing. Numberwang is also a bit tiresome and it would have been better if they had taken the rip out of gameshows in other ways. Likewise some of the weaker moments are so because they do lack the imagination of the strongest bits and thus we get simple spoofs on political panel shows as well as insurance adverts.

Mitchell and Webb play really well off one another and each has a type of character that he is strongest in. Mitchell is strongest playing the rather hesitant loser a bit like his Peep Show character and the best sketches tend to have him in that sort of role. Webb meanwhile tends to be the slightly lesser of the pair if only because he seems inherently less comic looking than Mitchell. However he is still good when he has the material to work with and his chemistry with Mitchell helps him a great deal. The supporting players are mostly good and include Joseph, Colman and Evans. The only weak addition to the show is that of the audience themselves – or rather the recorded laughter, because it kills the material by making the weak stuff seem weaker and the stronger stuff a bit, well, desperate. I don't need to be told when to laugh and all the laughter track here seemed to do was stand out awkwardly particularly when the material wasn't funny at all yet still got massive recorded laughter.

Overall though, a good sketch series. The regular imaginative flights of fancy helps it keep above the level of easy cliché or relying on catchphrases to do the business. Of course the downside of this is that they don't enjoy as much easy success at the moment but they are best to keep it this way since their selection of "regular" characters is mostly surprisingly weak. The pair do mostly good work though and the series is well worth catching because when they hit their imagination and wit is funny and surprising in delivery.
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Excellent Sketch Show
ian100022 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I stumbled upon this by accident, when watching 'Extras', which was a lucky break.

I had low expectations; many recent sketch shows have been pretty poor, but the inventive gems shown in this series will live with me for some time. My own favourites:-

Grand Admiral Doenitz learning that he's Nazi Germany's last Fuhrer. Angel Summoner and BMX Kid.

The show's most famous sketch was "Numberwang" the nonsense daytime quiz show; the best one was the German version with Mitchell rather than web as the host ("Das Ist Numberwang!").

More please gentlemen.
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Very funny surreal comedy
ewaf5825 September 2008
Just catching up with the first series from 2006 and must say it's given me quite a few belly laughs. I loved The Green Clarinet man sketch - how we may wish to have our very own clarinet to sort out awkward office managers.

I still haven't worked out the weekly Number-Wang quiz show - and nor have the contestants by the look of things.

It's at times very inventive and played with genuine wit. I laughed out loud at a sketch ( not sure from which series) featuring a cheap looking pedal bin shaped Robot that has a switch to change it into either a Cheese-bot or Petrol-bot.

Regardless so say it get's confused and fills up a car with cheese - and then fails to commit suicide at it's own failings when further confusion means that it covers itself with cheese instead of petrol.
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A misunderstood show
paulosalem-com27 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Many believe that this is primarily a comedy show, something to watch casually, for leisure. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As matter of fact, this show is mainly a very serious psychometric test. Clearly, it was designed to measure a person's "general intelligence", to put it in psychological parlance. I'm sure no serious psychologist would disagree that the rate of laughs per sketch can be used as a very good approximation of that elusive mental quality.

One may imagine that it would be easy to cheat on this test just by faking continuous laughs. But Mitchell, Webb & co, in their impressive comic wisdom, dutifully placed bad jokes among their great hits, precisely to prevent such frauds. There is certainly an optimal laughs/sketch rate, and probably even an optimal laugh->sketch matching, but I shall leave these technical details to psychologists to determine.

As a bonus, the show can also be used as an aid in diagnosing psychopathy: it suffices to check whether the subject laughed in the last episode of series four. In fact, the more I watch the episodes, the more correlations I find between certain sketches and certain mental qualities. It is pure scientific genius.

Alas, it seems that the general public did not do very well in these tests: the show was canceled after only four series, what a shame! On the other hand, what could be more flattering than to be rejected by Vectron worshipers who can barely compute numberwang?

The only reason I do not give the show 10 starts is to push these great guys to come up with even better sketches and, most urgently, figuring out a way to publish them -- perhaps by having some arch-villain to intervene in this prosaic issue? To be more blunt: please take my money (again), guys!
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