In the UK: Thursdays, 10pm, BBC2
They’re back. The ubiquitous Robert Webb and David Mitchell are back! Of course, being ubiquitous, it’s not like they seem to have gone away, of course, but here they are, back again, with a new series of That Mitchell and Webb Look, which is – equally, of course – based on their radio show That Mitchell and Webb Sound.
When people say ubiquitous, they generally mean that in a bad way. But having Robert Webb and David Mitchell on just about every TV and radio programme on every TV channel imaginable – whether it’s talking about poetry, dancing on Comic Relief, acting on Peep Show, appearing on game show panels or featuring in ads – is actually a good thing. Because they are very, very funny.
Most of the time.
Despite David Mitchell’s understandable dislike of football, I’m going to describe the first episode of the new series as “a game of two halves”. The first half was very, very good, with a silly Hercules Poirot sketch, an Apprentice pastiche, a skit with a condescending brain surgeon who meets his match, and one of the most wonderfully dark sketches I’ve seen in a long while: a post-apocalyptic game show designed to keep the populace happy after ‘The Event’.
Things come a little unstuck with a pastiche of 70s sitcoms that seemed to flail about looking for a point, before hitting an oddly sour note with a swearing Queen Victoria – fortunately, that perked itself up with some typical Mitchell and Webb self-awareness, with the characters analysing their scheme in the place of world history. An alternative door bell involving having a dog shot from a cannon into a window continued the return to form.
Having started so well and recovered after a couple of hiccups, it was disappointing to see the show end with a couple of duff sketches. Mitchell and Webb have built up a large arsenal of characters over the last two series, so it was surprising to see only the return from this collection of the “scriptwriters who do minimal research” for a not desperately funny version of Spooks. Maybe it’s time to retire them, too.
A switcheroo, in which the notoriously miserable Christmas episode of EastEnders becomes the notoriously EastEnders episode of Christmas (the story of Santa Claus and his family), should have been a lot funnier, but just seemed obvious – and Robert Webb can’t really do bad boy convincingly.
There were also a couple of times where it felt condescending, such as in The Apprentice sketch which basically mocked the show’s audience, and another about dumbing down on news programmes. Still, they went to Cambridge and if people from Cambridge didn’t have a superiority complex, what would the League Against Tedium have to pastiche?
But even if we call that a 50%-75% success rate, that still puts it head and shoulders above many other shows (eg Horne and Corden). Good to see that they can still maintain a high level of quality despite their ubiquity, and hopefully the rest of the series will be at least as good.
Here are the two best sketches: the Brain Surgeon sketch and that post-apocalyptic game show. Hopefully they won’t be mined to death in later episodes like Numberwang was.