E1 Entertainment // 1982 // 1600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // February 24th, 2012
39 hilarious episodes including many never before seen in the U.S.
Between 1982 and 2000, the British TV network Channel Four aired episodes of an anthology series using a repertory company of comics, writers, and comic actors known as the Comic Strip. The Comic Strip began as a home for "alternative" comedy back in the late '70s. When Channel Four found The Comic Strip, it decided to build a series around the group. It proved to be a fateful decision: The Comic Strip crew included such future British comedy megastars as Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) and Dawn French (French and Saunders), Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall (The Young Ones), Robbie Coltrane (Cracker) and, on occasion, Alexei Sayle (The Young Ones). Directed most often by Comic Strip founder Peter Richardson (The Pope Must Diet), with occasional direction by such esteemed British filmmakers as Stephen Frears (The Queen), The Comic Strip Presents was that most unusual of creatures, a comedy anthology series rather than a sketch show. Although it's as uneven as any other anthology series, the level of talent here is just too high to not be worth watching.
To be sure, the comedy anthology series is a rare and difficult creation. Anthology series generally work with genres like science fiction and mystery, but with comedy the idea of making miniature movies seems less intuitive. With an existing repertory cast, most producers would have simply put together a sketch comedy show, or possibly a sitcom. The choice to make a string of miniature comedy movies is audacious and ultimately proves inspired.
The breadth of stories is sizable. There are several pop-culture parodies such as the Sergio Leone sendup "A Fistful of Traveller's Cheques" and a pair of merciless swipes at Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series, "Five Go Mad in Dorset" and "Five Go Mad on Mescalin." The two episodes that replicate a documentary about a terrible heavy metal band, "Bad News On Tour" and "More Bad News," actually predate This Is Spinal Tap by a couple of years; they even include real footage of the fake band performing at the Castle Donnington Festival, along with testimonials from Ozzy Osbourne and members of Def Leppard and Motorhead. "Eddie Monsoon -- A Life?" is another mockumentary, but this one, about a self-destructive TV personality, laid the groundwork for Saunders' Absolutely Fabulous. Then there are the more slice-of-life episodes, such as "Dirty Movie," about a suburban theater owner who wants to screen a dirty movie in his theater but is stymied by his incompetence and an increasing series of disasters. By far the best, however, is "The Strike," an episode about the making of a bloated, feel-good docudrama, which serves as a parody of Hollywood, with impressions of Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. It's so cutting and accurate that it won the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1988. Not all of the episodes are as impressive -- there are a few clunkers here and there, and the heavy British sensibility might wear on some viewers -- but for the most part, it's a set worth seeing for comedy buffs. There is simply no other equivalent to this series anywhere else. Given that so many of its talents ended up becoming respected and influential stars in their own right just adds to the luster.
Technically, the set is solid. The video alternates between full-screen (for the earlier episodes) and anamorphic widescreen (for the later ones). Naturally, the older episodes look more worn and fuzzy, but there isn't any real damage. The stereo mix is fine as well, although there are times when some dialogue is hard to make out, so subtitles would have been a good addition. The extras include two fairly exhaustive documentaries on the last disc, "The Comic Strip: a Retrospective" and "First Laugh on Four: Parts One and Two," which include interviews with most of the cast and crew. Also included is The Comic Strip, a 1980 film directed by Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury) that includes the original standup and sketch comedy acts of all of the major cast members.
Ultimately, The Comic Strip: The Complete Collection is a must-have, if you're any fan of British comedy, especially '80s and '90s British comedy. Virtually every major British comic worked on these shows, and the anthology format results in some remarkable episodes that are more intriguing and creative than many tired sitcom and sketch comedy shows are. The set may be a bit overwhelming if you're not familiar with the performers seen here -- you might want to preview the better episodes first -- but if you have any interest in the genre, this collection is a must.
Review content copyright © 2012 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* 1.55:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1600 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Film