MPI // 2005 // 336 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 30th, 2009
From the producers of The Office.
A unique and fresh comedy from BBC, Man Stroke Woman eschews plot, characters, and storylines for a new kind of romantic comedy about love, sex, and dating: blazingly fast, irreverent sketch comedy. It takes a lot to stand out in a crowded comedic market, but the two seasons of Man Stroke Woman do exactly that.
From the producer of The Office (the U.K. one) and The IT Crowd comes Man Stroke Woman: The Complete Series, the BBC acclaimed sketch comedy about love, sex, relationships, and other bad behaviors between thirty-something men and women.
Irreverent and unpredictable, the sketch comedy show stars Nick Frost (Shaun Of The Dead), Amanda Abbington (After You've Gone), Daisy Haggard (Psychoville), Ben Crompton (Ideal), Meredith MacNeill (Confetti), and Nicholas Burns (Absolute Power). Man Stroke Woman is crude, rude, and completely insane.
A zany and irreverent sketch comedy, Man Stroke Woman is certainly unique in its format -- blisteringly fast vignettes thrown out in rapid succession with no laugh track or audience accompaniment. The only requirements to the sketches, the only narrative thread that links them all, is that all poke light at the inherently bizarre relationships between men and women, sex and love in the modern age, hence the title (which for you non-British folk is a phonetic version of "man/woman"). The jokes flow fast and free, some no more complex than knock-knock punch lines, but pulled off with panache.
Like all good British comedy shows (and certainly considering the pedigree of producer Ash Atalla), masochism is the order of the day. Each sketch is horrendously awkward for at least one person, or multiple persons, with a surrealist slant that easily legitimizes the most impossible of scenarios. One reoccurring segment showcases a struggling man trying to point out the "flaw" in his girlfriend's outfits, each more bizarre and improbable than the last -- a hat that floats six inches above her head, which he nervously describes as "about twenty centimeters above your head," before having her walk out in disgust.
With dozens of sketches per episode, the output is impressive, but erratic. Some of the episodes are pure brilliance, executed flawlessly by the cast with precise timing, while others evoke merely a chuckle or a groan. The pace is such that even if a chamber misfires here and there, the show sweeps along to clear away the empty shells quickly. The downside, of course, is that the best sketches come and go much too fast. A few choice sketches are clearly cast and crew favorites, and repeat in various iterations throughout the series -- the dumped boyfriend incoherently inconsolable, leaving confused people trying to decipher his ramblings, the father who keeps misplacing his child in dangerous locations, the drunken Uncle Jack, or the man unable to compliment his girl's outlandish fashion choices (the glowing "WHORE" shirt is a personal favorite). Thankfully, the repetition works, and every time they reappear, they get funnier and funnier, reworked slightly each time in new ways.
All six cast members perform endlessly rotating duties, playing every possible role under the sun in all manner of outlandish scenario and costume. The perpetually odd man (woman) out is Meredith MacNeill, but this is mostly because she's Canadian, and her inability to affect a British accent of any kind stands her out like a sore thumb. It's hard to single any of them out as being "better" or "worse" than the rest, because all six have moments of pure inspired brilliance and moments of mediocrity.
Actually, that pretty much sums up the show as a whole. With so much output spread across twelve tiny episodes, the highs are some of the best slices of comedic gold around, while the lows simmer painfully into awkward silence. When taken across both series, Man Stroke Woman succeeds far more often than it fails, especially for audience members with short attention spans. Not every sketch is a smash hit, but there are so many amazing, hilarious, and outrageous moments crammed into these twelve short episodes that the series deserves high praise and attention.
Technically speaking, this is a fine presentation, with decent black levels and a clean transfer with no compression artifacts or print damage noticeable. The color palates skew towards the subdued at times, depending on the shooting location or sketch (all shot in the real world, no studio or stages), but colors more often than not are warm and organic in tone. Audio is a simple stereo presentation, but does the job very well, with clear dialogue and average bass response. The show has nothing in the way of sound effects, music or score, or other noise, save for the dialogue between the cast members, so a simplistic two-channel presentation here works just fine. English subtitles are included.
Unlike the previous releases of this show in single series installments, Man Stroke Woman: The Complete Series comes inundated with extras and supplements. We get cast and crew commentary tracks for all episodes (which get predictably chaotic and rowdy), a few behind-the-scenes featurettes ("24 Hours of Man Stroke Woman," Making of "Man Stroke Woman," Music of "Man Stroke Woman"), some short features ("Ben Crompton's Film About Ash," "Nick Frost's Love Letter to Emma Thomas," "A Day In The Life Of Nick Burns"), outtakes, cast biographies, and a Favorite Sketches section where each cast member picks their most beloved sketch.
If Man Stroke Women has a flaw, it is in the format. A lot of people simply will not be able to connect with a show this irreverent and unstructured, and are bound to find the constant rapid-fire output irritating beyond belief. I certainly am not in this camp, but I can understand those that are.
With each sketch lasting less than a minute on average, if you don't find the jokes funny, Man Stroke Woman is going to be pretty unbearable, because you get naught but rapid-fire delivery in your face.
A love it or hate it experience, Man Stroke Woman is crude, repetitive, and completely nonsensical, but in a totally brilliant way. As sketch comedy goes, a twisted sense of logic and sheer random irreverence elevates the simplest of punch lines to hilarious levels. This is a brilliantly unique way to make a satire about romance and love in the modern age: no characters, no plot, just an endless torrent of sketch comedy madness.
Well, I clearly fall into the "love it" camp.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 336 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Favorite Sketches
* Cast Bios
* Official Site