Case Number 17952: Small Claims Court

THE STEVE COOGAN COLLECTION

Paul Calf And Pauline Calf's Video Diaries
BBC Video // 1993 // 62 Minutes // Not Rated
Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
BBC Video // 1994 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Coogan's Run
BBC Video // 1995 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
I'M Alan Partridge: Series 1
BBC Video // 1997 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon
BBC Video // 1997 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Dr. Terrible's House Of Horrible
BBC Video // 2001 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
I'M Alan Partridge: Series 2
BBC Video // 2002 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Paul And Pauline Calf's Cheese And Ham Sandwich
BBC Video // 2003 // 28 Minutes // Not Rated
Saxondale
BBC Video // 2006 // 371 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // December 21st, 2009

The Charge

A-ha!

Opening Statement

Steve Coogan is a prime example of British talent that has been hugely popular in their native land but has yet to make the same impression across the pond. In the states, attempts to turn Coogan into a star have met with little success (see the remake of Around the World in 80 Days). But judging from the heft of the 13-disc The Steve Coogan Collection, a compendium of Coogan's television work at the BBC, the actor has been doing just fine in Blighty, thank you very much.

Facts of the Case

Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge: Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge is the title of Alan Partridge's (Steve Coogan) chat show. Partridge fancies himself a witty, dashing host, but he's anything but either, annoying his guests with his ignorance and rude remarks.

I'm Alan Partridge: In this show, Partridge attempts to get back on the air following the BBC's decision not to grant a second series of Knowing Me, Knowing You. His wife has left him, forcing him to move into a motel, where, with the help of his loyal, put-upon assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu), Partridge plots his ascent back to the top.

Saxondale: Coogan plays Tommy Saxondale, a middle-aged roadie-turned-exterminator living with his younger girlfriend Magz (Ruth Jones). When not spouting war stories of life on the road with the likes of Deep Purple and Genesis, he's killing pests with the help of his awkward assistant Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker).

Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible: Coogan stars in the title role, playing the host/narrator for parodies of horror anthology shows/films. He also plays roles in the stories themselves, which range from the tale of a Scottish scientist attempting to cure burns with lizard-derived serum to the travails of a haughty army officer, his virgin bride and lesbian vampires.

Coogan's Run: This series stars Coogan as multiple characters in the fictional town of Ottle. On the show, he plays everything from handyman Ernest Moss to boorish salesman Gareth Cheeseman.

Paul Calf and Pauline Calf's Video Diaries and Paul and Pauline Calf's Cheese and Ham Sandwich: For these shows, Coogan takes on the dual role of booze-swilling, student-punching layabout Paul Calf as well as his sassy sister Pauline. On Video Diaries, Paul attempts to woo his ex-girlfriend back and later shoots a wedding video for his sister, and on Cheese and Ham Sandwich, Paul and Pauline perform some stand-up.

The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon: In this one-hour special, Portuguese singer Tony Ferrino (Coogan) performs a variety of tacky musical numbers while flirting unsuccessfully with his beautiful assistant and alienating his guests.

The Evidence

I first became aware of Steve Coogan via his highly entertaining performance in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. Subsequently, I've seen him in the also-excellent Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, along with films like Night at the Museum and Tropic Thunder, in which he played smaller roles. Prior to receiving this set, however, I was not familiar with any of Coogan's television work, so for me, The Steve Coogan Collection proved to be quite a revelation.

It's of no small significance that 5 of this set's 13 discs are devoted to Alan Partridge, as the chat show host is Coogan's best-known character. It's not hard to see why Partridge caught on; he's a classic blowhard character, like Ricky Gervais' David Brent but even less sympathetic. Possessed with a dreadful fashion sense and a complete, utter lack of tact, Partridge is a hopeless case who manages to get on the nerves of almost everyone he meets.

Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge spawned a Christmas special titled Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, which is also included with this set. Running about 45 minutes, the program is basically a longer, holiday-themed version of Knowing Me, Knowing You. The show is designed to be like a gathering in Partridge's own home but, seeing as we're dealing with Partridge here, nothing goes right. Partridge's blatant (and illegal) product placement plugs draw the ire of his boss, Tony Hayers (David Schneider). Partridge also manages to upset some more guests and cause a fire with a misguided Christmas-cracker stunt. The show is hilarious, as good as any of the Knowing Me, Knowing You episodes.

It's interesting to watch Coogan and his creative team (which includes In the Loop director Armando Iannucci and Closer scribe Patrick Marber) develop both the character and the format in which he appears. Whereas Knowing Me, Knowing You takes place entirely within the realm of the show itself (in other words, it's presented as if it's a real chat show), I'm Alan Partridge is darker and more squirm inducing, along the lines of the original Office or, to a lesser extent, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Both shows have their merits, but I found myself preferring the more tightly honed and incisive I'm Alan Partridge to Knowing Me, Knowing You.

It should come as no surprise that Saxondale is the most recent series included on this set, as the character of Tommy Saxondale is very different than Coogan's prior creations. Whereas many Coogan characters seem to be utterly hopeless twits and/or jerks, Saxondale is a bit more complex. He doesn't always say or do the right thing (he doesn't do well in his anger management meetings), but you always get the sense that at heart, he's a good guy. This quality is most evident in his relationship with Magz, which seems to be founded on mutual respect and affection. As Coogan himself says of the character, "He's a bit of an idiot, but his heart really is in the right place."

If Saxondale is a less edgy character than his predecessors, the show remains enjoyable thanks to Saxondale's amusingly prickly nature. The conversations between Saxondale and Vicky (Morwenna Banks), the receptionist for an agency that gives Saxondale's company work, are particularly funny. Vicky loves inane, time-wasting banter, which annoys Saxondale to no end. Generally speaking, it's Saxondale's encounters with people who annoy/anger him that make the show as entertaining as it is.

Dr. Terrible's House of Horrors is my least favorite program on this set. Perhaps the potential enjoyment I could derive from the show is hampered by the fact that I haven't seen a lot of the movies/shows that the episodes are lampooning (with the exception of Hammer horror), but I just didn't find the episodes I watched to be all that funny. "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust" is not without its share of amusing moments, but the series' first episode, "And Now the Fearing..." is mostly laugh-free. Coogan's comic talents certainly help, but the characters he plays aren't as memorable as Partridge or Saxondale.

Coogan's Run is a character smorgasbord, with the actor taking on multiple roles within a given episode. Although not as overtly funny as the Partridge shows, Coogan's Run is a fantastic showcase for Coogan and his talent at creating distinct comic characters. The episodes "A Handyman for all Seasons" and "Dearth of a Salesman," are good examples of the range Coogan exhibits with this series. In the former, the primary character Coogan plays is handyman Ernest Moss, a good-natured, geeky man with a reedy voice. In the latter, the main role is salesman Gareth Cheeseman, an obnoxious Partridge-type who proves to be an utter failure at drumming up business and chatting up women. In short, Coogan's Run is well worth a look.

Two other Coogan characters, Paul Calf and his sister Pauline, are the subject of Paul Calf and Pauline Calf's Video Diaries and Paul and Pauline Calf's Cheese and Ham Sandwich. For the Video Diaries, two half-hour shows are included: "Paul Calf's Video Diary" and "3 Fights, 2 Weddings and a Funeral." Watching "Paul Calf's Video Diary," it took me a while to warm to the character, as Paul came off as being more pathetic than funny. I don't think I really started to get into the character(s) until watching "3 Fights, 2 Weddings...," which I enjoyed a lot more. For one thing, the story is tighter, as it focuses on Pauline's impending marriage to the shady Spiros (Patrick Marber).

Better than either of these shows, however, is the Paul and Pauline Calf's Cheese and Ham Sandwich disc. On this, the two characters perform on a television special. In this format, both are arguably funnier than they are in the video diaries; Paul, in particular is absolutely sidesplitting, both on Cheese and Ham Sandwich and in the clips included from the character's Saturday Zoo appearances. The Cheese and Ham Sandwich program also features Duncan Thicket, a bespectacled, nervous man who has the distinction of being the first character Coogan created.

The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon is not a sitcom but instead a one-off special. There's no plot to speak of as, like Knowing Me, Knowing You, the show is presented as if it's the real deal. The basic approach is similar to that earlier program, as Ferrino, like Partridge, is full of himself and is not nearly as charming or popular as he believes himself to be. Like Partridge, Ferrino invariably rubs his guests the wrong way.

What makes The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon unique, then, is the music. Ferrino performs all manner of horrendous (but frequently funny) songs, ranging from a number from the singer's The Silence of the Lambs musical to a Christmas carol about bigamy. The show's corny, retro production design, coupled with the ridiculous songs, makes for an amusing special, although I'm not sure it needed to run an hour.

The DVD presentations of the programs included in The Steve Coogan Collection vary greatly. Knowing Me, Knowing You, the oldest show in the set, has a bleary image and average sound quality, whereas the more recent shows, like Dr. Terrible and Saxondale, boast generally better image and sound. All shows look and sound at least adequate, however, and English subtitles are included for all the shows.

Extras vary across the shows in both quantity and quality. Commentary tracks are included with Knowing Me, Knowing You, the first series of I'm Alan Partridge, Saxondale, Coogan's Run and Dr. Terrible. The ones I listened to for this review were pretty dull; often times, it's hard to tell who's talking, and too often the tracks feel like a private conversation on which the viewer is eavesdropping. On I'm Alan Partridge, there are some tracks featuring Partridge and Lynn, but the one I listened to was disappointingly unfunny.

Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge Series 1 are the only programs in the set to have a bonus disc. In the case of the former, the main extra is the previously discussed Knowing Me, Knowing Yule Christmas special. Also included is a 16-minute excerpt of a not-intended-for-airing test episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You, as well as a brief clip of Partridge going for a "ramble" in the country at Christmas. Rounding out the extras are a photo gallery, text bios, episode promos, DVD credits and clips of Partridge doing some spots for Comic Relief. There is also a commentary track for Knowing Me, Knowing Yule.

The extras from I'm Alan Partridge Series 1 are mostly unsubstantial: text-only bios, audio cues from "Radio Norwich," a photo gallery. The best extras are a collection of what I assume are deleted scenes/flubbed takes (they're not specifically labeled as such) and a separate extra in which a long scene (11 minutes) between Alan and Lynn is contrasted with the minute-and-a-half version of the scene that ended up on the episode. This comes with writer commentary. I really liked this last extra, as it offers insight into how the show was put together.

In addition to commentary tracks, Saxondale comes with an excellent 24-minute making-of featurette, about 17 minutes' worth of deleted scenes, a half-hour interview with Coogan and co-writer Neil MacLennan and a photo gallery.

Dr. Terrible's extras are similar to I'm Alan Partridge's in that they're mostly throwaways: a "poster" gallery of artwork for each episode, a photo gallery, production notes, a "page a day" calendar with Dr. Terrible sayings (ie, "Nothing exceeds like excess") and a fake magazine profile of "Jonathan Penwarren," the alter ego Steve Coogan gives to himself in the episode "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust." (In the episode, Coogan is playing Penwarren, who is playing the character Capt. Hans Brocken.) Fortunately, there is a well-done half-hour making-of featurette with lots of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew.

Some of the best extras, however, come from Paul and Pauline Calf's Cheese and Ham Sandwich and The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon. For the former, a terrific making-of featurette is included that gives us lots of footage of Coogan working out gags with co-writer Henry Normal and then trying them out live in comedy venues. There's also 40 minutes of Paul Calf appearances on Saturday Zoo (with one Pauline appearance for good measure) that are a bit repetitive but are nonetheless a must-watch. For Tony Ferrino, there is a half-hour mock television documentary that is almost funnier than the main event.

Closing Statement

If all you know of Steve Coogan is what you've seen of his film appearances, you really should consider at least renting this set. (At more than $100 MSRP, I can hardly condone a blind buy.) For Coogan fans who don't already own a lot of his TV work, The Steve Coogan Collection is nothing short of essential.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Ben Saylor; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Paul Calf And Pauline Calf's Video Diaries
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Paul Calf And Pauline Calf's Video Diaries
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 62 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Paul Calf And Pauline Calf's Video Diaries
* Interview

Scales of Justice, Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile, Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
* Episode Commentaries
* Bonus Episode
* Test Episode
* Bonus Clips
* Episode Promos
* Photo Gallery
* Text Bios

Scales of Justice, Coogan's Run
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile, Coogan's Run
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Coogan's Run
* Commentary
* Photo Galleries

Scales of Justice, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 1
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 1
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 1
* Episode Commentaries
* Featurettes
* Outtakes
* Photo Gallery
* Text Bios

Scales of Justice, The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile, The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon
* Mockumentary

Scales of Justice, Dr. Terrible's House Of Horrible
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Dr. Terrible's House Of Horrible
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Dr. Terrible's House Of Horrible
* Episode Commentaries
* Featurette
* Calendar
* Image Galleries
* Production Notes
* Text Article

Scales of Justice, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 2
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 2
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, I'M Alan Partridge: Series 2
* None

Scales of Justice, Paul And Pauline Calf's Cheese And Ham Sandwich
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile, Paul And Pauline Calf's Cheese And Ham Sandwich
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 28 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Paul And Pauline Calf's Cheese And Ham Sandwich
* Bonus Clips
* Featurette

Scales of Justice, Saxondale
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile, Saxondale
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 371 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Saxondale
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurette
* Interview
* Photo Gallery

Accomplices
* IMDb: Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0108828/combined

* IMDb: I'm Alan Partridge
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0129690/combined

* IMDb: Saxondale
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0760141/combined

* IMDb: Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0299285/combined

* IMDb: Coogan's Run
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0111925/combined

* IMDb: Paul Calf's Video Diary
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0107794/combined

* IMDb: Pauline Calf's Wedding Video
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0110800/combined

* IMDb: Paul and Pauline Calf's Cheese and Ham Sandwich
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0368131/combined

* IMDb: The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0120348/combined