This is not necessarily Judge Eric Profancik's review.
"Why don't you grow up, you little bastards?"
Not the 9 O'Clock News (N9N) is not necessarily the news. Instead, it was a witty, biting satire from our British friends across the pond that cleverly lampooned current events and other bits that caught their fancy.
I'd never heard of this British comedy show, but once I saw it starred a young Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder), I had a good feeling about it. And I was right. N9N is an exceptionally sharp sketch show that hit a wide array of targets, both big and small. I found myself laughing consistently throughout the included episodes, surprised by what they did and how they did it. The charge above is perhaps not the best example of the wit displayed, but that's just because this show relies heavily on a visual and audio one-two punch (and sometimes just the former).
British humor is deliciously dry; this show will make you thirsty. This two-disc set contains eight episodes from the four-year run of the show (1979 to 1982). What I really liked about the skits, aside from their being funny, was that they were very well-paced, meaning they didn't run on for too long. Unlike, say, Saturday Night Live and its groan-inducing sketches that go on for hours, N9N's bits are quick and dirty, with few lasting more than a minute. Those that do last longer are entertaining and worth the additional time.
While I laughed more than I thought I would, there is a significant drawback to this set: the age of the jokes. Most of the humor pertains to then-current events—most specifically political, taking shots at and hitting Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan—so you have to have some recollection of that decade to appreciate the humor. Additionally, much of the parody is also of British life. Still, I don't have the best memory of those years (considering I was only about ten), and I've never had the good fortune to visit England, but I still got it and laughed. The humor works fairly well twenty-plus years later.
Rowan Atkinson wasn't yet Bean, but he still led the small cast of four. N9N also starred Pamela Stephenson, who would go on to SNL and Superman III, Mel Smith, who would pretty much stick with British television, and Griff Rhys Jones, who also appears to have followed Mel's lead. This group worked well together, exuding a comfortable chemistry that led to great timing and even greater jokes.
I mentioned earlier that this disc contains eight episodes from the show. I am making a guess on that, as each "episode" begins with "Not 1," "Not 2," "Not 3," through "Not 8." I'm equivocating because it appears each twenty-five minute episode is a complete episode, but some quick Internet searching implies some of the included sketches/episodes might have been edited or trimmed. That may not be true, as it may be someone simply saying a bad sketch went on too long. For example, take this comment from the website Jump the Shark: "The sketch where Gryff Rhys Jones impersonates John McEnroe…was about fifteen minutes long, got chopped up into sketch-sized chunks, and got shat out in dollops all through an entire episode." What I saw of the McEnroe sketch was one bit which did last maybe two minutes (and wasn't one of the better ones).
Lastly, I'd like to mention that I also enjoyed the trademark closing of the show, a musical routine. Not only were these funny, but they also sounded good, too. But be careful. Don't assume the musical number is the end of the show, as a very quick bit which truly closed the show always followed them up.
If you pick up this set, what will you find? It's an unspectacular release that, outside of a trailer for Mr. Bean, is bare-boned. The full frame transfers are weak, showing their age with muted colors, murky blacks, plenty of grain, dirt, scratches, and other little nasty mars. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is fairly clean with minimal hiss and distortion, so you won't have much trouble hearing the jokes or the songs.
As amusing as this set is, I'm only going to recommend this one for a rental. There is a lot of great material in here, but most of the really good stuff seems to be on the first disc, labeled Volume 1. The second disc, Volume 2, just didn't seem to elicit as much laughing as the first. Combine that with the general age of the humor, the dry British wit, and the lackluster packaging (which contains a catalog of A&E titles without the Not the 9 O'Clock News discs), and you have something that might not be worth the three hours.
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Scales of Justice
• Trailer for Mr. Bean
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