Judge Joel Pearce doesn't plan to enter the sketch comedy triathlon. He was worn out by a Man Stroke Woman marathon.
"You can never just say I look nice, can you?"
The shorter British seasons allow for ideas that wouldn't work in North America, but even a six-episode run seems a bit long for Man Stroke Woman. It does a fine job of bringing together comedic talent to create sketch-based comedy about relationships, but the show runs low on ideas quickly, making the second half of the season painfully familiar.
Man Stroke Woman certainly has an excellent pedigree. It's produced by the same people as made The Office, and has one of the stars from Spaced (Nick Frost). The rest of the crew is made up of fellow Brits Amanda Abbington (The Robinsons), Nicholas Burns (Nathan Barley), Ben Crompton (Ideal), and Daisy Haggard (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), as well as Canadian Meredith MacNeill (Confetti). The skill of this cast is never in question, as they perform a range of skits that toy with the relationships between men and women. It's often clichéd, but often hilarious, and the most inventive sketches reach close to comic genius.
Unfortunately, there are only a few sketches in each episodes that could force you to squirt milk out your nose. There are a number of repeating sketches, which are sometimes repeated several times each episode and are almost identical. I suppose the same technique was used in Little Britain, but that series had a real sense of progression and development. Here, they are simply repetitive filler.
On the other hand, the cast is quite exceptional. Virtually every combination of performers gets to work together over the course of the series, and they clearly had a lot of fun making the series. While the writing often gets dry, the performances are consistently impressive, although Meredith MacNeill lacks the range that the other performers do. The sketches are at their best when they do truly zany things and drop unexpected laughs at the audience. The dog food sketch in the first episode is just one of these moments, as we think we're in one kind of sketch but suddenly find ourselves in altogether different territory.
The repetition wouldn't be as bad if Man Stroke Woman were to be watched every now and then. It doesn't hold up well to marathon viewing, but I would be ready to watch some more in a month or two. Of course, TV on DVD really encourages those marathon sessions. If we just wanted to watch a show every now and then, we could wait for the reruns, right? Ultimately, Man Stroke Woman is a pretty solid and entertaining series that can't live up to its occasional brilliance. If it was more consistently funny, I would be singing its praises right now. After six episodes in rapid succession, though, I'm mostly just tired of that same stuff over and over again.
The DVD has been well produced, though isn't mastered for progressive displays. It's presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the dialogue is always easy to understand. The extras are a bit slim, but not nonexistent. The production featurette is appropriately scattered, simply showing some of the work (and play) behind the scenes. A short music featurette rounds out the extras screen. There are commentaries on all six episodes, which are also inconsistently entertaining.
Fans of British comedy and sketch series may want to check out Man Stroke Woman despite my disappointment. There are a number of great moments here, and I probably would have been more generous had I watched it one episode each week. It's just a shame that the humor isn't a bit more consistent. Still, with comedy, you have to take what you can get.
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