Judge Erich Asperschlager is a person like us.
"Are you married?"
Over the past ten years, TV viewers have been inundated by so-called "mockumentaries." The Office took the world by storm in both its original British and American incarnations, paving the way for NBC's Parks and Recreation. On cable, the fake documentary format has been used on shows as different as Nickelodeon's kid-centric The Naked Brothers Band, and Comedy Central's risque cop show Reno 911!.
This oversaturation might make it difficult for viewers to appreciate just how fresh People Like Us was when it debuted on British radio back in 1995, making the transition to TV in 1999. Hosted by fictional interviewer Roy Mallard (played by Chris Langham), each episode follows a day in the life of an ordinary person working a normal job. The comedy comes from the fact that all the interviewees—and the interviewer—are complete idiots.
Nearly a decade after it went off the air—knocked out of the BBC lineup by a then-unknown fake documentary series called The Office—Mallard and his camera crew are back in the spotlight with the long-awaited DVD release of People Like Us: The Complete Series.
Facts of the Case
People Like Us: The Complete Series contains all 12 episodes, spread across two discs:
People Like Us began as a radio series written by John Morton and starring actor/comedian Chris Langham. They and the BBC must have liked the 17 episodes of their three season run, because when the series made the jump to TV, all but one of the episodes were direct adaptations.
Because it's British, the show's deadpan spoofing of documentary journalism is eerily authentic. The jokes are as dry as a bit of toast. People Like Us not only rewards close attention, it punishes anyone who lets their attention drift for even a second. Don't expect a knowing glance or look to camera to punctuate a joke. Everyone here is serious about what they do—and, almost to a man, completely incompetent at it. That includes the almost-never seen Roy Mallard. Ever the pompous newsman, his voiceover narration is littered with misused cliches, redundant thoughts, and meaningless "facts." Behind the camera, Mallard is able to do more damage—letting slip confidential information, and unintentionally insulting or downright sabotaging his subjects.
The people Roy interviews are, unfortunately, no more clever. That Roy can so easily see through his subjects' stupidity makes his own all the more ridiculous. Imagine if the interview segments in American version of The Office were being run by Michael Scott. Mallard is probably most like Marty Di Bergi, Rob Reiner's character in This Is Spinal Tap—only with a deceptively authoritative British accent.
Compared to all the mockumentary series that followed, there's very little in the way of character development or continuity in People Like Us. The closest is a running gag about the people Roy meets being unable to believe that he's married. The basic structure of each episode is the same, and Roy's grammatical flubbing gets old after a while. Still, the laughs far outweigh the annoyances. If you like British humor, it doesn't get much more British than this.
Adding to the fun are the series' many guest stars, including Bill Nighy, Jessica Hynes (Spaced), and Sarah Alexander (Coupling). There's even a brief appearance by a pre-pre-Daily Show John Oliver. Arguably the biggest star—or at least the most recognizable to American audiences—is David Tennant, who plays a struggling actor in the only episode that wasn't adapted from the radio series.
The episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen—except, for some reason, "The Estate Agent," which is in full frame. Weird. The stereo soundtrack is more than adequate for this kind of dialogue-heavy show. Considering how old most American shows made in the late-'90s look today, it's a real a tribute to the BBC that People Like Us looks this good.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This set has zero extras. The show is solid enough that it doesn't need random bonus features, but People Like Us: The Complete Series has been a long time coming. Even if there aren't any behind-the-scenes featurettes or series retrospectives, why not include an episode from the radio show for a fun side-by-side comparison.
Oh, and did I mention that one of the episodes is in full frame?
Even if you think fake documentaries are played out, fans of British comedy should pick up People Like Us: The Complete Series. It succeeds on sharp writing, dry humor, and a stand-out performance by the rarely seen Chris Langham. The show's formula may not be strong enough to support much more than the dozen episodes here, but, like so many British TV series, quality trumps quantity.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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