A spy…in search of a clue!
If you blinked at the wrong moment, you may have missed The Piglet Files, which may be one of the best comedies you have never seen. In punchy half-hour episodes, The Piglet Files cheerfully demolishes the James Bond legacy of unassailable spycraft with sharp writing and piercing British wit.
Facts of the Case
"A Question of Intelligence"
"A Room With a View"
"The Iceman Cometh"
"Now You See It"
"A Private Member's Bill"
"The Beagle Has Landed"
James Bond is the ultimate British gentleman/spy, a suave killer with nerves of steel and a flawless array of technology and technique.
Piglet is a technology geek, saddled with an embarrassing codename, who is blessed with unfortunate luck, bureaucratic red tape, and a collection of coworkers ranging from the possibly competent to the exceedingly dim.
Poor Piglet. He so wants to be James Bond, but reality keeps intruding into his fantasies.
The Piglet Files is a refreshing comedic sorbet, cleansing your mental palate of the half-wit detritus accumulated from too many Wonder Bread sitcoms. This happy result springs from a finely managed blend of source material, well chosen actors, and fine writing that just sparkles. The spy genre is wonderfully rich soil for comedy, and for the British, the addition of the James Bond franchise is a shot of rich fertilizer. The creators of The Piglet Files had this in mind, with clear and subtle Bond references salted among the episodes (starting with the first episode's hilarious Chapman, Peter Chapman and banana scene that ends up in the DVD cover art). This choice of source material is particularly refreshing if you name the other "spy comedies." I'd say that's a pretty short list when measured against the Mt. Everest piles of "relationship," "workplace," or "family" comedies.
Nicholas Lyndhurst (David Copperfield (1999)) has a gawky physique and horrible Presumed Innocent haircut calculated to drive all thoughts of James Bond from your head. This is surely by design, as Lyndhurst uses them to establish his average-intelligent-Joe (bloke?) credentials. He makes "Piglet" a sensible chap, aghast at the breathtaking density, though his own Bond-ian fantasies are apt to get him in trouble. This contrast between "Piglet" and the astonishing absurdities of his colleagues and his missions is the font of comedy for The Piglet Files, one that Lyndhurst uses to full advantage.
Though "Piglet" (AKA Peter Chapman) is the focus of the show, equally responsible for the comic joy of The Piglet Files is co-star Clive Francis (Longitude, Masada, A Clockwork Orange). Complimenting Nicholas Lyndhurst's modesty, Clive Francis is simply sublime as Piglet's perpetually exasperated superior. His sartorial flair and aristocratic air make his litany of acid-tongued reprimands a glory to behold as his verbal judo lays waste to his block-headed underlings. Adding to his talents as an actor, Clive Francis is also an accomplished caricaturist. His humorous drawings of himself and Nicholas Lyndhurst grace the show's credits.
The full-frame video transfer is quite clean and free of defects and dirt, though digital edge enhancement rears its ugly head from time to time. The colors vary from moderate to slightly oversaturated, but the overall effect is pleasing and vivid. As for sound, the best part is the catchy theme song, a nice bit of thump and synth. In other respects, a competent television soundtrack, meaning clear and distinct but otherwise fairly mono.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Until I began writing this review and did some research, I had no idea that this DVD release of The Piglet Files is not the whole of the series. Rather than just a flash in the pan sort of show, The Piglet Files apparently lasted for three seasons, with this release merely encompassing the first season. Unfortunately, the packaging does not make this at all clear, as it should. I can only hope that in due course we will be graced with the appearances of the other two seasons!
With my taste for a number of British television shows, I am unfortunately familiar with the general production values of BFS Video product, which continue in The Piglet Files. This is not a comment on the technical quality of the shows themselves, but rather the frosting on the cake, so to speak. That is, scant extra content, no insert in the keep case, and not even English subtitles (or American subtitles, for that matter). Actually, the fact that The Piglet Files contains any extra content is a surprise, given the bare-bones discs (i.e. Sharpe's Rifles) I have seen in the past.
While any extra content is better than none at all, damning with faint praise is the best that I can do for The Piglet Files's content. There are biography and filmography profiles for Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Francis, and a short history of the MI5 counter-intelligence service. That's it.
A well-blended combination of farce, physical comedy, razor-sharp wit, and spy genre satire, The Piglet Files comes in family-friendly, half-hour sized chunks to brighten most anyone's day. Anglophiles or spy-genre fans with a sense of humor should just pick this set up ($40 list), but I'd recommend The Piglet Files for a general audience as well. If you want gritty, deadly serious British spy fare, check out the excellent series The Sandbaggers available on DVD.
The Piglet Files is released without charge, with the thanks of the court for its service in the name of comedy. BFS Video is guilty of excessive bean counting, which we can only hope will be remedied in the future.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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