Judge Kristin Munson prefers Saxonviolence, but this biting Britcom will do.
"You're a bit of a dick sometimes, aren't you?"
The Britcom landscape is littered with jerks. Crooked jerks with an ounce of conscience; social-climbing jerks that have you rooting for their comeuppance; characters whose social ineptitude and neediness turns them into jerks; jerks you hate to love and love to hate. Saxondale introduces a whole new kind of jerk into that pantheon: the jerk you wish you had the balls to be.
Facts of the Case
Tommy Saxondale (Steve Coogan, 24 Hour Party People), '70s roadie and current exterminator, may be old but his best years aren't behind him. He's got a classic Mustang, a sexually adventurous girlfriend (Ruth Jones, Little Britain), and a wide-eyed protégé (Rasmus Hardiker) who hangs on his every word. He also has an ex-wife, a grown daughter, and a standing appointment with an anger management group, none of which actually helps him keep his temper.
Like the title implies, Saxondale: The Complete Seasons 1 and 2 contains all 13 episodes of the series' two seasons.
When Tommy Saxondale blows his top, you really wish it was you. We've all wanted to go off on women whose hair and skin color come from a bottle, people who mine their tragic pasts to make themselves seem interesting, or just people who pester you with flyers when you're shopping, but most of us are too polite to actually do it. Instead we smile with gritted teeth and take it, even as our blood pressure skyrockets.
No, Tommy tells those women what we're all thinking ("You're orange!"), confronts those ego-trippers in over-the-top pissing matches ("I once got so high I used a live dolphin as a bong"), and beats the crap out of those companies' furry mascots. He may be a hothead and a jerk, but he's slightly less obnoxious than the object of his temper and that makes all the difference.
Steve Coogan is always at his best when he disappears completely into the irritating losers he plays and—while he's at his ugliest under the scraggly hair, pot belly, and bad teeth—Tommy is his most empathic character to date. Every episode starts with an anger management session that's a build-up to a blow up but the episodes themselves paint him as old guy clinging to his nonconformist ideals in his settled, suburban existence. It's not impossible to believe that his much younger companion, the tattooed and pierced Magz (The always awesome Ruth Jones), would consider him a kindred spirit.
Saxondale may be filmed on location, but it has more in common with the three camera Britcoms of the '70s and '80s. The stories are standalone set pieces, designed to put Tommy through his paces without adding to a larger arc or even wrapping them up within the episode, once the situation has exhausted the comedic possibilities. It should feel shallow, but it doesn't. What it does do is encourage you to pop in a disc and skip around as you please. Something I did with the consequence of blitzing through half the set in one day and almost being late for work.
Dialogue-driven with the occasional outbreak of slapstick violence, the show's 2.0 stereo only gets going when its killer '70s soundtrack kicks in (most of which makes it to DVD intact); luckily, subtitles have been provided. The first season has the same bland look as the original The Office, but there's a major upgrade in film quality for the second season, resulting a richer color palette and a sharper transfer. An interview with the series' writers goes in-depth on the creative process and how the two deliberately flipped sitcom conventions when creating the show's characters. It's interesting to see them dissect their work and how much planning goes into making something seem effortless. A featurette (more on that below), deleted scenes that were deservedly cut, four fairly dry commentaries by Steve Coogan and producer Ted Dowd and the usual collection of production snaps finishes off the set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Both of Season 1's discs have badly executed menus. Each one is designed around a clip from the show that only continues as you move from one option to the next. These stops are so abrupt the DVD looks like it's frozen. It doesn't help that there's a lag as you shift from one screen to the next and that buttons are randomly assigned. Sometimes it's the left arrow that gets you to the next menu, sometimes the right, sometimes I gave up and hit combos until something happened. My thumbs haven't been this sore since my Darkstalkers days.
Not only is the set-up frustrating, it makes it hard to tell when the DVDs are genuinely malfunctioning. No matter how many remote tricks I tried, I was never able to get past the first five minutes of the "On the Road" featurette because of its constant stuttering. I could use that as proof for my hatred of overlapping DVD cases but the disc was on the bottom layer and fully protected.
Saxondale: The Complete Seasons 1 and 2 is suspiciously primed to street a week before Coogan's Hamlet 2. If you're even the slightest bit misanthropic, do yourself a favor and pick up this instead. It will do your blood pressure a world of good.
Not Guilty. Shine on you crazy diamond.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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