Judge Clark Douglas prefers the snake, thanks.
Snuff Box is a British comedy series so thoroughly peculiar that my first inclination is to tell you that you've never seen anything quite like it before. However, that's not entirely true. Almost everything in Snuff Box (in terms of both structure and content) is the sort of thing you've probably seen somewhere else: Mr. Show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, The Mighty Boosh, and even the woeful Funny or Die. However, Snuff Box piles the stronger absurdist inclinations of all of these programs into its own distinctively weird mélange.
The premise (to the degree that there is one) is simple: Matt Berry (Matt Berry, The IT Crowd) and Rich Fulcher (Rich Fulcher, The Mighty Boosh) are professional hangmen living in Britain. After a long day of executing people, they wander off and find themselves in a variety of bizarre situations. Essentially, it's a sketch comedy program with the thinnest of narrative tissue holding the sketches together. And yet, after a while, Snuff Box improbably begins to feel like a fully-formed world, with its own set of recurring characters, bizarre rules, and improbable locations.
I have to confess, I didn't laugh a whole lot during the first episode or two of Snuff Box (save for a hilarious little musical interlude about rapping with babies), as the show's rhythms took some getting used to and the humor certainly relies more on absurdity than on traditional punch lines. The actual jokes that are initially introduced aren't that remarkable in and of themselves, but Snuff Box somehow manages to make these mediocre jokes increasingly entertaining through the process of repetition. For instance, there's a little gag early on in which Matt spends a couple of minutes flirting with a pretty girl. However, at the second she mentions she has a boyfriend, he shouts an obscenity at her and engages in an act of minor destruction. It's chuckle-worthy at best, but somehow the joke gets funnier with each passing episode as Matt's behavior escalates (smashing a coffee mug is one thing; throwing a puppy across a parking lot is another).
Many of the gags are like that; long-form jokes that build steam over the course of the entire series. Also along these lines: Rich's trips back to the year 1888 (where Matt's ancestor offers him a variety of prostitutes to choose from on each occasion), Matt's visits to an ominous retail store (which always end in a beating of some sort), meetings of the British Board of Censors (in which the board laughs heartily at grotesque material until it goes just one notch too far) and Rich's insistence on ruining the punchlines of Matt's jokes. Weaved around all these familiar (and almost always increasingly enjoyable) routines are conventional sitcom storylines which are dealt with in anarchically unconventional ways: Matt and Rich's younger brothers come to visit, Rich steals Matt's diary, Matt searches for the true identity of Rich's mother, and so on.
The repeated sketches and consistent framework (the show always opens with the pair having a conversation in a long white hallway, and always closes with an impromptu performance of the catchy series theme song) go a long way toward preventing the series from feeling like nothing more than Berry and Fulcher simply throwing whatever ideas pop into their heads on the screen for our consumption. Stepping back and taking a larger view of the series, one can appreciate the impressively intricate construction of the show; its tics, catchphrases, recurring characters and seemingly random outbursts of weirdness have been arranged like a remarkable piece of dirty, whiskey-soaked clockwork. It's not quite as consistently entertaining as some of the other stuff Berry and Fulcher have been associated with, but it's probably the most ambitious endeavor of both gentlemen's careers.
The series looks okay on DVD, though there are some portions of the show that are seemingly supposed to look rather shoddy. Detail isn't great and there's some color bleeding at times, but nothing which renders the disc ugly or unwatchable. Audio is also sturdy enough, with the music (mostly written by Berry and a consistent highlight of the show) coming through with strength and dialogue sounding fairly clean. A generous amount of supplements have been packed onto the disc along with all six episodes: three audio commentaries, a fun supply of celebrity-heavy featurettes ("Taking Control of Your Body," "Locations Walking Tour," "The Score," "Inside the Snuff Box," "Testimonials"), some outtakes and a bonus CD featuring music from the show.
Note: Though the series isn't rated, Snuff Box is most assuredly R-rated material. You'll be treated to violence, sex, nudity, copious amounts of swearing and some rather nauseating gross-out images. Those who prefer their comedy a little gentler should consider themselves warned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
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