Published in The Sunday Herald, January 12, 2014
The best TV series of 2014 has already arrived, in my house, anyway. This, finally, is a new one from Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, and it’s a mad, cheap, manky punk riot.
Filmed before a studio audience, House Of Fools is a borderline sitcom that seems designed as ferocious riposte to the likes of Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys. As with both those recent successes, it seeks to make a virtue of a determinedly old-school approach, the shaking fakery of flimsy sets, a cast trying not catch the eye of the audience or each other, because they will dissolve into giggles as surely as Dudley Moore, the whole live-ness of it. But it goes at it with a markedly different philosophy from either of those shows: let’s do that stuff but without any middle class mimsy, and, you know, make it actually funny.
Despite it looking like it cost about £72.99 per-episode to make, it is also, sneakily, far more deeply and ambitiously, if grottily, textured than most throw-back studio coms. Each and every item of lovingly hand-made junk littering the background of the set looks like it would be funny if you saw it in close up. Every now and then, the reckless live action pauses for animated inserts that look like sweet, flickering fever nightmares, starring handmade puppets collaged together from customised bits of old toys; or weirdly filmed effects, such as the one tonight, where Bob Mortimer goes flying through the air beneath the archway into his kitchen, looking tiny.
It’s barely a sitcom, anyway – more a parody, but even more a panto, one stripped of any festive trappings, gone seriously to seed and started growing fungus. The fragile set up is that we’re in Bob’s house, which is mainly his living room. Vic is the lodger he will never get rid of, who has stuffed the place with mountains of junk, including mountains of tinned pineapples, a classic Reeves painting of a pygmy, and a medieval gauntlet that he loves. We know Vic loves his gauntlet, because, when he appears, the first thing he does is sing a song about it. The first time anyone appears, the first thing they do is sing a song.
The various other freaks appearing and singing include Bob’s weird son, Erik (Daniel Simonsen) lurking upstairs like a Scandicrime serial killer; Beef, a fly, fruity lothario in a wooden fedora (Matt Berry, in the patented Matt Berry role); Vic’s jailbird handyman brother, Bosh (Shooting Stars veteran Dan Skinner); and Julie, the alcoholic nymphomaniac writer next door (Morgana Robinson).
The plot is, essentially, that these creatures hang around and mess things up for Bob: tonight he’s hoping to watch Conan The Barbarian on TV with a blind date, but Vic has managed to lodge his gauntlet in the screen. This, however, is merely the flimsiest excuse for a vigorous battery of gloriously stupid, gleefully bad jokes, some astoundingly crude scatology, and people hitting each other with big spanners.
It is a place where vaudeville meets the grotesque and surreal; imagine Morecambe and Wise’s “in the flat” sketches, gatecrashed by Ubu Roi, or perhaps vice versa. It is astonishingly dumb, and it is the strongest evidence of intelligent life on TV. It is Vic and Bob going at it like Vic and Bob, still. At their age, they should really know better, and we should give thanks that they don’t. Many will hate it. I laughed my eyeballs into my martini.