Armando Iannucci. Don't be ashamed if you don't know the name. Nor if you don't recognise his face, though I suspect many probably do, than know his name. For you see Armando Iannucci is better known for his creations than himself. He was part of the creative team behind The Day Today (1994) and co-launcher of Steve Coogan's career as Alan Partridge throughout its various TV incarnations. Though, this is slowly changing as, like Ben Elton achieved way back when, Armando Iannucci is starting to find fame in front of the camera as well as behind it. Already an accomplished writer and director, he had skirted with acting in many of the shows he had written in small bit parts, but all that was supposed to change with the aptly named The Armando Iannucci Shows. He wrote and directed the show for Channel 4 that was first broadcast end August beginning September of 2001. There was a good buzz about the series, but unfortunately it was a lost cause. Up against Newsnight, the show was doomed to obscurity as come 11 September no one was watching; news was to dominate the TV ratings for weeks. Sensing a possible following, Channel 4 graciously agreed to a rerun, but a diet of reality shows and erratic scheduling meant Armando Iannucci's TV career stalled. But those that had seen were hooked, a second series was never mooted, so a call for DVD was the shout. It's taken some three years but here, at last, are the full eight episodes of The Armando Iannucci Shows and with it lies the hope that it will gain the following and reputation it so richly deserves.
The style of the show is a skilful meld of other comedic tones that produce an overall new feel while at the same time are reminiscent of comedy greats. Principally the episodes follow an 'observational' comedic theme, but add to that a surreal 'Spike Milligan' twist and a dash of short one line skits from Fry and Laurie, all tied together with Iannucci's soft spoken paranoia there is something that will have you nodding with sympathy and laughing with ludicrousy (yeah I know that's not a real word, but trust me it happens). Each show takes a single idea, the commentary didn't really need to elaborate on this, and weaves an insane tapestry of further ideas that, unlikely as it seems, form a narrative. If not for that individual episode for all the episodes to come, by introducing recurring characters and situations. For example Hugh, an elderly gentleman that comments on modern development as if they were years old (black and white internet, asking a girl parents if you can knock her up and get her on crack), the TV producers obsessed with idiotic ideas, the hair dresser and his insane inane drivel (Gerry Adams is the exact double of Moira Stewart. It's as if she was looking in a mirror and someone drew on a beard and glasses) or East End Thug whose abusive threats force kitchen appliances to work. These reoccurrences ground the episodes with a stability that allows the more wild ideas to flow. And more than anything else it is very, very funny.
An arguable statement perhaps, as comedy is so often in the eye of the beholder, however the everyman observations with the surrealistic nature is a winning formula, as the series develops so does the writing. It never delves too deep into the satire or provocation of The Day Today or later Morris efforts, but there are elements, young school girls cheering on a male puppet striptease, the priest that sleeps with his parishioners, but he never really crosses the line and the show runs better for it. However, I must say that even at eight episodes the series is criminally short; a victim of tragic circumstance. One could say that since it is so short there is precedent for cult status. There are certainly enough memorable characters, situations and quotable lines. It's obscurity may also help out. Though I think I'd rather see it achieve a larger audience than the cult standing. It is a clever, inventive and above all funny show and well worth seeking out.
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