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The Mitchell and Webb Situation Review

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by AVForums Feb 1, 2006

    Better know to cult viewers as the two stars of C4's superb sit-com Peep Show, comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb's ill-fated sketch show 'The Mitchell and Webb Situation' finds itself resuscitated and reintroduced to the masses, no doubt to ride of the coat-tails of deserved critical kudos afforded to their later works. Now approaching five years old, this is a fascinating opportunity to see the forgotten early efforts of the fledgling pair pre-Mark and Jeremy. Originally aired on the now defunct cable channel UK Play and watched by a grand total of three men and a dog, TMAWS is a perfect example of gifted comic artists finding their feet. The end result, to coin a popular phrase, is close but no cigar. It's a common misconception that Mitchell and Webb are the brains behind Peep Show (in a Ricky Gervais/Peter Kay comedy-auteur kind of way) when in truth they act but don't script the programme. Here when left to their own devices as authors and performers of their own work, it's kind of easy to see why. The show, set in a traditional sketch format, is wildly uneven. There are some moments of near genius in here. Unfortunately there are an equal proportion of sketches and scenarios that fall flat on their face in an embarrassing pointless mess. Not helping matters is the style of the show that favours a number of continuing reappearing scenario's over a collection of random vignettes. When these work (Mitchell as an entrepreneurial farmer, the pair as brothers brought to blows over an inquisitive child) they are superb. Unfortunately, when they fail to spark (the mind-numbingly pointless spoon sketch) it's the comedic of being smacked over the head repeatedly with the proverbial Mallet's mallet of laboured humour. If their flare for actual comedy writing is under question, there are no such arguments about their mastery of the performance. No doubt this show catapulted them into acting honours with Peep Show, and the chemistry and timing which made that show what it is stays present and correct here. Both actors have a unique comic style which complements each other perfectly, and brings added depth and variety to the sketches on offer here. The material may not always be first rate, but the pair's gift for comedic acting certainly digs them out of a few holes and elevates the series a few notches. The prospect of a tired old pairing such as French and Saunders acting out some of the more underdeveloped sketches here does not even bare thinking about. What we are left with essentially, is evidence of a raw comedy couple taking there first tentative steps in the industry. They may not have fully found their voice on the basis of this series, nor had an adequate grasp of consistency or quality control. What they had even then though, was a great comic partnership that , with better material, could have made this series into something special. As it stands, this is more of a point of historical interest for fans of contemporary British comedy than it is an essential stand-out show.