Nathan Barley is the latest comedy creation from Chris Morris, the genius behind the superb satirical sketch shows Brass Eye and The Day Today. It follows the exploits of a disgruntled journalist, Dan, whose latest critique on the 'Rise of the Idiots' - supposedly a warning against a zombie-like spread of brainless, thoughtless, overly style-conscious, twits - is lapped up by the very people he is writing about. Worse still, the head idiot himself (in Dan's eyes) enters his life and forever changes it. The idiot is Nathan Barley.The series sees Dan desperately trying to break away from his job at the sell-out magazine, Sugarape, where he works amongst idiots, but foiled at every turn by the appearance of further idiots (like a job interviewer who plays the guitar whilst interviewing). His life is made limitlessly worse from the increasing harassment he gets from his new 'best friend' Nathan, who immediately - and disturbingly for Dan - takes a shine to his sister, Claire. To him, Nathan is quintessentially idiotic and their interactions become increasingly frustrating and almost competitive for him as they meet repeatedly on the street or in the café.Across the season we see Nathan try to impress a bevy of women, from the glamorous b-list celebrity Dajve 'Dave' Bikinus, to a coke-blasted teenage girl, to Dan's sister Claire, almost always tripping up through his own ineptitude (after Dan accidentally sleeps in paint, his wreck of a hairstyle prompts Nathan to re-invent himself, with hilarious results when his would-be girlfriend finds out). What makes this so bitingly funny though, is not the superb satirical commentary that provides a weighty undercurrent to the episodes but the characters themselves, not least Nathan Barley. He is a twin Bluetooth headset-sporting loud-mouth twit who rides around on a bike designed for a five-year old, thinks he can DJ, knows nothing about filmmaking (the industry he purports to be in) and tries so hard to be cool that he seldom succeeds. However, in a very David Brent (from The Office) manner, he is actually quite an underdog, occasionally doing something (often unintentionally) nice and, more often than not, being so innocent in his extreme mistakes that you can't help but feel sorry for him. He's a great character, at once overtly idiotic like the zombies Dan is warning against, who uses made-up words like Coincimental, Credos (a fusion of kudos and credence no doubt) and Zappucino to try and be hip, but at the same time so desperate to be liked that you actually find yourself rooting for him from time to time and pitying him when he lands himself in endless self-made silly situations.
Chris Morris' latest vehicle is a superb return to form after the overly surreal and slightly stodgy Jam. Following in the footsteps of his previous anti-media satires, this marks his first real foray into story-based TV and it is simply superb. My one reservation would be that Morris himself is not in it (he starred in both The Day Today and Brass Eye, going on to playing cameos in Jam) but that is easy to overlook when you get into the series and find yourself engaged by the characters and the actors who were chosen. If you like his previous work, then you are unlikely to be disappointed, but if you are unfamiliar with it then it is like a media-based variation on The Office. As such I suspect any who gives it a shot will find it similarly hilarious.