Look Around You: Season One
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from BBC/Warner.
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This first season of BBC’s Look Around You is one of the most uniquely brilliant comedy series ever produced for television. Irreverent, nonsensical and utterly hysterical, Look Around You teaches us science and mathematics through the eyes of creators/writers/stars Robert Popper (Peep Show, Hot Fuzz) and Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead, Spaced).
The episodes in season one are presented in the style of 1970s educational television with narration by the wonderfully deadpan Nigel Lambert. And although the topics of each episode may be as bland as water, iron or math (or “maths” as this is a British program), the experiments presented are often based on entirely made-up science. Each episode runs a mere 9-minutes, with the entire 8-episode season accordingly clocking in at 71 minutes, but this by no means hinders the hilarity. In accordance with the style of the aforementioned 1970s educational programming, the cast and crew’s ensure with great attention to detail that each episode’s themed experiments plod along at excruciatingly accurate pacing (this incredible slowness is honestly one of the funniest things about the show).
This season has no plot, no substantial characters and not even a host, save for the narrator. And although this was changed in the series’ second season, in which Popper and Serafinowicz’s characters acted as hosts, the first season’s totally narration-driven format makes it incredibly unique. Plus, it shows extreme confidence in the writing of Popper and Serafinowicz in that they allow their jokes to be presented without the aid of established comic characters.
The special features include the double-length pilot: “Calcium;” a full-length, alternate music video for a song presented in the series, which I won’t go into for fear of spoiling it; a play-at-home quiz; hilarious commentary on all episodes by Popper, Serafinowicz and director Tim Kirkby (with co-star Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) popping in for the final commentary); and a series of guest commentaries.
The guest commentaries are particularly interesting. There are commentaries for two episodes by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, two episodes with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, two with Tim & Eric, and another two with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The funny thing is, though, that only Pegg and Frost actually worked on the series. The other six guest meander through their commentaries, undirected and therefore lost, talking about anything they damn well please, really. Cera and Hill talk about working on Superbad as well as the lunch they just ate, Tim & Eric walk the listener through a relaxation exercise, and Stone and Parker do a lot of watching and laughing rather than commentating. It’s bizarre to have commentaries by people unaffiliated with the series, but one gets the impression listening to them that if it was Popper and Serafinowicz’s idea, they found it very funny to listen to their friends stumble through 20-minutes of undirected commentary.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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