Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Hands Up, Who Likes Me?: The Bad Education of Look Around You

In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Look Around You.

The great crop of British comedic voices that popped up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s are now fast becoming household names here in the states: Simon Pegg, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, Armando Ianucci and now Peter Serafinowicz.

American audiences might recognize Peter Serafinowicz as Fa’ad Shaoulian from the now defunct FOX series, Running Wilde. Or perhaps Sctanley, from the Vince Vaughan/Jon Favreau vehicle, Couples Retreat. Or maybe even as the voice of Darth Maul. In any case, that would be a grave disservice to Mr. Serafinowicz.

I recommend audiences go back to watch the full body of his work from the BBC and I’d start with the cult classic, Look Around You.

Written and created by Serafinowicz and Robert Popper, Look Around You debuted on BBC2 in 2002 as eight 10-minute shorts. The show paid stinging homage to the types of educational films you might be forced to watch in school during the late 70’s and early 80’s. They capture the tone of dusty, mind-numbing edu-tainment perfectly, and as one watches you can almost smell the chalk and feel the adolescent boredom in the room.

Each episode of Look Around You would tackle a topic, like germs, or water, and attempt to educate the audience in increasingly bizarre and misleading ways.

Look Around You…Water:

Series one was very funny, but in my opinion really only laid the groundwork for the second series, which was far more dynamic and hilarious. Hosted by an ensemble of very funny performers (led by Serafinowicz), Look Around You series 2 hit the airwaves in 2005 and had a much more Real People or 3-2-1 Contact vibe (for American audiences, that is). The show still tackled themes, but it was expanded to six 30-minute episodes.

When I first saw Look Around You I was absolutely bowled over with jealousy and admiration. Outside of Adult Swim, there just wasn’t a venue for a show like this in the States, and here it was, fully produced, and executed to perfection. A terrific combination of dead-pan conceit and absurdity, Look Around You was very influential on my own attempts to stay true to my creative ideas, no matter how niche or obscure.

Rap is Born!:

Synthesizer Patel:

With his cross-over success to America, I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more from Peter Srafinowicz, but it may never be as surreal, and sublimely ridiculous as this again. (And before you all start beating me up for not recommending the Peter Serafinowicz Show, I’m covering it in a future column!)

I leave you with the classic, Little Mouse:

Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.

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  • http://twitter.com/petegaines petejayhawk

    The thing that has always really struck me about Look Around You is the incredible attention to detail in every episode. Little things – like the "Birds of Britain" documentary or the "Diarrhea Dan" computer game – were completely, needlessly fleshed out when they totally didn't have to be at all. Other things, like the Serafinowicz-composed theme/background music, were so meticulously done. All of this just made the absurdity of the series that much more striking, and enabled Serafinowicz and Popper to pull it off that much better. Some of the jokes might've fallen flat if the entire series hadn't been so painstakingly planned/written/executed.

    • My Number is my Address

      It is a great theme song! The man knows from whom to borrow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MDCbIhTa_w

      I was watching the BBC show on 60 Years of Science tv (narrated by Robert Webb) last night and I was very disappointed that they didn't say anything about this. They did have a nice Fry and Laurie do Open University bit but Look Around You really deserved a good half hour.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/curtisgwinn Curtis Gwinn

    i agree pete, a wonderfully intricate, absolutely silly show!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Newstedt/100000178655331 Jason Newstedt

    >20 GOTO 10

    Ahhh…those were the days! Pete nailed it with the attention to detail. Awesome show.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    Look Around You is so funny. You should soooo do Mitchell and Webb next. They're hilarious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Chu/15305165 Doug Chu



    Still one of my favorite things ever, for reasons I cannot entirely explain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Chu/15305165 Doug Chu

    Wait… I think Mr. Show did the "I'm-a rap-rap-a-rap rapping" thing first.

  • http://www.dorkismo.com barnhouse

    So crazy about this show. My (English) husband says it is a note-perfect spoof of the late-night Open University programs (or programmes, I mean) of the late 70s and early 80s.

  • alexandjef

    What a great show. Being from the UK this such a stand -out comedy, few others do deadpan/ surreal stuff as well as this. Personally I think series one is stronger, series 2 dragged some of the jokes out a bit too much and felt a bit over-done, I prefered the minimal feel off the first outing. Love how it's done so deadpan and looks so convincing, some of it you almost believe. This is my first time checking out this column, but if your looking for cult and brilliant British comedy look out for Peep Show, Monkey Dust, Dark Place, (obvious) Spaced, Big Train and Armstrong and Miller.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/curtisgwinn Curtis Gwinn

      we'll have to agree to disagree on series 1 and 2 of LAY, but both are terrific. rest assured peep show, spaced, monkey dust, dark place will all be covered in this space, soon!