Friday, August 21, 2009

There is no Spoons

Spoons was a 2005 sketch show screened on Channel 4 and E4. It only got one Series and was, I presume, not a great popular success. I never read any reviews at the time, I only dimly remember any promotional material for it, and it ended without any hype or fanfare. A DVD squeaked out, more or less unannounced, some months later. People I've chatted to about it either remember it only vaguely or not at all.
This seems a massive injustice.

The thing that set Spoons apart from other contemporary sketch shows was its focus on thirtysomething life. It was about the world you face when your twenties recede and you realise you're not really young anymore. When you're settled in a job - possibly not the one you hoped for - and you're in a serious long-term relationship, and commitment is already established and your concerns are mortgages and the possibility of children and getting a pension. When all of your peers seem to be identikit same-people; your friends, your partners friends, your friend's friends. All reading the same papers, liking the same music, going on the same holidays, eating at the same restaurants. This is the terrain of a dozen middling sitcoms, but sketch comedy rarely ventures here, not so consistently at any rate. More or less every single sketch on Spoons was set in and commenting on this world.

But that would be utterly irrelevant if it wasn't funny.
I stumbled across it and the first sketch I saw hooked me instantly. It seemed so universal and truthful it almost wasn't comedy. It was this sketch:

That would go on to be a long-running repeated sketch, more elaborate and involved with each rendition. But the essential power came from the fact that any man in a relationship with a woman of a certain age knew that this was exactly what she was thinking, only her hints would be more subtle, or at least less psychotic. Many of the sketches came from a similar place - male terror at the closing trap of their lives. A man who goes alone to an empty storage unit just for the quiet and the solitude, who resents his wife's phone-calll and lies to her about being at the Supermarket, or stuck in traffic. A man who approaches strangers in public to tell them that the woman hes with has abducted him, taken over his life and is planning for them to get a mortgage: "Please - Call the Police! She chooses my clothes..."

Or the many sketches about life as part of a couple. Like the couple who find themselves gently arguing about who should go to the bar or the popcorn kiosk in the lobby, the man plainly desperate that it should be him. He eventually concedes and as she departs, cannot contain the scream "And try to keep your knickers on this time!" Then he turns to nearby strangers and explains. "She had an affair last year...Its Fine now..."
Or the couple who share variations on this exchange repeatedly:
Him: Is that a new top?
Her: Yeah.
Him: It looks good. It really suits you.
Her: Thanks.
Her: So, you obviously think that I dress like your mum's jumble sale the rest of the time.
You really are a fucking cunt!
Or the couple using a Ouija board together. The bloke, of course, is surreptitiously directing the glass. She thinks they’ve contacted her nan.
She says “Nan”, do you think it’s time I had kids?”
He moves the glass to “No”.
She says “Then what will make me happy?”
The glass moves to letters, spelling out: T-R-Y-A-N-A-L.
“Tryanal?” she exclaims quizzically. “What does that mean?”

It was co-written by Charlie Brooker, too, fresh off Nathan Barley, another reason to be surprised by its failure. His style is all over it, most evident in the sketches which lean on long riffs for their power, but also in the dry bitterness of it, in the characters who are obviously miserable misantropes, in the shots at the silly fickleness of popular culture and middle class mores. The cast are generally outstanding, particularly Tom Goodman-Hill, Simon Farnaby and Rosie Cavaliero.

I could go on. I have gone on.
And while it was never the mighty Big Train It was funny, in a terribly bourgeois sort of way. And in a world where the likes of Spoons-lite ManStrokeWoman gets a second series on the BBC and Spoons alumni Kevin Bishop gets two series of his own show, and Little Britain is a commercial behemoth, it just doesn't seem fair that Spoons virtually disappeared without a trace.

There isn't much from the show on YouTube, but there are some gems. Especially the first two sketches here, which make use of Goodman-Hill's Yorkshire accent and warm earnestness:

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Blogger Beezer B said...

Spoons is pretty awesome. I only saw one episode on telly but I found a couple episodes online and then a bunch more sketches on youtube.
I didn't know there was a DVD. I think it probably tanked cos it makes most of its target audience hugely uncomfortable. I think it's slightly too close to the bone for a lot of the people in it's cross-hairs.

11:27 am  
Blogger Ross said...

That's what I was thinking. It's the kind of thing that's funny, but as it's target audience is the people you've described, they probably don't want the "I want a fucking baby!" fact shoved under their noses. It's too uncomfortable for a couple to watch together, and I can imagine the BBQ scene making a great many people laugh until by then end it also picks them out as another identikit thirty something droning on about the same tropes.

I'm dimly aware that I am trapped; despite my freedom I can't stop thinking that I want a lady to spend time with as well as shag. This will most likely put me into the baby on the horizon territory much sooner than I'd like.

As for you...

3:27 pm  
Blogger David N said...

I guess that is a likely reason for its failure. Though it seems strange that observational stand-up, for example, works on the principle of, well, "observation".
A comic notices something funny and true and close to the bone, they identify it, and its universality is what makes the humour work for a wider audience.
So why shouldn't this standard apply to sketch comedy too? Because its demographic is more middle-class, a little safer and less willing to be pushed into uncomfortable territory?
The fact that some of the humour in Spoons was so close to the uncomfortable truth makes it that much funnier, for me.
But maybe thats because I don't feel trapped or unhappy with my lot, despite your "As for you..."
Much (all?) of the best comedy is uncomfortable, or at least edgy, anyway.

9:52 pm  
Blogger jamesinseoul said...

Spooky. I heard about it for the first time recently, and being a Charlie Brooker fanboy, I nabbed off the internet immediately. Now it's at the top of my to watch pile.

10:34 am  

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