It seems as though for as long as television has been around, there have been sketch comedy shows on it. Some seem to last forever, while others are nothing more than a flash in the pan. Some sketch comedy is clever and laugh-out-loud funny, while some just sort of sits there. And then, somewhere in between all that is the new sketch comedy show from England, recently released to DVD, manstrokewoman.
Created by Ash Atalla (The Office, UK version) the series stars Nick Frost, Nicholas Burns, Daisy Haggard, Amanda Abbington, Ben Crompton, and Meredith McNeill, and each, always, plays some sort of neurotic 30-something weirdo. The actors are all able, and there are moments when these neuroses and the way they are portrayed are funny, but more often than not the concept behind the sketch tends to fall flat.
As an example, there is a recurring sketch where a man who has been dumped by his girlfriend tries to talk to her but always breaks down into hysterics. The woman then attempts to interpret what the man is saying in his sobs. She is virtually never successful, and the man becomes more and more distraught. That is it. That is the entire sketch. The first time around it is funny. Not belly laugh funny, but somewhat amusing, and certainly more amusing than the recurring sketch where a father constantly loses his son. But, the fact that there are second, third, fourth, and umpteenth instances of this exact same sketch being played out throughout the series make it, quickly, less than funny. The sketch is short every time, but being that there is little depth to it, that is merciful.
In fact, all the sketches are quite short and have very little depth to them. Rather, they are all quick little observations about our society – very short setups before the punchline.
That idea is not a bad one – quick ins and outs, no lengthy setups – but, the fact that there are so few actors in the series and so many recurring ideas greatly hurts the show. The viewer ends up wondering for the first third to half of any sketch if this is something new and different, or if they ought to be drawing a connection to a previous sketch. Yet, as the sketches themselves are so short one really does have to pay attention to understand what is going on. Spending such a large portion of the sketch trying to make a connection to previous ones hurts the viewer's ability to grasp whatever humor is there to be had.
There are certainly funny moments and funny recurring sketches. In one of the better examples of a recurring sketch, men are completely interested in whatever a woman around them is saying right up until the moment when she discusses her boyfriend. At that point their interest dies abruptly and the woman is completely stunned at the transformation. Even trying to figure out if the sketch is building on a previous one for thirty seconds does not hurt the punchline.
The manstrokewoman: The Complete First Series DVD contains all six episodes as well as a “making of” featurette, commentaries on the six episodes, as well as a couple of paragraphs on the band behind the theme music for the show.
There are funny moments in the series, but they tend to be outnumbered by less than funny ones, and the guessing game of “have I seen this sketch before” takes away a lot of the enjoyment of the series.