TV Review: The Fast Show Special, BBC2

Fast Show special

Update 24/5/14. I'm indebted to Paul Holmes of website The Velvet Onion for pointing out to me that last night's Fast Show Special Part One was not quite as new as it seemed. Some, if not all, of the sketches had previously been aired on the internet as part of the Foster's Funny series a couple of years ago. Johnny Nice Painter (Charlie Higson) freaking out at the mention of "white" for a change can still be seen online. I'm not saying that it's the biggest scandal the BBC has been involved in in the last few years, but I've not seen much of a mention of this recycling in the recent coverage. This review by Michael Hogan in the Telegraph makes no mention of it and on iPlayer the first episode is billed as "The first of two Fast Show 20th anniversary specials". I did wonder how the cast still looked so young in places – maybe it was because they were not as old when it was filmed as they are now.

 

Well, the Pythons are back so why shouldn’t The Fast Show get on the comedy merry-go-round again? Particularly when they are all alive and still in pretty good health. Although as far as I know none of them have big divorce settlements or major mortgages to service. Which is lucky, because this reunion is on BBC2 as part of the channel's 50th birthday celebrations, not at the O2 Arena, so I doubt if they are going to be able to retire on the proceeds.

What is amazing about this show is that, with a few exceptions, it looks as if it could have been part of the very first series back in 1994. All the original cast members seem to be present, apart from Paul Shearer and, more importantly, Mark Williams. The absence of Williams possibly explains why there is no Suit You sketch, which is the only big thing that is missing here.

There is plenty of compensation for this though. Unless it is a Michael Jackson-style hologram, that really is Caroline Aherne saying “Scorchio!” during the Chanel 9 News. But this show is much more than merely a rehashing of old punchlines and catchphrases. OK, I lied, it isn't much more than a rehashing of old catchphrases and punchlines, but that doesn’t stop it from being hilarious. After all, it ain't broke so there is no need to fix it. And part of the original success of The Fast Show was the relentless repetition. Arabella Weir is, of course, still as concerned as ever about her bum looking big in this in this.

And there are some lovely twists too. Simon Day’s beautifully brutal TV cop Monkfish pitches up in a Downton spoof, John Thomson returns as gloriously eccentric prof Denzil Dexter and as Louis Balfour, laid back host of Jazz Club. Because there were so many wigs and old characters in the series the first time round they haven't really aged – the characters don’t look any older now. And the make-up budget was probably a lot less this time – no need to paint the wrinkles on the likes of Ted and Ralph, the cast can provide their own. Paul Whitehouse’s Rowley Birkin is a joy and it is strangely reassuring to see Charlie Higson's uber-oily Swiss Toni still offering sage advice to his car-dealing novice Paul (Rhys Thomas)  – “riding a bike is very much like making love to a beautiful woman...”

It’s the younger characters that are potentially more problematic, but they've worked out a way round this. I always thought that Paul Whitehouse’s beanie-hatted “Brilliant” was a teenager, but it turns out that he is now a 48-year-old who lives with his mum. Take out a few references to Twitter, Facebook, Nigella and Lady Gaga and it could be 1994 all over again. Except, that is, for one final skit. Make sure you stick around for the last sketch featuring football pundit Ron Manager, which does have a spookily topical ring to it.

The Fast Show Special – Part Two is on BBC2, May 26. Part One is on iPlayer.

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