Andrew Mickel11 April 2011
Green Wing's successor has landed. It's 160% good; but unfortunately that's an 80% good half-hour show that's been spread over an hour-long slot...
Episode one of Campus, and everything is more than a little deja vu, thanks to this being an extended reshoot of last year's excellent Comedy Showcase pilot. The plots are the same, but there are some subtle differences.
Joseph Millson has stolen Brian Cox's haircut. The setting is similar, but that administrator lady is all tanned. And someone's padded out its extended timeslot with 35 minutes of guffing about.
Unfortunately, quite a bit of that extension seems to have come from improv, and this is very improvise-y improvisation. You can almost hear someone yelling 'Improvise!' off camera, and all of a sudden the actors are back in week one of Guildhall Drama School – two of them are having a wrestle! Some of them are getting up in each others' face! – and it can sometimes be reasonably entertaining.
But it is clearly not as funny as everyone involved thinks it is, and good grief, it seems to drag on. Forget the amazing lines that the The Thick of It team squeeze out of improv: this is, often, just hard work to watch.
This particular episode suffered the added problem that (a) we saw many of these improvs specifically in the pilot, and (b) it is so similar to its also semi-improvised predecessor Green Wing that both shows share the same pitfalls and triumphs.
The main triumph is clearly the two leads. Andy Nyman as Jonty De Wolfe, the vice-chancellor with a calm exterior who is essentially That Scottish Lady Off Of Green Wing. He's got a sharp suit and immaculate second-hand car salesman beard, that hides a writhing mess of mental going on underneath: accents and aggressive improvisation, monologues and (not very comfortable to watch, and not in the good way) racist outbursts. He is essentially the Green Wing-esque David Brent.
There's also lazy English professor Matt Beer (Millson, who has accidentally forgotten to age since Peak Practice). He's physically charismatic and seems more comfortable with improvising than most of the rest of the cast, probably a result of being quite an actorly actor outside of TV.
Like Green Wing, though, once you get past the main leads, the rest of the cast rapidly start to thin out.
There's the postgrad student that Beer gets to mess about with; the two administrators who get to mess about with each other; an uptight engineering lecturer who gets to mess with a dictaphone; and a mousy maths professor who gets no-one to mess with. You can't help but suspect she either needs a co-character, or needs to be dropped by series two.
This is a much smaller cast than that of Green Wing, and the characters tend to be slight creations who are luckily gifted some good lines. When Campus was a half hour pilot, that was great. Green Wing always creaked under its sheer length and the amount of not-great material that padded between its golden moments.
But over an hour, Campus has to string out fewer characters for much longer. By forty minutes in, I was checking my watch, wondering if it could hurry up and finish so I could get on with watching Newsnight.
Still, Nyman and Millson are great, and the rest of the cast are decent enough. The improv may be exhausting dicking about, and the show desperately needs an editor armed with a machete.
But if it can somehow pick up the pace that it didn't get a chance to enter in to in episode one, it could become a welcome addition to the TV schedules.
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