The Mitchell & Webb Situation

Starring: David Mitchell and Robert Webb
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 15
Available 20 February 2006

Before Peep Show there was The Mitchell & Webb Situation. Originally made for the now defunct cable/satellite channel UK Play, this series is to Peep Show what Matt Lucas and David Walliams' Rock Profile is to Little Britain: a cult success on a minority channel that propelled its stars toward greater things. Now Mitchell and Webb fans who (like me) missed out on their television debut can catch up with it on DVD.

This show won't be to everybody's tastes, though. Some sketches work better than others, and there are aspects that some viewers might find offensive, such as the C-word, which is seen daubed on a wall, or a man being deliberately injected with the AIDS virus.

However, there's bound to be something in this inventive series that will strike a chord with you. I particularly enjoyed David Mitchell's gleeful farmer, who marvels at the fact that he gets money for stuff that grows out of the ground. I also empathised with Robert Webb's bored man in a pub, who feels excluded from the conversations of those around him, but cannot think of a topic of his own, so he believes that everyone should shut up unless they have something genuinely enlightening or clever to say. OK, so it might not sound that funny when I describe it, but believe me, it is!

Unlike the majority of sketch shows nowadays, such as Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show, The Mitchell & Webb Situation tends not to stretch its characters and situations across the entire series. With the exception of Mitchell and Webb's inventor characters ("What if it's not about the wolf at all," says Webb, as the pair develop a story idea that involves blowing down different kinds of house, "what if it's about the pigs?") and the polite tramps that appear at the end of every show, their comic creations are restricted to one episode each, though they often reappear in several sketches within that episode.

On a broader level, there is some cross-series development of themes, as opposed to specific situations. For example, many of the six episodes on this DVD contain sketches that involve a man being interviewed in his own home. These include a man (Webb) who cannot persuade the television crew to leave and another (Mitchell) who just doesn't grasp the artifice of the recording process.

Several of the sketches also star Olivia Colman, who went on to appear in Peep Show as Mitchell's regular love interest, Sophie, and in the second series of Look Around You.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this series is that it was recorded in the space of just 15 working days, as Mitchell and Webb reveal in their audio commentary (for the first episode only) and in a short interview on a bench in a windy park. The commentary also includes an amusing off-topic detour into the realm of Doctor Who.

With the comedians set to return to the sketch-show format in That Mitchell and Webb Look (a television version of their BBC Radio 4 series That Mitchell and Webb Sound), fans of their work will find this release a most agreeable situation.

Richard McGinlay

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