Fans of retro-style educational films and dry British humor will flock like Brown Maiden moths to the flame to watch LOOK AROUND YOU, the wacky and absurd comedy series by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. For Americans, imagine a parody of terrible 1970s science class films mixed with the irreverence of Monty Python, and you’ll appreciate the humor of this series, now available on DVD.
With eight experimental episodes running only 10 minutes each, LOOK AROUND YOU is the kind of show you’d never see produced on American television, but that’s a good thing. Taking bland-sounding topics like Water, Music, Calcium and Iron to satiric extremes in mock-educational mode, stiff and staid British ‘scientists’ conduct experiments which prove that snow’s main purpose is entertainment, teeth aren’t water soluble and calcium is intelligent. Presumably viewers are students in the UK school system, and narrator Nigel Lambert (real-life voice of such classic educational films) cues them to make notes in their test books. Of course, the experiments often end in comedic non-sequiturs themselves, as with the scientific conclusion that the human brain does much more daily computation than the buttocks, and that germs come from Germany. This harnessing of dry, slow-building wit and abrupt turn punchlines keep these satiric episodes most unpredictable.
The key to appreciating the dry, crazy wit of creator/writers Popper and Serafinowicz and director Tim Kirkby is knowing that their humor is in the details. Unlike laugh-track driven sitcoms here in the U.S., LOOK AROUND YOU requires you actually pay attention to the clever blend of dry-yet-absurd narration while scanning the main action and background sets and props. Laboratory bottles and equipment often contain easter egg jokes and references, while the mashups of vintage and produced documentary footage underscores just how droll and uninspiring the real educational films were in their day. Meanwhile a bit about the contagious nature of germs leaves the test subject with a potentially fatal 107 degree fever by experiments’ end, only to conclude with the narrator wishing the sick man the best of luck in getting well soon.
Watch for guest star appearances from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ), Matt Lucas and David Walliams (LITTLE BRITAIN), Edgar Wright (director of upcoming SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) and Sarah Alexander (COUPLING).
The Series One DVD release also cooks up plenty of extras to enjoy, including the original 20-minute pilot episode Calcium, the Little Mouse music video, audio commentary tracks from guest stars and creators, pages from Ceefax (a BBC teletext news service pre-dating the internet), a test pattern card, and couple hidden bonuses.
LOOK AROUND YOU is an acquired taste in the British banquet of comedic television series, but if you experiment with it, you’ll enjoy the test results. 3 out of 5 stars.