Smart, witty, interesting, imaginative and enjoyable stuff
Continuing the BBC's commitment to education in broadcasting, Mark Steel gives his weekly lecture on the subject of various historical figures. Of course this pitch probably put some viewers off because it is hard to see the comedy value in it but those who gave it a try have probably, like me, found it to be great fun as well as being informative. Of course it is still an acquired taste and I can't imagine too many people switching over from "Deal or No Deal" to catch the latest lecture from Steel; no, this is more for the people who enjoy the Radio 4 comedies (not as select a group as you might think when you realise how many R4 comedies have made the move to big television audiences).
The scripts are mostly very impressive because they are solidly based on the basic facts of the characters; not to the point where you can watch it solely for educational purposes but certainly enough for you to pick up something from it. The script obviously has its strength in the tongue-in-cheek delivery and constant joking that it brings to every factual line that Steel delivers. With lots of asides to portray what Steel is saying, the series produces some great laughs with plenty of bits that are quite obvious sight gags but also wickedly inventive and sharp. Steel's delivery is good because he does convince as a modern BBC lecturer as well as a standup comedian; the fact that he writes the material means that he delivers it really well. The actors in the enactments of the "history" are generally talented enough to produce solid laughs with sight gags even though they are only given seconds to produce each time.
Overall this is a smart, witty and clever series that is well worth a look. The historical basis for each lecture makes it interesting on one level but not to the point where it takes away from the comedy. This is delivered in lots of asides and re-enactments that are done with a sly smirk, imagination and lots of clever humour. Maybe not to everyone's taste because they will see it as being a bit too smart for its own good but it is worth a look because it is funnier than you expect from the one line summary.
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