The Comic Strip Presents
The Complete Collection
DVD | Region 2 DVD
Directed by Peter Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen, and Adrian Edmondson
Starring Dawn French, Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall, Jennifer Saunders, and Alexei Sayle
Release Date: January 31, 2012
The Comic Strip is a British comedy troupe that started out in the early 1980s and gained stature after starring in a short concert film released in 1981 and directed by Julien Temple (The Great Rock and Roll Swindle starring the Sex Pistols, Earth Girls Are Easy). The following year newborn television network Channel 4 signed them for a new series of comedic short films. Premiering on the same night Channel 4 debuted – November 2, 1982 – The Comic Strip Presents brought edgy, alternative, and often controversial humor to living rooms, dorm rooms, and bustling pubs all throughout the U.K. The show has disappeared and reappeared constantly on several different channels in the three decades since its debut but it continues to airs to this day. The Comic Strip also made two feature films, The Supergrass and Eat the Rich, that saw theatrical releases both in the U.K. and the U.S. (sort of).
In 2005 a complete collection of the episodes aired between 1982 and 2000 – with certain exceptions – were released on a nine-disc Region 2 DVD box set with a bonus disc reserved for bonus features. Eat the Rich was not included in the set due to rights issues, and the version of The Supergrass made available was the theatrical cut and not the original cut with eight additional minutes of footage. That set has finally made its way to our shores. Without further adieu I present to you The Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection.
The Comic Strip was comprised of seven core members – Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, and Alexei Sayle – but oftentimes the show featured guest performances from Robbie Coltrane (the Harry Potter movies), Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas), Miranda Richardson (Rubicon), and Peter Cook (The Princess Bride). Three episodes were directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liasons, High Fidelity) and one, “Demonella”, by American cult movie legend Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul). No subject was off limits to the Comic Strip; contemporary politics, the music industry, Hollywood’s tendency to take dramatic license with issues of importance, celebrating criminal exploits, war, British television, and even children’s adventure books all found themselves in the troupe’s satirical cross hairs during The Comic Strip Presents‘ celebrated run.
Thirty-nine episodes, including the theatrical version of The Supergrass, are spread across the first eight discs in this box set and arranged by their original broadcast order. Here is a full list of episodes present here, along with their original air dates:
1. Five Go Mad in Dorset (first shown November 2, 1982)
2. War (first shown January 3, 1983)
3. The Beat Generation (first shown January 17, 1983)
4. Bad News Tour (first shown January 24, 1983)
5. Summer School (first shown January 31, 1983)
6. Five Go Mad on Mescalin (first shown November 2, 1983)
7. Dirty Movie (first shown January 7, 1984)
8. Susie (first shown January 14, 1984)
9. A Fistful of Travellers’ Cheques (first shown January 21, 1984)
10. Gino – Full Story and Pics (first shown January 28, 1984)
11. Eddie Monsoon – A Life? (first shown February 4, 1984)
12. Slags (first shown February 11, 1984)
13. The Bullshitters (first shown November 3, 1984)
14. The Supergrass (feature movie)
15. Consuela (first shown January 1, 1986)
16. Private Enterprise (first shown January 2, 1986)
17. The Strike (first shown February 20, 1988)
18. More Bad News (first shown February 27, 1988)
19. Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door (first shown March 5, 1988)
20. The Yob (first shown March 12, 1988)
21. Didn’t You Kill My Brother? (first shown March 19, 1988)
22. Funseekers (first shown March 26, 1988)
23. South Atlantic Raiders (first shown February 1, 1990)
24. South Atlantic Raiders Pt. II (a.k.a Argie Bargie!; first shown February 8, 1990)
25. GLC (first shown February 15, 1990)
26. Oxford (first shown February 22, 1990)
27. Spaghetti Hoops (first shown March 1, 1990)
28. Les Dogs (first shown March 8, 1990)
29. Red Nose of Courage (first shown April 9, 1992)
30. The Crying Game (first shown May 5, 1992)
31. Wild Turkey (first shown December 24, 1992)
32. Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (first shown April 22, 1993)
33. Space Virgins from Planet Sex (first shown April 29, 1993)
34. Queen of the Wild Frontier (first shown May 6, 1993)
35. Gregory – Diary of a Nutcase (first shown May 13, 1993)
36. Demonella (first shown May 20, 1993)
37. Jealousy (first shown May 27, 1993)
38. Four Men in a Car (first shown April 12, 1998)
39. Four Men in a Plane (first shown January 4, 2000)
The highlights of the set are “Bad News Tour” and “More Bad News” (scathing spoofs of hard rock bands, the first of which preceded This is Spinal Tap by a year), “Eddie Monsoon – A Life?” (a faux biography of a popular entertainer with a “taking penis” nightclub routine gone off his nut – pardon the pun), and my personal favorite, “Dirty Movie.”
“Dirty Movie” runs a fast-paced thirty minutes (each episode runs between 27 and 30 min.) and tells the simple story of a snobbish movie theater owner (Mayall) with a henpecked wife (Saunders) who receives a film can labeled “Dirty Movie” one day in the mail (Edmondson plays his daffy postman, who can be first seen helping a customer on his route install a mailbox in his front door with a hammer and chisel) and decides to play it at his theater while banning anyone else from seeing it. It’s one of those delicious set-ups for a screwball farce that pays off beautifully when the postman shows up at the theater under the impression that they would be showing “The Sound of Muzak” and a couple of local cops (Planer and Richardson) arrive to bust Mayall for possession of pornography.
Hilarity has rarely ensued like it does here. A live lobster served for breakfast, people being replaced by obvious flinging dummies, and Mayall trying desperately to convince the eavesdropping coppers that his theater really is showing “The Sound of Muzak” are just some of the episode’s top laugh out loud moments. Plus, just wait until you see the actual dirty movie that everyone is acting so crazy over. It features Dawn French and is kind of awesome.
The writing and performances in each episode of The Comic Strip Presents is sharp and witty and the absolute of modern British humor. The cast of the show would go onto to help create and/or star in some of the country’s finest comedy series in the decades to come like The Young Ones, The Vicar of Dibley, French and Saunders, and Absolutely Fabulous. But even in later years when they were at best individually it was rare when they were able to top the work they did as the Comic Strip. I wish more comedy series had the guts to take their humor and imaginations into the places they did, because it was never about the material they presented but how they presented it. Regardless of the era, The Comic Strip Presents remains a master class in creating timeless hilarity.
With the exception of “The Supergrass” (14:9) and both “Four Men in a Car” and “Four Men in a Plane” (16:9 anamorphic), every episode in this collection is presented in 1.33:1 full frame transfers. The video quality isn’t the best for the earlier shows but for the most part they look just fine and not much different than when they were first aired. They must have been mostly filmed in 16mm so this is likely the best each show will ever look on home video. Not surprisingly, the later episodes look even better. Picture quality is solid, colors are somewhat muted but are there, and grain content is present but never overwhelming. No subtitles are included.
Each episode gets an English 2.0 mono audio track. With little traces of distortion or deterioration every one of these soundtracks works remarkably well with dialogue and music moved to the front of the mix, one never cancelling the other out. This is the best we could ever expect from a British comedy show that has been around since I could barely walk, but it sounds excellent.
The ninth disc of this set carries all of the special features: a retrospective documentary from 2005 (53 minutes), another retrospective shown in two parts (50 minutes total) in 1998 on the series First on Four, and the original concert film (29 minutes) from 1981 that started it all.
The Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection is an undeniably essential DVD box set for the undiscriminating comedy fan featuring eight discs of topical and imaginative British wit and a ninth bonus disc of informative supplements. Whether you decide to buy this set new or used, this comes highly recommended.