Barley Whine

I was in two minds about discussing Nathan Barley (AKA, the Channel 4 sit-com that ended last Friday; but then I thought of a piss-poor pun as a title and decided “what the hell”. I don’t have a great deal to say about the programme, so feel free to skip this post, but for what it’s worth I have enjoyed this series and it has been well worth videoing of a weekend, and watching it as and when. The main problem with taping it has been the possibility you end up with some of the dreadful Friday Night Project as well, but it is easily (and best) ignored.

While I have liked the series as it mocked the pretentious and moronic people who populate the and meeja landscapes, I did keep thinking that I should have been enjoying it more and finding it funnier. I appreciated much of Barley’s absurd lingo (“peace and fucking!”), and thought it was clever; but I wasn’t exactly laughing, just sort of smiling to myself. I don’t know, but I wonder if some of it went a bit over my head, that unless you are part of London’s medialand you simply won’t get some of the in-jokes. I could be wrong, but as I sat there being mildly amused by some of the comic scenarios, I couldn’t help imagining others creased up on the floor, screaming “oh it’s so, so true”. Perhaps that explains why I thought that the funniest moment was probably when Dan Ashcroft accidentally killed the barber’s cat. Not very subtle, perhaps, or nice; but I did laugh.

That said, I thought the series improved as it went along, and it started hitting a few more bullseyes; perhaps it was because I became more familiar with the style, but I also think that some of the later episodes included more recognisable and better drawn caricatures such as Mandy the teenage coke-head and the Commissioning Editor of Channel Seven; earlier figures such as the piss “artist” 15Peter20 and tabloid fodder Dajve Bikinus (great name though) seemed far weaker.

The acting was generally very good; Julian Barratt as Dan was perfect, you could really feel his world weariness seeping through the screen. Similar praise must go to the rest of the cast, but in particular to Nicholas Burns as the self facilitating media node himself, Charlie Condou as Jonatton Yeah?, Richard Ayoade & Spencer Brown as the two idiotic SugarApe journos and Claire Keelan as Dan’s sister.

Unfortuantely for me Dan’s sister, Claire, was one of the weak points in the series; she was clearly meant to be the most sympathetic character as she toiled to make a serious documentary while everywhere she looked there were idiots getting commissions. The problem was that she spent most of the time (understandably) moaning and complaining and saying “God, Dan!” or “I mean it, Dan!” or “Get me my money, Dan!”, so it was a bit difficult to see her as likeable. You could sympathise, but not exactly empathise with her.

Whatever my reservations, however, I have enjoyed Nathan Barley and will look forward to another series where perhaps some of the characters can be explored further. If nothing else it is something of a tribute to writers Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker that people are already referring to “the Nathan Barleys of this world”, in the same way that Alan Partridge (who also came to our attention via Morris) has entered the language, and that can’t be too bad. They must be doing something right.