Wednesday, 13 February 2008


Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Writers: Matthew Enriquez Wakeham, Jessica Hynes & Peter Martin (based on the comic strip by Jamie Hewlett)
Director: Euros Lyn

Cast: Eddie Shin (Terry Phoo), Jaime Winstone (Whitey Action), Carl Weathers (Police Chief Benson), Theo Cross (Harry), David Goodall (F Bouncer 1), Geraldine James (Dr Evelyne Conan Bell), Richard Nig (Sifu Chien), Talulah Riley (Lady Elenor Rigsby), Danny Webb (Lord Rothwell), Ed Weeks (William) & Phil Cornwell (Jimmy Freebie, voice)

A disaffected teenager and a kung fu cop team-up to protect the heirs to the British throne after the Queen is assassinated by mutants...

The re-branded BBC Three should be commended for trying something new, by trialling 6 Pilots in a 9pm timeslot. The first of these is Phoo Action, a kung fu cop show based on a comic by Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, that sounds more fun than it was...

Phoo Action opened with the assassination (off-screen) of the Queen, which was certainly an arresting start – right up until you see the hit was carried out by a trio of mutants led by a talking basketball, known as The Freebies.

I'm all for being different, but this Pilot was just uneasy and floundering. You can't take Phoo Action seriously at any point (which you're not meant to), but neither can you embrace it as a subversive piece of action-comedy – because the action was generally stilted, and the comedy practically non-existent.

It gets by for the first 30-minutes on its Mighty Boosh-style visuals, as prickly teen Whitey Action (Jaime Winstone) watches her macho father, Police Chief Benson (Rocky's Carl Weathers!) promise to bring the Queen's mutant killers to justice, and protect the heirs to the royal throne; partying parodies of Prince William (Ed Weeks) and Prince Harry (Theo Cross).

For some strange reason, it's decided to elicit the help of Hong Kong cop Terry Phoo (Eddie Shin) -- a Kato-masked young man who wears a variation of the yellow-black tracksuit adorned by Bruce Lee in Game Of Death and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. He's been trained by a Shaolin Monk called Sifu Chien (Richard Ng), who gives him a box containing the glowing "Buddha's Loincloth" to help him in his quest...

Got all that? What follows is a 15-minute sketch stretched to 60-minutes, as Phoo arrives in London to help Captain Benson apprehend "The Freebies" (a talking basketball-head, bug-eyed henchman, and a lumbering Honey Monster-style goon.)

For awhile, it's moderately entertaining to settle into the near-future world of Phoo Action – where nightclub bouncers wear Mexican wrestling masks, bedroom pin-ups include Les Dawson, BBC News has been Americanized into hyperactive nonsense, and high-tech tracking systems are seemingly voiced by Vyvyn from The Young Ones. There are no decent jokes to speak of, though -- just plenty of visual oddities and background flourishes.

Inevitably, after a fun dance sequence together in a nightclub, Whitey and Phoo team-up after Whitey pretends she's an undercover agent. Later, Phoo comes to believe his new flame-haired partner is a mystical "Chosen One" – when she wears the Buddha's Loincloth and it transforms into a pair of "magic hot pants" that contain anything you desire. Not in a dirty way, but in a lazy writers' way – with Whitey pulling out life-saving gadgets and luxury items.

The cast is a mixture of established character actors (Geraldine James as a posh scientist), unknowns (Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray), and the bizarre (Predator's Carl Weathers!) Everyone does their best (particularly when acting alongside the Jim Henson-style baddies), with the thesps firmly keeping their tongues planted in their cheeks, but only Weathers seems to actually embrace the lunacy.

As the all-important titular duo, Jaime Winstone and Eddie Shin certainly look the part, but there's no chemistry between this East-meets-EastEnd partnership. Winstone shows a modicum of charisma, but her performance dips whenever she opens her mouth. Meanwhile, Shin is stuck playing a Bruce Lee stereotype for the most part, in a Pilot that failed to make you engage with this crime-fighting odd couple.

It's all just too self-consciously silly for its own good. If it's going to be so patently absurd, the script should have been funnier. The most successful aspect of Phoo Action is actually the music – with the likes of MC Hammer's "U Can’t Touch This" and Girls Aloud's "Something Kinda Ooh" best evoking the bubblegum pop vibe the show's aiming for. There are a few visuals and knowing winks that elicit wry smiles ("to the Phoomobile!"), but nothing reaches out of the screen and grabs you.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Phoo Action is why it's even been given a primetime slot. It would work much better on kid's TV (a modern answer to Monkey?), and just looks hopelessly out of place shown at 9pm. If this were a Saturday morning series shown at 10am, it would be embraced by kids and become a cult hit with hung-over twentysomethings. But in the dim glare of digital primetime, it's style-over-substance attitude just doesn't cut it.

When our heroes arrive at Westminster Abbey for a climatic punch-up with furry mutants intent on crowning a talking basketball King, I had to agree with Whitey's battle-cry: "Let's put a stop to this shit!"

12 February 2008
BBC Three, 9.00 pm