Campus got off to a very poor start last week, but everything deserves a second chance. The fact its opening episode was an extension of a 2009 pilot certainly didn't help matters, so I tuned into "The Culling Fields" expecting a firmer grip on things. But while it was less pointlessly offensive and arbitrary, it was generally more of the same dizzy drivel.
A fatal flaw to Campus is its torturous 65-minute runtime and, by virtue of how it's written, absence of general pacing -- not helped by how it's been assembled. There was a moment when I genuinely thought the episode must be reaching a conclusion, only to realize it was only halfway through. It's a fight to stick with it past 25-minutes, which would be its ideal length. In fact, episodes feel like we're seeing all the raw footage someone forgot to edit. You could easily dispense with half the scenes, perhaps even cut an entire storyline, and be left with a bite-sized version of the same basic episode that would work much better.
Perhaps owing to the unique way Campus is made (a group of writers submit sketches/ideas, performed with a willingness to improvise), there's a serious lack of rhythm. Stuff happens in a seemingly random order, with perhaps a few "storylines" holding some of it together, but there's never any connection with the audience. You don't care for the characters or whatever's happening in their lives, partly because nobody acts like a human being you can identify with. I like the idea of Campus (a university where the staff are the real kids, basically), but it doesn't have much heart and soul.
It's a sitcom told using warped dream logic, reminding me of an indulgent student project -- where even a funny moment or good performance is hard to embrace because it's surrounded by such try-hard dreck. I'm sure it was great fun to make, and a DVD gag reel would probably demand its own separate disc, but very little of that pleasure translates through the TV screen.
In light of mostly negative reviews and disappointing ratings, I wouldn't be surprised if Channel 4 expel Campus after one term. Or at the very least send it back for remedial lessons.
- Jonathan Bailey (star of BBC3's own university-based comedy Off The Hook), is now a regular on Campus as "Flatpack", and in this episode his Off The Hook co-star Danny Morgan appeared as a student.