|written by Simon Bird, Joe Thomas & Jonny Sweet; directed by Steve Bendelack|
starring Simon Bird, Joe Thomas & Jonny Sweet
It's the return of Channel 4's Comedy Showcase season, where six pilot comedies are broadcast and, in theory, the best are promoted to series. In practice, Channel 4 have long decided which ones will be picked up, which rather defeats the whole enterprise. I think they're missing a trick in not turning this show into a phone vote democracy, to decide which installments go beyond a pilot, but that's something I've talked about before..
Kicking off this third series we have wartime sitcom Chickens, perfectly-timed because two of its three leads (Simon Bird, Joe Thomas) are currently starring in the UK's Number 1 box-office smash The Inbetweeners Movie. Chickens, written by Bird and Thomas with mutual friend Jonny Sweet, is a period sitcom about three friends who decide not to fight in The Great War, opting to instead stay behind in their idyllic English village of Rittle-on-Sea. We meet Cecil (Bird), who can't join the army because of flat feet; George (Thomas), a pacifist who refuses to go to war for religious reasons; and Bert (Sweet), an alleged "conscientious objector" who's really just a frightened spiv. Unfortunately, none of them realized their choice would leave them ostracized by their community; belittled by the older generation (some of whom fought in the Boer War), subjected to graffiti on their cottage, and generally seen as cowardly disappointments.
It's a decent setup for a sitcom, although I have concerns about the longevity of the premise, as there's surely only a finite number of ways you can poke fun at cowardice. Still, I'm always surprised there aren't more British sitcoms taking full advantage of the country's rich history, and this 1914 era certainly allows Bird to play a character who feels different to geeky Will from The Inbetweeners. Will and Cecil may not be polar opposites in terms of personality, but there were enough new flourishes in Bird's performance to please. Thomas isn't quite so lucky, as there's a clearer parallel between George and Simon from The Inbetweeners (both have a strained relationship with an attractive girl). The most memorable performance actually comes from Sweet, whose character is more incorrigible and amusingly objectionable.
Chickens is deserving of a six-episode run, despite the fact this pilot wasn't actually very funny. That would ordinarily be a fatal flaw for a comedy, but I have a feeling the characters just need a while to find their feet, and the show needs more half-hours under its belt to prove there's mileage in its premise. I can see potential in the idea of these three chaps trying to prove their manhood to a village who see them as war-dodging yellow-bellies, as the sounds of battle literally waft over the English Channel most nights from France. It has all the ingredients that tend to make a great British sitcom, so now it just needs more laugh-out-loud moments like the scene where Cecil's spotted accidentally urinating on a freshly-dug grave.
I hope it gets a chance to prove itself.
2 September 2011 / Channel 4