Monday, 19 September 2011

Preview: THIS IS JINSY (Sky Atlantic)

Monday, 19 September 2011
written by Justin Chubb & Chris Bran; directed by Matt Lipsey
starring Justin Chubb, Chris Bran, Alice Lowe, Janine Duvitski & Geoff McGivern

If Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer made The League Of Gentlemen, it may have resulted in something similar to Sky's latest homespun comedy, the peculiar This Is Jinsy. Or perhaps if Terry Pratchett was asked to write a lighthearted version of The Wicker Man? Originally a 2010 pilot for BBC3, this island-based sitcom wasn't taken to series, so Sky stepped in to fund what it hopes will be a cult hit hybrid of Father Ted and the aforementioned League. In its favour, Jinsy's unlike anything you've seen, and there's a potent sense of lo-fi creativity suturing it together, but after watching these two episodes I think there's a reason we've never seen its like before. I was more bewildered and bored than amused.

Arbiter Maven (Justin Chubb) is leader of the fictional island of Jinsy, helped by Operative Sporall (Chris Bran) from their Great Tower in the parish of Veen. (Yes, it's that kind of show.) Jinsy's a place that exists in a bizarro version of '50s Britain that's quite Orwellian in nature. There are strange TV "tesselators" that sprout up around the island, resembling coin-op seaside binoculars, and the first episode revolves around arranged marriages because all 791 inhabitants participate in a "Wedding Lottery" hosted by the effeminate Mr Slightlyman (guest-star David Tennant). Every person living on Jinsy have names that sound like they must have been educated at Hogwarts (Trince, Sooson Noop, Mrs Goadian), and the chintzy production values create the artificial feel of a 1994 PC CD-ROM game.

It's a fascinating production in many ways, despite the horrible greenscreen used to bring the island's exteriors to unconvincing life. There are talking seagulls with human faces, moments when we jump inside a "tesselator" to watch folk singers perform catchy songs in a country pub, a half-naked elderly "weather monk" present the forecast, and many other strange signs of local activity.

Maybe it's my age, but I'm struggling to find crazy comedy very funny these days. This brand of silliness can be diverting and worth a few giggles, but without something intelligent holding it all together, it just strikes me as indulgent hit-and-miss nonsense. "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men", wrote Roald Dahl, and it's certainly a lovely release valve, but there has to be standards. There was plenty to look at throughout Jinsy, but worryingly little of intelligent merit.

It felt like the absence of good jokes was being masked by the lunacy of its island society, the thrifty ingenuity of the production design, and a few famous faces. Quite why David Tennant wanted to guest-star on an unproven comedy like this is anyone's guess, beyond a deep desire to show a feminine side, or grab himself a carriage on the Rupert Murdoch gravy train. Harry Hill's cameo is more comprehensible, given this show fits the bald comedian's own comic sensibility. Likewise episode 2's appearance by Peter Serafinowicz as a cupboard-selling conman who pretends to be the island's unseen deity, The Great He.

I desperately wanted This Is Jinsy to work, because it's imaginative and is doing something different in a marketplace that's still under the influence of The Office; forgetting that some of the best British comedy's been silly, surreal offerings we're a world leader of. But this show needs to be funny in a manner that stems from the characters and the story, not just the weird garnish it's covered in. If a show like this isn't funny at heart, only in design, it just looks awkward and misfires badly.

I won't be revisiting this island again in a hurry.


  • It's a telling decision to put this on Sky Atlantic. I assume it's because Sky know it's not mainstream enough for Sky1, where it would sit alongside the likes of Trollied and Mount Pleasant. I can understand that reasoning, but it also means it's going to be tucked away on a minority channel at launch, and it's hard to see how that will help Sky Atlantic's fortunes. Would people really consider getting Sky just so they can see a TV show they (legally) won't even have seen yet? Are guest-stars like David Tennant, Harry Hill, Catherine Tate, and Peter Serafinowicz enough of a draw? I'd have put Jinsy on Sky1 to begin with, then move it to SkyA for series 2 if it proved a hit.
19 September 2011 / Sky Atlantic