The Morgana Show had a mixed reception last year (myself included), but few denied the colossal talent of its eponymous star Morgana Robinson. Very Important People (VIP) reunites Morgana with fellow impressionist Terry Mynott from that series, to form a satirical double-act Channel 4 hope will kick this sub-genre of comedy out of the comfortable groove it's become trapped in (mostly thanks to family-friendly BBC commissions like The Impressions Show). A return to the '80s heyday of Spitting Image is due, perhaps. But did VIP make a good impression?
For a first episode, I've seen far worse. The impressions were mostly very good, occasionally exceptional, with only a few outright duds. It's unusual to have a comedy where the female impressionist is given more to do than her male associate, but such is the talent of Morgana Robinson that you'd be foolish to shove her into the background. It's not even a problem there are typically more men than women in the public eye to make fun of, as Morgana made a fairly convincing man on three occasions: as outrageous Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle; garrulous Russell Brand; and, most convincingly in terms of body language, "hard-man" actor Danny Dyer (filming "Britain's Hardest Commutes")
I'd hate for this review to dissolve into a love-fest, but I really do find Morgana a remarkable performer. Her pouting, breathy Amy Childs was hilarious (mainly for making us realize the Essex girl has a habit of pulling stupid faces at the end of sentences); her impression of ex-EastEnders actress Natalie Cassidy was indistinguishable from the real person; her Fearne Cotton (a holdover from The Morgana Show) reminded us why it was deservedly celebrated (she's more fun than the actual Fearne, too); and I can even forgive Morgana's ropier moments because there's always a spark of humour somewhere (a so-so take on The Voice's Jessie J enlivened by her tongue-waggling "new reaction face").
Things didn't go quite so well for Terry Mynott, who was slightly overshadowed because he didn't deliver an impression you haven't seen done better elsewhere—with the possible exception of a funny Sir David Attenborough, commenting on Frankie Boyle's work ethic. Mynott's version of Brian Cox (the physicist not the actor) came a distant second to Jon Culshaw's high watermark, while nobody does a better Terry Wogan than Peter Serafinowicz (although I liked the offbeat idea of Terry "wa gwan" hosting a radio show from a Jamaican beach hut). I hope Mynott gets to show what he can really do in future episodes, because the YouTube video that got him noticed highlights some brilliant impressions I'd like to see on VIP.
Like all impressions shows, VIP had to satisfy two key audience demands: hearing good impressions where you don't need any exposition to tell who the celebrity is, and generally funny and plentiful sketch ideas. It was here the show was more miss than hit, unfortunately. For every genuinely funny/clever idea (Adele being incomprehensible to people unless she sings a heartrending ballad) there were about three sketches that floated by. It would also have been better if VIP had shown its fangs more, because the best sketches were the most savage (like claiming Frankie Boyle sleeps well after hearing about a child's death, because it will result in 10-minutes of comedy material).
VIP's wise to assault the modern craze for trashy celebrities and dumb reality TV shows, but it needs to really go for the jugular with its targets. It was nevertheless interesting to note that one of VIP's writers is Matt Morgan, best-friend and collaborator of Russell Brand--who didn't escape this show's attention. So at least that's a promising sign nobody's off-limits, even if there's a direct connection to someone on the staff.
I hope Morgana Robinson, Terry Mynott, and the writers refuse to let VIP slip into that unfortunate position where celebrities openly say they love being the subject of its barbs. We could do with an impressions show that the rich and famous genuinely fear appearing on, to some extent. Or have times changed too much since Spitting Image turned Kenneth Baker into a literal slug in the '80s? To be talked about disparagingly still means people know who you are, after all. Isn't that all that matters to VIP's in the 21st-century?
Overall, I'll be keeping an eye on VIP. Morgana's a very talented person (beautiful enough to convince as the likes of Cheryl Cole, yet able to contort her face to play both "ugly" and "men" with apparent ease). It's just a pity the format doesn't really allow for Morgana to create original characters (e.g. her brilliantly observed young boy Gilbert), but I guess the tepid response to The Morgana Show has put that aspect of her talent on hold for now.
The common problem with impressions shows is that they tend to burn brightly but quickly. Everything's fresh and you're hearing new imitations every few minutes for a few episodes, and then show get steadily less remarkable due to necessary repetition. This is where good writing and performances are essential, because I'd happily watch "Amy Childs" or "Fearne Cotton" time and again if they're given something funny, creative, and insightful to say and do every week.