All comedy is tough to review, as success or failure depends entirely on individual tastes and sense of humour. All I can say is that I've been watching Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer since 1990's Vic Reeves Big Night Out exploded onto screens, back when I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager and, naturally, trying to find comedy my parents would hate and misunderstand. Their sketch show, The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer, became another favourite of mine in the '90s, but it was their outrageous comedy panel show Shooting Stars that forever endeared them to me. So it's not like I dislike Vic & Bob, okay? But to some extent their joke's wearing thinner than Bob's hair, and my tastes have changed now I'm in my mid-thirties.
House of Fools is their first sitcom (well, if you don't count failed Channel 4 pilot The Weekenders from 1992, or the BBC's short-lived Catterick from 2004), and something of a "consolation prize" for the BBC axing Shooting Stars after a successful revival. Speaking as someone who grew disenfranchised with Shooting Stars (which peaked circa 1997), I was actually rather glad it was axed and has allowed Vic & Bob to do something different. A crazy old-fashioned sitcom where Bob Mortimer plays a man continually frustrated by his oddball friends and neighbours—nutty best-friend Vic, man-eater Julie (Morgana Robinson), Geordie ex-con Bosh (Dan Skinner), and lothario Beef (Matt Berry)—felt like just the kind of loose structure their brand of surreal comedy would work well in.
Unfortunately, while there were funny moments and supremely daft ideas strewn across this half-hour, House of Fools didn't sweep me along. There just isn't enough of a narrative back-bone, a la Berry's own Toast or The IT Crowd. Vic & Bob's comedy has always been scattershot, so you can't expect everything to hit its mark, but the ratio of laughs to a mild feeling of embarrassment didn't tip in its favour for me.
One problem for me is that Vic & Bob's performances are fine for three-minute sketches and being "themselves" on a panel show, but they just came across as rather amateur here. It didn't help that they're surrounded by people who are simply better at this stuff, such as the cult legend that is Matt Berry (Garth Marenghi's Darkplace) and the magnificent Morgana Robinson (VIP). They just about scraped through because they still have built-in affection going for them, as two "uncle" types being silly deep into middle-age, but I just require more from a sitcom. If anything it only made me realise just how fantastic Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson were in the '80s and '90s, doing a similar thing with The Young Ones and Bottom.
I'm aware many people found HoF totally hilarious from start to finish, and I'm not saying they're wrong—although I hope opinions aren't swayed by a refusal to admit their comedy heroes have indulged themselves with a stinker. Maybe I've simply outgrown Vic & Bob's infantile antics, or their style of bonkers comedy just doesn't feel as revolutionary as it did when I was a teen. When I laugh, it's more for the nostalgia of when Vic & Bob's innate "randomness" always tickled my funny-bone, or the occasional moment when you can't deny the sight of testicles stretched across a room demands a smile.
It's not that there's nothing to be amused by in House of Fools, but the jokes are pitched at an area of my brain that's smiling wryly at the memory of finding this brand of madcap nonsense uproarious, while the majority of my thirtysomething brain's become accustomed to something with more substance, style and thought behind it.