The League of Gentlemen (1999–2017)
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It came on after "Strangers With Candy", one of my favorite programs, on Monday or Tuesday night. I remember being confused and a little freaked out. And I remember laughing so hard it hurt.
Unfortunately, Comedy Central, in their infinite wisdom, canceled "Strangers" and ceased showing "The League of Gentlemen". I was hooked, however, and was excited when I found out Series One was available on DVD. After waiting forever for the other two series and the Christmas special, I finally broke down and bought an all-region DVD player online. A few weeks and steep shipping fees later, I had the entire series, the Christmas special, and the live show on disc- just about a month before BBC wised up and released region-1 versions. The point is, patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait.
Actually, the real point is "The League of Gentlemen" is so good, so funny, so unique and bizarre, so totally in a class of its own that I went out of my way, and spent a fortune, just to get my greedy little paws on every black, wretched episode. And I'd do it again. "The League of Gentlemen" has long since surpassed even "The Kids in the Hall" as my favorite television program, an impressive feat if you're familiar with the Kids' work.
If you haven't seen "The League of Gentlemen" (and if you're an American, you probably haven't), the show centers on the bleak town of Royston Vasey, and the people who call it home. The first and second series were presented in a traditional sketch/sitcom format, with a laugh track. Even as early as then, however, you could see a streak of cinematic flair- there were the sitcom studio sets, and then there was the filmed location footage; the epic, sweeping score; the subtle, quiet, clever jokes that flew entirely over the heads of even the enthusiastic audience (there are long stretches during the second series when you can even forget they're there). There were the characters, so freakish, so mind-bendingly different from American sitcom characters. Instead of Rachel or Chandler you had Pauline, the egregious forty-eight year old lesbian restart officer, and Mickey, the retarded monkey, her prized pupil. Will and Grace? Not in Vasey. Instead there was Tubbs and Edward, the inbred, murderous shopkeepers. And the Dentons? The Dentons- toad-obsessed Harvey and Val, their twin daughters Chloe and Radcliffe, and Benjamin, the token normal one- make the Munsters look like the Waltons. And I'm not even going to mention Papa Lazarou.
So we've established that the show is brilliant. But then came the Christmas special, and it took "The League of Gentlemen" to a higher plane, a level above brilliance that simply must be seen to be believed. For the Christmas special the Gents ditched the laugh track (perhaps Tubbs and Edward were dispatched to "take care" of the audience) and the sketch format. The special, and the third series after that (which is, to me, their masterpiece), were darker, scarier, bleaker than anything that had come before. When something can frighten you beyond words (Keith Drop ripping off his skin to reveal Papa's sinister face), make you shudder in revulsion (amatuer magician Dean Tavalouris getting his hand singed with a lit cigarette) and yet still make you laugh uncontrollably (Judith and Alvin's ludicrous rendezvous at the appropriately-named Garden Center)- and when that something is a half-hour television show...well, that's just special. "The League of Gentlemen" gets my nomination as the funniest, most striking series television has ever produced. I Can I Can't.
Anyway - the story is as follows. the League are Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson (writer who does not perform). The show started out at Edinburgh fringe (where it won the Perrier award), then BBC Radio 4 and then on to BBC TV. The 3 series so far follow the lives of various residents of Royston Vasey, the town you will never leave. All characters (male and female) are performed by Gatiss/Shearsmith/Pemberton.
this is an amazing feat and shows the versatility and talent of each performer.
Characters include a homicidal snub-nosed couple who run a local shop, a bigoted vicar, a lesbian ex-con once proud restart officer and an inept vet with strong shades of that Herriot creation Tristan Farnham amongst others. Papa Lazarou is one of the most enduring creations - he is like a bizarre hybrid of a black & white minstrel, Jerry Sadowitz, Pennywise from IT and a white-slave-trader. The show is also a must for any fan of horror and cult movies as the references to classics like "The Wicker Man", "Don't Look Now", "the Jungle Book", "The Railway Children" and more humble fare like 80s kids show "Pipkins" will keep film fans eager and happy for a long time. Above all its very funny and very clever - from visual jokes (animal face painting and draining the swede being favourites) to subtle in-depth homage (the portmanteau style of Xmas special echoes Amicus classics like "Asylum")
Series one and two followed a similar pattern whilst the Gents departed with form and took a brave step with series 3 making some dramatic changes. The Xmas special was perhaps key in this change also. Gone were some old favourite characters and new ones were introduced. Episode formula was less sketch driven and story lines were longer. And also a new theme tune was introduced with shades of "Scheulmadchen report" with it grooviness. But some 'fans' hated the changes (dullards) because they broke with the norm and indicated a bold change in direction. I personally **love** the new changes(like a lot of fans) and think that Series 3 contains some of the best work done so far. Thank god they got rid of the laughter track!!!!! Kudos to the guys for not being formulaic and always challenging expectations and actually *thinking* about what to bring along next. The work is thus fresh, complex and keeps you on your toes. Hooray to that as there is nowt as bad as stale comedy.
NOW BRING ON THE FILM!!!!!
"The League of Gentlemen" troupe is right up there with England's "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and Canada's "The Kids in the Hall". But..a warning.
"The League of Gentlemen" though are one step beyond. It's not only about dressing in drag and lampooning the cultural ills, it goes deeper and much, much, darker. I can tell many of you now -- it will offend certain groups of people, it will enrage others. But remember, its only comedy..dark, dark comedy. If that is not your thing, don't watch. If you think you KNOW dark comedy, watch this -- if you get angry and upset, then you don't quite know DARK COMEDY.
These guys got it right, and right on the button. They are brilliant, they are excellent and I enjoyed each and every character creation. There's a COMPLETE story that is told here from episode one to the end. You cannot watch this one episode at a time, willy nilly, that is one of the charms of this series. Watch it in order. See how creative and stylish and deeply disturbed these guys are. No one and nothing is out of bounds. That, my dears, is "dark humor". Bravo!
But every so often we British do what we do best and come up with something that simply removes all of the boundaries and is unique. The Goons, Monty Pythons Flying Circus, The Goodies, Not The Nine O'Clock News, The Young Ones....the list goes on. These programs often start off as small projects shoved onto BBC2 or Channel 4, but eventually they become part of our comedy heritage. However, its been a long time since we have seen something as unique and ground-breaking as this one - its simply the best and most original comedy series for over a decade.
If you are not British and your vision of British comedy is Are You Being Served and Benny Hill, prepare yourself for a shock because gentle slap-stick this is not. The League of Gentlemen is very, very dark - there's very little feel-good about this comedy - and it is extremely surreal, but it is also immensely funny. The series follows the exploits of the inhabitants of a small Northern village called Royston Vasey (the real name of Roy Chubby Brown, a particularly x-rated British comedian). The show gives Royston Vasey an almost mystical air, as if seperated from the rest of the real world, a place where anything can happen and the unexpected always does. The characters are cleverly worked so that despite their grotesqueness, you can still associate with them and in some cases sympathise with them. All of the main characters (even the women, in true Monty Python style) are played by three of the four writers (Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith), and every character is an absolute gem. To tell you about the characters would spoil the fun of finding out for yourself. What I will say is don't expect any happy endings or moralistic enlightenment in this show, because there aren't any...but do expect shocks, things that will make you whince and some genuinely funny moments. Also concentrate through the opening credits as the camera takes you around the town, because there are some excellent visual gags in there.
This is a truly wonderful and original slice of British humour. It won't be to everyone's taste, but to those that appreciate this style of humour, you cannot get any better than this. I can see this being viewed as a classic in years to come - lets hope it awakens some new and innovative comedy writing in the near future... we've waited long enough.
'The League of Gentlemen' is also strongly addictive. Yes, the tagline is correct... Welcome to Royston Vasey. You'll never leave!
Lavish, dark and compelling, The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special stands alongside Threads and Ghost Watch as innovative and frightening television, and is perhaps the best one-off programme made by the BBC in the last decade.
If I were to have been told about the project, I don't think I would have known what to expect. Imagine what the original script must have been like. With the finished product like this, imagine the creative process!!
But seriously, this is a unique product. I am not sure what these guys are on but it sure works.
The base of this series is that we all have our version of Royston Valley. The fact that it is a horrible place and the perfect setting for a horror story. To make it a comedy is a work of genius. It is one of the few programs that I can watch again and again.
Set in the bizarre, isolated Northern town of Royston Vasey, L.O.G. mixes classic surreal Brit humour fans of Python and 'The Goodies' grew up on with dark and disturbing touches closer to David Lynch. There are nods to 'The Wicker Man', 'Dr Who', Quatermass, 'Tales Of The Unexpected' and the like, so fans of weird 1970s TV and movies will get more out of this than those unfamiliar with the territory. A very strange mixture that works brilliantly. Black, eccentric and extremely funny. I'm hooked!
Watch the whole thing, all three series. At the end, all the characters are tied up and the puzzle pieces fall into place just as well as a Douglas Adams novel. The detail and intricacies are staggering. Thoroughly post-modern. Wickedly funny, and startlingly tragic. Not for kids. Not for those with thin skins or who lack objectivity. Thought-provoking. At once literal, figurative, and surreal in disturbing ways. The blackest comedy I can recall.
And very possibly the most wonderful thing I will ever see.
The dark comedy of this programme is very hilarious but in some cases it also is quite gruesome, so if you have a weak stomach beware!
Together they created Royston Vasey, a sinister small town in England's idyllic countryside, where unsuspecting tourists and passers-by come across an obsessive couple that wants to keep the town local and free of strangers; where the unemployed are abused and insulted at the job center; where a farmer uses real people as scarecrows; where a vet kills all the animals he tries to cure; where a gypsy circus kidnaps people; and where the butcher adds something secret but irresistible to the food to hook people on.
This is just a whiff of what the viewer can find in The League of Gentlemen. By themselves, the three actors give birth to dozens and dozens of unique characters. The make up and prosthetics are so good I actually thought I watching a lot more actors on the show than there were. But it's also great acting: the way they change their voices and their body movement, the really become other people.
Most of the jokes start with something ordinary, from real life, and then blows up into something unsettling, sometimes gut-wrenching. Sometimes it's pure horror without a set up, like in Papa Lazarou's character. Just imagine a creepy circus owner on make-up barging into someone's house and kidnapping women to be his wives. No explanation given. It's that creepy. Then there are the numerous references to horror movies: Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs, Nosferatu, The Exorcist, etc.
Fans of horror will love it, fans of comedy will love it. As any traveler entering knows, there's a sign there that says 'Welcome to Royston Vasey: You'll Never Leave.' Any viewer who gives this show a chance will agree. Once you discover The League of Gentlemen, you'll never want anything else, you'll never forget it.
Much has been said about "The League of Gentlemen", and I'm not sure I can add anything to all that has been said. So allow me to repeat some important things others have said:
-The acting on the show is utterly brilliant and completely convincing, and for the most part it's the same people in makeup. It's not even like a traditional sketch comedy group in that "The League of Gentlemen", if it wants to, can make you feel horrified, thrilled, amused, or genuinely involved in a dramatic situation. The writing (which is done by the League and hence by the actors) is only part of this resounding success, as without such a tremendously talented group of actors this show could have been a flop.
-The humor is an acquired taste. It's pitch black and on occasion a bit horrifying. There are several moments where I, a person very proud of my sick, macabre sense of humor, found myself laughing at things I was genuinely disgusted by. So far in all my television viewing I have never come across anything that can create that sort of feel except for "The League of Gentlemen". Somehow, through the genius of the writing team, this show can make you feel disgusted and horrified but still have you giggling like a schoolboy. Take the choir boys attacking Herr Lipp in the Christmas special, and later in the same episodes Papa Lazarou's astonishing surprise appearance, which is really quite disturbing, but so unexpected and well-executed that one can't help enjoy it. The 'special stuff', Papa Lazarou's wives, Pop, Dr. Chinnery, the Joke Shop... The list goes on and on when it comes to disturbing, macabre hilarity.
-The atmosphere created on "The League of Gentlemen" is incomparable. The cinematography, production values, and especially the direction by Steve Bendelack are of a standard television has rarely achieved, and create a completely unique and special quality.
-Yes, the third series is different. No, it's not bad. No laugh track, less emphasis on humor... Sounds like this little thing known as 'progression' to me. The League of Gents moved on past repeating the trademark 'ARE YOU LOCAL?', 'special stuff', Benjamin Denton, and other jokes which had essentially been perfected in the second series (which, in my opinion, is the most perfect full season/series of any television comedy I can think of). It's a brave new direction and while the first three episodes of the third series are probably my bottom three episodes of the entire show (still good, though), it naturally took the LOG a while to work the new direction out and perfect it, and perfect it they did. The final three episodes of the third series and consequently of "The League of Gentlemen" are absolutely, utterly brilliant from start to finish, in particular the final episode, which attracts some undeserved hate for some bizarre reason. I consider the final episode of "The League of Gentlemen" to be among the most demented and thoroughly enjoyable half-hour episodes of television I have ever had the good fortune of seeing. From Papa Lazarou's most memorably bizarre and surprising appearance (yes, more surprising than the Christmas special) to the "Don't Look Now" homage, to the brilliant payoff in the final montage for viewers who followed the third series in order, it is just a perfect television episode and a fitting finale.
To sum up everything I said above in a nutshell, "The League of Gentlemen" is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and while the third series takes some getting used to, don't give up on it- the payoff is more than worth it. The tremendous talent that went into writing, acting, producing, and directing this show is almost as frightening as Papa Lazarou in the shadows growling at the Vicar with his trademark "Hello Dave".
Series average (average of ratings for all episodes): 8.84/10.
Final overall rating: 10/10, wish I could give it more.
Now if you haven't guessed, this is NOT a show for kids, the easily offended or normal people and that's probably why I liked it. However, you really do need very thick skin and a love of the awful to enjoy this to the max. Funny and incredibly irreverent beyond belief--you have to see it to believe it.
I highly encourage anyone who loves British humor to give it a chance. It may seem strange initially, but after one episode, you'll be hooked. If you love "blackadder", "young ones", "the office" or python, this is for you. I strongly recommend you watch the program on dvd or vhs from first episode to the last. it is in serial format and the plot carries on as with any dramatic series on American television.
The best part was that the actors weren't afraid to go all out. They didn't pull their punches. They were freaky, scary, funny, sad, men, women, children, drunks, priests, transgendered things(?),circus perfomers............
How many shows have 2 old people, who run a local shop, kill almost every person who comes into the shop? And it's one of the main premises, so i didn't give anything away. And still make it so that you can't stop laughing. And before you think it's just I that is a freak, this show was quite a riot with many others everywhere.
To anyone with access to this fine piece of comedy and enjoys watching crazy British people portray the insane and imbred, check it out. You won't be sorry!!! i only hope that the boys start to make more stuff, it'd be a waste not to see them working soon.