Chickens episodes 1 and 2 review

Review Jake Laverde 23 Aug 2013 - 07:00

Jake checks out the first two episodes of Sky One's Chickens, a promising new sitcom from the stars of The Inbetweeners...

Sky's Chickens is the first self-written project for The Inbetweeners stars Simon Bird and Joe Thomas along rising talent Johnny Sweet. Originally piloted on Channel 4, Chickens is the tale of three young men roundly despised by their local village of womenfolk for not joining in the first World War.

At first glance, it's tempting to make comparisons with Blackadder Goes Forth being as it's set in the same era. But Chickens avoids this by focusing on small town pettiness back home rather than the hardship of the trenches. The first episode establishes the setting and tone well, you first see our heroes cottage daubed in cheerfully abusive graffiti. Then you're introduced to Cecil (Bird) the wannabe soldier, George (Thomas) the conscientious objector and Bert (Sweet) the clueless hornbucket.

A sitcom’s first episode has an almighty task. You have to establish setting, characters and tone on top of delivering a narrative arc, and this first episode just scrapes by. At times it's fragmented and in danger of becoming a series of sketches rather than a cohesive whole. But there's been a lot of work put into the relationship dynamics here. Cecil is constantly condescended to by his sister and George is barely tolerated by his fiancé Winky, played well by Sarah Daykin of sisterly sketch duo Toby. There's some genuine comedy royalty involved as well with Barry Humphries taking on the role of George's ruthless boss. All this talent tries its best against a script that feels like a series of tick-boxes instead of a story and almost pulls it off. Ultimately though, we're left with an opener that's merely okay. 

The second episode however is a real gear change. There's some great character interaction and dialogue. A clear and strong narrative arc and moments where it gets a grip on the reality of the setting. The closing scene where they hear the distant shelling across the channel is sobering and then neatly punctured.

One of the biggest changes from pilot to series has been that Johnny Sweet's character Bert has been tuned up into a more likeable idiot. Elsewhere, scenes and storylines have been slightly reworked and given a bit of a spit and polish. There's less reliance on the Peep Show-style cringe factor  too, which is a welcome change. Bird and Thomas seem at home in their roles most likely because they're not too far removed from The Inbetweeners’ Will and Simon. Not that that's a bad thing, just look at the career of Rik Mayall to see what I mean. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent as well, with a great performance from Emereld Fenell as Agnes, Cecil's sister.

One of Chickens’ problems is that it's so sumptuously shot, it looks as if a lot of money was spent on it. Usually this would be a positive if we were dealing with a period drama but this doesn't mesh with the tone Chickens is aiming for. The low-key lighting drains the energy out of the comedy and leaves the show looking a bit too close to Downton Abbey. Bird, Thomas and Sweet all cited Arrested Development as an inspiration and this comes through in some of the dialogue moments. But the direction is too muted for these scenes to come alive.

Overall, this is a good first step for both Bird and Thomas to establish themselves and prove they're capable of more than being Will and Simon. Plus it's always good to see Johnny Sweet on screen too. Chickens isn't likely to repeat the success of The Inbetweeners, but it is a fine way to spend a half hour.

Chickens continues next Thursday on Sky One at 9.30pm

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