Yonderland episodes 1 and 2 review: The Chosen Mum & Wizard Bradley

Review Rob Smedley 11 Nov 2013 - 06:35

Rob checks out the first two episodes of the joyously amusing Yonderland, which might be Sky Comedy's best yet...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 The Chosen Mum & 1.2 Wizard Bradley

Despite its top notch work on things like the Higgs-Boson, microwaveable rice, and Jeremy Paxman's beard, Science with a big 'S' still hasn't adequately explained why seeing a grown-up interacting with a fistful of anthropomorphic felt activates a sense of warmth and nostalgia in even the most Henson-proof of hearts. But it does. It does, you old codger. Call it 'The Sooty Effect', or 'The Kermit Coroboration' or - if you're of a certain age - 'The Roger De Courcey Contrafibularity', but faced with a mound of hand-motivated material you just can't not look and nod, and wonder if there's potato smiley faces for tea.

In fact, if you sat a potato down next to you when you started watching Sky One's new comedy Yonderland, by the time you'd finished the first two episodes it'd be nothing but a stack of grinning circular shapes. That's how joyously amusing Yonderland is: it'll make even the dullest couch potato laugh to bits.

But you'd expect nothing less from the team behind the adults' gateway drug to the CBBC Channel and the best comedy that the BBC has made since Del Boy fell through that bar a billion repeats ago. No longer content at poking fun at history like naughty schoolkids sat at the most grafitti'd desk in the classroom, the Horrible Histories gang have collapsed all of time and space into a post-Tolkien Singularity of fantasy fun and puppets and given their shiny new universe a name: Yonderland.

There's a pinch of Pratchett, a quick slurp of Mighty Boosh, and an A, B, D-pad Up, D-pad Left, A, of The Legend of Zelda; all blitzed together to make a sense-free world where irrevence and ingenuity frolick with the fun of an ice cream Unicorn in a field of hundreds and thousands. You could call it a Unicornetto: the waffle cone would be its horn, y'see...

Episode one, The Chosen Mum, manages that rare feat for both a comedy and a fantasy show opener by a) actually being funny, and b) setting up the world the conceit takes place in without ever getting bogged down in its own mythology. In our real, boring world of mortagages, school runs, and Paul Hollywood, Martha Howe Douglas is Debbie Maddox; a mother of two who's married to Pete (Dan Renton Skinner), who goes out to work as Angelos Epithemiou every day. Then one day she finds an elf (voiced by Mat Baynton) in her pantry and she's warped to the magical Yonderland where The Elders reveal she's the ultimate cliché of the fantasy genre: The Chosen One. Not enough Trevor the Blob for my liking in that bit, but then perhaps I just wanted something gelatinous for pudding after my smiley potato shapes.

So it's just a satchel of lembas short of your classic quest, and yet the clichés are magnificently well handled or hidden by some top gags and a cast who know just how to deliver them. The Gallants scene, in which two men (Matt Baynton and Laurence Rickard) out-polite one another almost to the death, has about it the back and forth of a Horrible Histories gag taken to its furthest illogical limits. It might just have been the best moment of the episode had The Oracle not appeared like a deleted scene from a Noel Fielding absinthe dream: a luminescent mound that wouldn't be out of place introducing shows on BBC Three.

With the audience acclimated to the hearty chuckle-gusts of the show, Episode two is an even stronger offering to the Sky gods. Debbie and Elf must reunite the Wizard Bradley (an almost puppetish Rickard) with his distinctly Northern Mojo, (some excellent felt and plastic) in order to get a prophetic Macguffin from a temple. It may be important later, but it doesn't really matter what the plot is at this point. Like Debbie you just have to let it carry you along, and in the meantime you can enjoy all the jokes.

The second episode also gets chance to properly introduce us to to arch-villain Negatus, played by Simon Farnaby, dressed like a bike messenger for a S&M club in a nuclear wasteland, and who has the perfect balance of camp, menace, and comic timing for a pantomime villain. And Yonderland is essentially a pantomime. That's a compliment. If it was on stage you and the kids would be shouting 'boo-hiss!' at Negatus every time he stalked on, throwing your Malteasers at him, and then laughing at the running gag of his malfunctioning trapdoor.

And just like at a pantomime, the actors seems to be having just as much fun as the audience watching it. That's because it's written by a talented ensemble cast who've spent years working together and who consequently understand one another's comedic strengths. Or, surrounded by puppets, maybe they too are under the spell of 'The Kermit Coroboration'. Who wouldn't be when there are smart-mouthed sticks, portly Victorian gents, and a trio of demon minions who obey the Walt Disney rule of henchfolk: a smart one, a glib one, and an incredibly thick one. Only a glove fetishist could have more fun with a hand and some felt.

Sky has had a great success with its own-brand comedy in the past few years, what with Moone Boy, Trollied, and Spy (heyyy, I liked it), but Yonderland just might be the best. And you don't need Science with a big 'S' to help you understand why. 

Read our interviews with the Yonderland cast and creators, here.

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You seem to have mistaken Laurence Rickard for Jim Howick. Twice.

Quite. Wonderful as Howick and Rickard both are, they are not interchangeable.

Best of sky comedy? That includes Touch of Cloth which I thought was the funniest thing I saw this year, so off to on-demand for a look. Given the time slot I assume it's fairly kiddy friendly? My little boy adores Horrible Histories, especially Simon Farnaby as Death, so would hopefully really like this.

If you liked this, you really must check out the BBC radio comedy Elvenquest ... pity Sky didn't pick that up for a live action version.

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