DISTRIBUTOR: 2EntertainPRICE: £29.99DISCS: 7
Back in the 90s they were saying that comedy was the new rock and roll, and in 1994 Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson ushered in their comedic equivalent of thrash metal with The Fast Show, a rapid-fire compendium of character-based sketches and skits that trimmed almost all the fat from a format which had altered little since the 1960s.
Gone was the set-up time, the layering of situation and the slow build-up to a pay-off, and in its place a tableau of bizarre and usually obsessive characters struggling in a ‘straight’ world, sometimes with pathos and sometimes with the glee of sheer lunacy, a variable assortment of nutty and sweet comedic comestibles. The Fast Show was like a bare-handed attack on a wedding cake with the intention of licking the icing off and contemptuously discarding the rest.
A fusillade of catch-phrases almost instantly entered the English lexicon, most famously the ‘Suits you’ of the perverted tailors, but frankly there are more than can be listed: ‘Anyone fancy a pint?’, ‘I’ll get my coat’, ‘Get off me show, mate’, ‘You ain’t seen me, right?’…and a dozen others were water-cooler fodder for the show’s run and for years afterward, a fact parodied within the ambit of the Colin Hunt character in his ‘I’m an alien’ routine.
Caroline Aherne abandoned the programme early to spin accelerating interest in her comedy into The Mrs Merton Show, but The Fast Show went from strength to strength, with three full series, Christmas specials, a Fast Show Night on the Beeb and a huge bow-out with the three-part Last Fast Show Ever.
The troupe also took their beloved characters on the road a number of times for sell-out tours, and the ‘live’ footage is the only thing you’ll have to buy separately if you purchase Ultimate Collection, as it is otherwise a pretty damn exhaustive aggregation of all things Fast Show. Admittedly it doesn’t include the TV series that were character spin-offs such as Grass, Ted and Ralph and Swiss Toni, but these are branch-offs of varying merit that split from the breakneck philosophy of the parent show.
With these exceptions, 2Entertain have approached Ultimate Collection with the same completist fervour as their recent Father Ted: The Definitive Collection release, and like that edition FS:UC contains an apposite – and fairly interesting – episode of the Comic Connections as part of the extras.
The first two episodes of series one also feature interestingly fractious commentaries with Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse and Simon Day, but the eyebrows truly head scalpward when Arabella Weir joins the boys on episode 2; listening, one begins to sense the creative but occasionally uncomfortable friction that sparked Fast Show in the first place.
Anchor footage and link segments are edited together from the Fast Show themed night on the Beeb, much like the 1997 Comic Relief footage included in Father Ted Definitive. Are 2Entertain looking for a formula here? It’s not a bad one anyway, and the menu navigation is pleasingly less elaborate and laboursome than on Ted.
The FS off-cuts collection You Ain’t Seen These, Right! Is included, along with cast interviews, though some of the interviews seem to be older than others, and there is the usual case of a few stories being repeated between clashing documentary features and commentaries. However the background and origins of the show are fully covered, with the likes of Johnny Depp, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves among the many semi-outsiders contributing their homage to a show that redefined British comedy to a radical extent not seen since at least The Young Ones, and more aptly, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
But this is frivolous foam – the three series and bundled specials are gold, with the odd bit of grit to pick out. Fast Show is comedy carpet-bombing, with little waiting to bypass the ones you don’t like for your favourite character, and if you can find nothing in FS:UC to make you laugh out loud, then you deserve to be left down a very dark hole with an owl.
Pick the set up from here…