Campus episode 2 review: The Culling Fields

Campus didn't win many friends after its first week. But Louisa liked it. And after episode two, she still does...

2. The Culling Fields

Unless they introduce a BAFTA category for most critically panned new comedy, it’s unlikely Campus is going to bring home any awards. Slated more or less across the board, the series opener of Channel 4’s new comedy really brought the haters out in full.

Combine a frosty critical reception with some less than extraordinary viewing figures, and it looks like the prospect of Campus getting a second series is about as likely as Kirke getting in The Times Good University Guide. All of which is a real shame, because I still think it’s great.

Last week, I wrote that a lot of people probably wouldn’t like Campus and, man, was I ever wrong. People don’t not like it. They really, really hate it. It’s been described as bilge, an offensive, racist, insult to television, which never even comes close to being funny. Granted, these things were said on Twitter, so need to be taken with their due amount of salt. But mainstream press reviews weren’t a world away in their own critique.

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From about three minutes past ten last Tuesday night, the Internet, not exactly known for being the home of measured, considered criticism, lit up with complaints that this wet shit of a sitcom wasn’t fit even to wipe Green Wing‘s arse. So vehement were the objections, I had to dig deep and ask myself, am I just a nasty racist who only laughs at fanny jokes? No, I thought. I’ve not yet turned into my nan. There must be something else going on.

Despite a few lonely voices proclaiming it good, Twitter was full of people trying to outdo each other with their 140 character assessments of just how awful Campus was. The hostility doled out to the show was such that its critics, not content with merely accusing it of being about as funny as a burning orphanage, treated its writers and cast as if they hadn’t only made a sitcom some people weren’t keen on, but actually set fire to an orphanage and then laughed maniacally as the smell of dying children filled their unfunny nostrils.

My defence? Campus makes me laugh. For two episodes and a pilot, it’s made me laugh. That’s more or less all I ask of sitcom. So, for me, Campus delivers. I realise it’s not watertight as arguments go, but when it comes to comedy, that’s pretty much all we have to go on.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’ll have to agree when I say that this second episode is just as funny as the first. That is to say, if you didn’t enjoy episode one, you won’t find anything here to convert you. If you did, you’ll be tickled by another round of offensive jokes and monstrous characters.

The Culling Fields picks up where the series opener left off. Kirke University’s debt now means a quarter of its workforce has to be trimmed, leaving Vice Chancellor Jonty de Wolfe wielding a hefty and somewhat indiscriminate axe. De Wolfe scampers merrily around campus, megaphone in hand, firing employees and passers-by as he goes.

A recurring theme in the knee jerk public reaction to last week’s episode centred on the idea that Campus Vice Chancellor Jonty De Wolfe is a poor man’s David Brent from The Office. Let’s put this one to bed. Were it not for Andy Nyman and Ricky Gervais’ physical similarities as performers, I’m not sure the comparison would even be drawn. Yes, Jonty de Wolfe is a stubby boss character with a goatee. He is also, largely, a dick. And that’s right about where the similarities end.

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De Wolfe gleefully stomps over social etiquette and political correctness with the verve of a blood-crazed terrier, while Brent trips himself up in his misplaced efforts to appear popular and easy-going.  De Wolfe revels in cruel racial and sexual stereotypes because he’s monstrous and inhuman. Brent is racist and sexist because he’s cowardly and all too human.

Brent is a brilliantly-drawn, recognisable caricature of people we’ve all encountered in real life, whereas, were you to stumble across a de Wolfe in your day-to-day business, you’d be well advised to call the police. In short, de Wolfe is a psychopath. Brent is an idiot. It’s a lazy criticism. Let’s hear no more of it.

Rant over. In other news, this week’s episode saw Jason the accountant buckle under the pressure of having to choose which of the three Graces would take the departmental bullet in the name of economising. Luckily for Jason, he’s thrown a lifeline from an unexpected source, but not before he’s drowned his sorrows with some mime drinking and dry crying in the loos.

The new climate of fear has Accommodations Officer Nicole anxious about the less than accurate information she provided on her CV. Having lied about achieving the lofty academic heights of GCSE Maths, Nicole needs help, and fast. Luckily for her, the tutelage of Maths lecturer Imogen is bought by the unlikely prize of a coveted place on the university netball team.

On the other side of campus, Mechanical Engineering lecturer Lydia Tennant is still either telling everyone to shit off or attempting to mimic normal social exchanges like a wary, potty-mouthed robot.

As well as scheming to keep his lecturer job, lothario Matt is also facing problems in his pursuit of the opposite sex, namely, being cockblocked by his dim Labrador of a research student. Flatpack spends the episode wooing ingénue Imogen by running around in a vest, and, to Matt’s consternation, it seems to be working.

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Next week’s episode welcomes a brand new character to the corridors of Kirke university in the form of Canadian comic. Katherine Ryan. She looks set to be a boon to an already strong cast, and I. for one. am going to enjoy it while I can.

Read our review of the season premiere, Publication! Publication! Publication!, here.

Campus airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on Channel 4.

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