Carnage is a 70-minute sci-fi vegan comedy, a description which its creator Simon Amstell admits “makes it sound awful”.
It is certainly an experimental commission for the BBC. Amstell – known for sad-com Grandma’s House and causing more than one celebrity walkout on Popworld and Never Mind The Buzzcocks – was asked if he had any ideas weird enough to be an iPlayer exclusive. This mockumentary is what he came up with.
In the year 2067, a group of young people picnic on vegan foods in an idyllic landscape. The idea that anyone ever ate meat is as horrifying as genocide to them, so the film sets out to help the youth of the late 21st century forgive the older generations.
It is important to say at this point, before you tut and go back to eating your sausage and eggs, that the film is actually funny.
Amstell seems to have synthesised his brash Buzzcocks persona with the vulnerability of his standup shows to arrive at the perfect deadpan attitude. Carnage does not take itself all that seriously, even while taking on a serious subject. The tone is reminiscent of Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe.
Real archive footage is spliced together with talking heads and Amstell’s wry narrative voiceover. He guides the viewer from 1945 to 2017 and then through the “revolution” of the following half-century, all the time with a keen eye for what might look ridiculous to future generations. Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall become borderline war criminals, and Meat Free Mondays are retrospectively deemed “as offensive as ethnic cleansing free Tuesdays”.
Carnage certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to addressing the evils of the meat industry. But it never crosses the line into being preachy, partially because early vegans are fair game for as much mockery as meat-eaters. The archive footage helps with this, dredging up some sort of painfully awkward vegan chat show from the 1970s. In fact, many of the biggest laughs come from re-viewing clips we have already seen on mainstream TV in this new context, and wondering how on earth Fat Families was ever a real show.
Yet it is so expertly put together that it is hard to tell where the real footage stops and the created moments begin. You find yourself being carried on past 2017 to a perfectly plausible vision of the future where an epidemic flu strain, global warming, and growing compassion for animals all contribute to the eventual fully vegan world. Amstell has thought carefully about how pop culture, politics, and natural disasters would all need to coincide to bring about such a big change. The result is pretty convincing.
The borrowed talents of Lorraine Kelly, Vanessa Feltz, and Kirsty Wark add a touch of authenticity in the 2020s and 30s scenes. Amstell clearly has an enviable little black book. Other guest stars in Carnage include grime artist JME, Lindsay Duncan, Martin Freeman, and Joanna Lumley – who voices the thoughts of a sheep.
There is a message at the heart of Carnage, and while it is lightly done, it is hard not to be moved at times. All the facts about the meat and dairy industry are true, and by looking at them with the eyes of a 2067 teenager we see the real horror of what’s going on. Ultimately though, it is not a guilt-watch. Carnage is really a chance to see comedy doing something a bit different, and that’s always a good thing, no matter what your eating habits are.
Carnage is available exclusively on BBC iPlayer now.