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First we had The Day Today, a wonderfully satirical take on news shows and the media in general, then came Brass Eye, an even more refined look at the same world and Jam soon followed, a surreal and much darker sketch series. Now the genius behind all of them, Chris Morris, has returned to his media roots with his latest comedy vehicle, Nathan Barley.

Nathan Barley

Film


Seemingly alone in a world of twenty-something morons who ride around on bikes that are too small for them, talk loudly into devices clipped to their ears, use the world 'like' even more than the girls from Clueless, and who take fashion sense to a ludicrous extreme, Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barratt) is at the end of his tether. Working as a journalist for a popular magazine called Sugarape, he has just published his latest headlining article entitle 'The Rise of the Idiots' but finds, to his disbelief, that it is the very idiots that he was writing about who are reading and lapping up his words as their bible of conduct.

Enter Nathan Barley (Nicholas Burns), the mother of all idiots, riding around on his stupidly small bicycle, wearing two hands-free earpieces, normally sporting a ridiculous hat and a silly outfit, and yelling right in the face of anybody he passes by, normally about his website of prank home videos, www.trashbat.co.ck (ck because he registered it at the Cook Islands). When Dan meets Nathan, his world really starts falling apart. Nathan is the epitome of what he writes about, what he most detests in the world, and yet Nathan is his biggest fan.

So begins Chris Morris' masterful Nathan Barley series. Over the course of the six episodes we see Nathan slowly take over Dan's world, affecting his job, his relationships (including with receptionist Sasha, played by Teachers' Nina Sosanya) and even having designs for his pretty sister, Claire (Claire Keelan). Dan is forced to conduct interviews with idiots like 15Peter20, who takes photographs of famous people urinating (as it is his current editor is called Jonatton Yeah?, having added the question mark by depol), dress up as a preacher to advertise Nathan's stupid website and even explore the stray scene (straight on straight gay action). Meanwhile Nathan oozes all over Dan's struggling filmmaker sister, Claire, and continues in his worthless life of made-up words and sheer stupidity.

Nathan Barley
Nathan Barley is a work of genius, very similar in style to such superb shows like The Office, only marginally less cringe-worthy and much more bitingly satirical. I cannot put into words the accuracy with which it portrays the extremes of the media industry, and the desperate struggle of the average man to avoid these annoying, mindless idiots. Sure, as I said, it is an extreme, but how telling is it when the magazine publishes nude pictures of purported thirteen-year-old girls being manhandled and then—when the editor is questioned about the decency of such a photo-spread—he explains that if you read the small print it states that all of the models are actually seven years older than their stated age.

They even change the magazine logo to being just Rape, with the letters of Suga being printed inside the R, and the idiots praise this idea by saying 'it's not good because it's rude, it's good because it looks like it’s good because it's rude.' When told by one of them that his article, 'The Rise of the Idiots' is the best thing that he has ever read, Dan asks what the second best thing is. 'Like, books and sh*t' comes the answer, and when further asked to elaborate, he says 'like, Heidi.' I could go on but I would end up quoting the entire series, suffice to say that fans of everything from Chris Morris' earlier work—particularly Brass Eye and The Day Today—to more recent productions like The Office, are likely to love Nathan Barley. It had me in stitches from start to finish.

Video


Nathan Barley is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that varies in terms of quality mainly due to the filmmaking techniques employed. We have web-cams, hand-held footage, even phone cameras on the go and all of them provide grainy, soft images that are not particularly good but perfectly in line with the content. On the other hand, the majority of the standard series content looks pretty excellent, with good detail, negligible grain and little softness. The colour scheme is very broad and the colours themselves are represented vividly, up to and including the solid blacks (apart from in a couple of nightclub scenes where the blacks vary from solid to grainy). Overall it is a very good presentation for a TV series.

Nathan Barley

Audio


The soundtrack for this series is absolutely fantastic, not in terms of quality music, but in terms of varied, often in-your-face sounds that punctuate the scenes: from irritating mobile phone ringtones to the manic DJ's purported mixing that keeps Claire up at night. The trouble is all we get is a limited Dolby Digital 2.0 track that restricts the potentially engaging soundtrack to the frontal array, where the dialogue takes the main stage. It still sounds good, but lacks bass, any kind of directionality and basically any depth.

Extras


We get a whole bundle of extras almost as good as the main features. First up there is a forty-five minute pilot episode, labelled 'untransmittable' and when you watch it you can see why. Just about all of the good bits across the season are crammed into this single pilot, from 15Peter20's gallery show (with more explicit photos) to Dan’s new 'hairstyle' that influences Nathan to his amusing detriment. The characters are slightly different as well, with Dan being much darker and more malicious. It is easy to see why the studios would lap this up and want to turn it into a series but you can also see why it was not released in its original state.

There is a re-dubbed version of episode five (the one where Dan gets involved in the 'stray scene' and Nathan falls for a cocaine-addicted teenage girl). Dan, Nathan and the coked-up Mandy all have their voices changed, with Nathan coming across as ludicrously posh and Dan sounding slightly Welsh. It is an amusing variation, done so well that you can barely tell that it is dubbed over. Well worth a watch.

Nathan Barley
Then we get two sound-only excerpts from Trashbat FM, where Nathan and his friends (including the hapless Toby and a bunch of the workers at Sugarape) continue their adventures over the airwaves. Nathan uncomfortably harasses Toby’s mum during the first six-minute segment and then we get a further four minutes of them all getting wasted on cannabis and enticing Toby to try it, with amusing results.

There are six deleted scenes from the whole series, although most of them are mere slight extensions of the scenes in the final cut. Still, they are all worth watching once, highlights being an extended version of Jonatton Yeah?'s interview on underage girls and the extra bit where Dan forces Nathan to be rude to Jonatton, who responds characteristically.

We also get a stills gallery that plays as a six-minute slideshow and basically consists of mock advertising guff, most of which is featured in the episodes themselves. There are about seventy shots, highlights including the videogame cover for 'Labour Party Conference'—the mock horror videogame where you are trapped in a haunted house with Tony Blair, and a great headline from a mock newspaper (reminiscent of Morris' other satirical media shows), called the Gleaming Shotgun, stating 'Cat Stab Barber Sobs Self to Death.'

There is a text archive of the origins of Nathan Barley, giving several dozen pages of the original concepts that led to the creation of the character and the show. They are all absolutely hilarious and this is definitely a hidden gem and well worth a read.

Finally there are six trailers, one for each of the episodes. They range from thirty to forty-five seconds in length and are superbly done, capturing the spirit of each episode by either showing a single scene or just giving clips of the best bits. The most well-conceived episode (and also trailer) is Geek Pie, episode four, where Dan gets that haircut but unfortunately it also gives a little too much away.

Nathan Barley

Overall


Nathan Barley is absolutely hilarious and should appeal to fans of satirical comedy shows like Spitting Image, The Office and basically anything by Chris Morris. Those disappointed by his previous, slightly incomprehensible Jam (which was good but a little heavy-going) should enjoy this return to form immensely. The video presentation is pretty good and the audio does its best within the limitations of a two-channel affair, but the highlight of the disc is most definitely the extra material, which is almost good enough to warrant its own separate release. Well worth investing in.


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