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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Big Train: Seasons One and Two (review)

God bless the Brits: they know how to limit a TV show to just the right number of episodes. Even if it’s only 12, and even if they’re spread across two seasons separated by four years. Some stuff — like the outrageously surreal Monty Python-esque comedy of this wonderfully demented series — just can’t be rushed. Constantly surprising and endlessly inventive, this is sketch comedy at its wild best: aggressively silly, unafraid to take chances, and deliciously absurd and nonlinear; even the recurring motifs (riffs on horse-racing jockeys make multiple appearances) manage to be unexpected again and again. Season One dates from 1998, Season Two from 2002, but the timeless quality of Big Train’s askew viewpoint lends a cohesiveness to the show as a single entity, not to mention the kind of sturdy durability that could see this earn the same kind of long-term cult following that the Pythons continue to enjoy. (It’s hardly a shock to discover, among a cast mostly unknown in the United States, Simon Pegg of the new offbeat faves Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, But it is a delight.) Extras include deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, and some of the most entertaining menus I’ve ever seen; and, joy of joys, you can jump around on a sketch-by-sketch basis. Very cool. [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • John H

    The shorter British-style ‘series’ (as opposed to the American ‘season’) has its pros and cons. Coming largely from lower production budgets and smaller writing teams, it’s meant that there nearly always new (maybe good) stuff just around the corner and crap never stays on the screens for too long (and face it, for every Big Train or Fast Show or Armstrong and Miller, there’s simply hours of garbage to wade through).

    But blink and you’ve missed it – if you’re bored with TV or have found a hobby other than watching TV you can just completely miss entire series. It also doesn’t really give the writers much scope for development – if they’re good there’s always a new series to be made though.

    Still, it’s cool that stuff like Big Train have made it state-side. Anything Pegg-shaped probably fits right now.

  • MaryAnn

    for every Big Train or Fast Show or Armstrong and Miller, there’s simply hours of garbage to wade through).

    But that’s true of TV in America, too… except often we get stuck with shows still lingering after 10 years simply because audiences keep watching them out of habit, not because they’re any good any longer. I gave up on *ER* a few years ago, for instance, because its early brilliance had given way to a lazy complacence. The producers assumed that people would keep tuning in because we cared about the characters… and that was true of me, for a while, Eventually, though, the writers so betrayed what the characters had started out as — they HAD to, simply to find new realms of drama for them — that I gave up.

    But blink and you’ve missed it – if you’re bored with TV or have found a hobby other than watching TV you can just completely miss entire series.

    I think that’s changing, though, thanks to the Internet. Now, word of really good shows spreads much more quickly — and, obviously, internationally, too — on the Web.

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