The New Statesman: The Complete Series (review)

I have great memories of this being one of the most wickedly funny TV shows I’d ever seen, when I first caught it on PBS almost 20 years ago, and I’m delighted to have this new DVD set, containing all 26 episodes, reconfirm that. Sure, some very topical references date the series, which aired from 1987 to 1992 , and some very pointed cultural ones — the show hailed from Britain — will go over the heads of contemporary American viewers. But this remains a vicious, blacker-than-black satire of ultraconservative political philosophy, one that’s become, alas, actually somewhat scarily closer to reality in the time since it was created. Brilliant comic actor Rik Mayall (Valiant) stars as Alan B’Stard, Tory Member of Parliament from the fictional constituency of Holtemprice, who was — at least in the Thatcher/Reagan era — an outrageous caricature of a far-right-wing politician: avowedly greedy, he blackmails for fun, not because he needs the money (he’s already a millionaire); gleefully cruel, he proposes that the best way to eliminate poverty is to kill the poor; lecherous and sadistic, he maintains a hate-filled marriage of convenience while abusing all manner of mistresses and prostitutes. Yes, this is a comedy… one that slices you into a million paper cuts and squeezes lemon juice into them. The writing is razor sharp and is starting to look downright prophetic — Karl Rove has clearly taken lessons from B’Stard — but what’s really astonishing is Mayall’s comedic brutality: he latches like a bulldog onto B’Stard’s malevolence and wrings it dry. Oh so dry. The only extra in the set is the feature-length special “Who Shot Alan B’Stard?” though, weirdly, it’s on Disc Four, when it should logically be on Disc Two, where it falls chronologically within the run of the series. buy at Amazon]

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Charlie S
Charlie S
Fri, Aug 24, 2007 1:31pm

The New Statesman wasn’t as biting as UK political satire sitcoms like Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister and The Thick of It (A lot of sitcoms made from ITV were never as hilarious as the best BBC sitcoms), but it was still funny because of the awesomely crazy manic comic performance of Rik Mayall. If the late John Belushi ever had a British cousin, it would be Rik Mayall. Of course, he’ll always be better known for Bottom, UK 80’s stand-up and The Young Ones, and he’ll always be sadly best known for Drop Dead Fred in the US. Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson along with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are some of the most awesomely hilarious double acts that are up there with great comics like Ben Elton and Paul Merton to come out of UK alternative comedy of the 80’s. Interesting thing to note as a connection between Doctor Who and The New Statesman. Graeme Harper, one of Doctor Who’s best directors, and Geoffrey Sax, director of the Paul McGann TV movie, also directed episodes of The New Statesman.

Speaking of satirical comedies, MaryAnn, I wonder if you’ve seen that episode of I’m Alan Partridge where Alan talks and insults a representative of farmers, Pater Baxendale Thomas, which is of course is played by Chris Morris. If you thought watching Sacha Baron Cohen playing Ali G and Borat was hilarious, Chris Morris would blow you away. Chris Morris at his peak doing his shows Brass Eye, The Day Today(which also featured Patrick Marber before writing Closer and Notes On A Scandal) and Jam! are some of the best UK comedy in recent years, and the fact that Morris’s best stuff is great subversive satire done complete with a straight face and and bordered on being so offensively hilarious that he managed to dupe self-important celebrities and cause such offense to the UK public (particularly Brass Eye) shows what a talent is whether its radio hosting his own shows or doing TV comedy. You can find out more about him at and you can find a ton of clips about Chris Morris on Youtube.

Sat, Aug 25, 2007 12:20pm

The *Yes Minister* shows were never ones that really made a great impact on me, and I’ve never seen *The Thick of It.* Nor have I seen the *Alan Patridge* episode you refer to. Sorry.

Charlie S
Charlie S
Sat, Aug 25, 2007 12:40pm

I guess Yes Minister is in the mold of the traditional sitcom which is how I can see how it doesn’t appeal as much as it used to, but certainly one of the most biting political satires ever done about the underhandedness and the workings of politics . The Thick of It is another great political satire sitcom in the dead-silence, serious style of ‘The Office’ satirizing the marketing spin of politics. It’s a real pity US networks could never have the balls to come up with TV satire as biting with the right mix of lunacy as this. I guess if we did come up with such biting TV satires on politics, it would probably be censored, tamed or dumbed down or never reach being greenlit because of pressure by political parties, politicians or just government in general probably because subversive ideas in biting enough political satire will drive away from political influence.

In any case, you gotta check out Morris to see for yourself, there’s huge clips of The Day Today(which is the first appearance of Alan Partridge) and Brass Eye up on Youtube, trust me, if you like Sacha Baron Cohen, you’ll love Morris, Brass Eye and The Day Today are some of the best TV satires as you’ll ever get, and Morris is about bitingly subversive and amusingly straight-faced as comedians get.

Sun, Aug 26, 2007 7:42pm

I normally love Mayall, but I found The New Statesman disappointing. It couldn’t decide whether it was going to be unrealistically silly or more of a subtle satire. In the end, it just annoyed me. I’d much rather just settle into Bottom, which at least knows what it is and plays itself as such.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Wed, Mar 17, 2010 11:43pm

I guess if we did come up with such biting TV satires on politics, it would probably be censored, tamed or dumbed down or never reach being greenlit because of pressure by political parties, politicians or just government in general probably because subversive ideas in biting enough political satire will drive away from political influence.

Oh, brother.

Yes, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a M.A.S.H., an All in the Family or even a Murphy Brown but it’s hard to watch TV at a time when one of the most popular TV shows has a vocally aggressive atheist as a protagonist and yet another recent series regularly featured pointed criticisms of the latest Bush Administration policies delivered by an Emmy-winning actor and then honestly argue that today’s programming is all that apolitical.

Though it does seem like the more subversive work generally comes on cable.

Anyway, modern television is never going to be liberal enough for the liberals nor conservative enough for the conservatives–except for maybe 24. And frankly, I find myself worrying more about the folks I know who can’t afford cable. But that’s an argument for another day.

Anyway, I would have liked to jump on “The New Statesman is just awesome” bandwagon but the episodes I’ve seen thus far (the ones on the first disc) just didn’t do it for me. I would have thought that any show that combined the political cynicism of Yes, Minister with the brilliant insult humor of Blackadder would have been an instant classic but so far what I see is a promising premise with very little follow through.

It’s a shame, really. Rik Myall did a great job of creating a character you just love to hate. Unfortunately, the rest of the episodes generally left a bit to be desired.

If nothing else, the show proved what I had long suspected since my first viewing of Nighty, Night–shows in which the bad person wins all the time–and never even comes close to being found out–are dull. Even Yes, Minister and Blackadder knew how to maintain some type of suspense in regard to their stories’ outcome. TNS, on the other hand, was just one long, endless round of “Look how bad he is! See how bad he is! Look! There he is being bad again! Look, you git, he’s bad! He’s bad!”

Yeah, TNS was bad, all right. But it could have been great…

Oh, well. YMMV.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Wed, Mar 17, 2010 11:51pm

On the plus side, I did like the liberal humanism of William and Mary, a show that I’m tempted to compare to Six Feet Under but that would be to the discredit of both shows. Suffice it to say that it took what could have a ludicrous premise–an undertaker start dating a midwife–and came up with a surprising memorable dramedy.

YMMV, of course.