Channel: BBC Two
Recurring Cast: Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton
It has been a very long time since we’ve last been in Royston Vasey. It has, over time, turned into one of those hidden gems of British TV, a sketch show like no other, that encapsulated the odd, gothic humour of Gatiss, Pemberton, Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson. Some might argue it is something best kept in the past, one of those icons of the time that wouldn’t work in the modern era. There is something particularly grim about the humour in this show that is so unique and designed for a certain taste that it was a miracle it worked back then. Now, for audiences struggling with the political correctness and sensitivity of the era, perhaps League of Gentleman was an event for one precise moment in time. A moment that has undeniably passed. On the other hand, with Gatiss one of the biggest writers in the BBC right now, plus with Shearsmith and Pemberton recapturing some of their comedic magic with Inside No 9, perhaps right now is the perfect time for the return of Royston Vasey and its bizarre occupants.
Egged on by a cult following and refined fan base, the team have finally caved in and brought the League of Gentleman back for another go-around. But with a third season that wrapped up pretty much most of the storylines, as well as killing off the best characters, how can the show find material to move on with? The answer is simply: push through like nothing has happened. The most satisfying thing about the League of Gentlemen’s fourth season is that it is treated as though there wasn’t a lengthy break in between seasons. It is very quickly business as usual for the show. We open with the character of Benjamin Denton, escorting his strange mother home to visit the place his oppressive father died. Meanwhile, The Mayor is fighting with the borders of Royston Vasey being expanded to be swallowed up by a larger, bigger town. The vet is still killing any animal unfortunate enough to wander into his hands. Just like we remember, the League of Gentlemen is a cacophony of bizarre stories, rising and falling around the sketch show, like a well-timed cadence of mayhem. While these stories play out, the background details of the show are back to normal. There are several mini sight gags bleeding into the background, causing sniggers at every turn. The park details that you must be 16 to vandalise here. An old man is sold at a car boot sale. The gang is definitely back together and it is a very satisfying feeling. The surprising thing is how fast the show rockets on. It has been a while since we have seen this bizarre village, but the League of Gentlemen creative team don’t hold our hand. We are left to keep up, but there is a delightful sense of the magic rekindling itself. There turns out to be no need to reintroduce the failed yet arrogant TA recruit or the abusive Italian father. It all rushes to the front of your mind, as though the show is tuned into your muscle memory. It means that there is no time wasting in finding new narratives and being able to put more time into adding finesse to the gags. The character trademarks are coming thick and fast and the team even find one moment to add a bonus reference to Inside No 9. It is a joy to watch.
Only three episodes though. And with a shortened season, there isn’t enough time to get any momentum going. The issue with the League of Gentleman is that it refuses to take cheap shots at the script or audience. There are no bad puns or out of place set-pieces. This is all about the scenario and sometimes you feel more is needed. There are prolonged segments as the oddity wears off and you find yourself watching a dark drama that’s comedy is so black, you wonder where the comedy is. Where is the joke as a man gets a jar of olives stuffed up his rectum? There are a few scenes in League of Gentlemen that might be argued to be less comedic sketch show, but more Gatiss, Shearsmith and Pemberton relishing the chance to be the directors of their own material again. Cue Mark Gatiss getting a monologue in a bingo hall that causes a few snickers, yes, but is more an example of the actor giving himself to do something no other writer is willing to give him. Of course, this is always what the League of Gentlemen has been, meaning that it is really only going to appeal to the audience already in place. And for those fans, they must admit that the show is over before it even begins. There are a few main strands of storyline, each concluding at various points. It means that one story doesn’t feel forced into the ending, the focus on the correct moments at the correct times. But just as one story seems to hit its climax, resulting in a reveal you knew was coming, but is fantastically great nonetheless, the show is over. If feels that there should be more, yet we are at the end of the journey. At the very least, this suggests that there is more coming. Perhaps The League of Gentlemen has found another moment in time.
Final Verdict: Over before it has begun, but that flaw only reminds the viewer that The League of Gentleman is a very unique, moreish piece of British comedy.