Campus: Execration, execration, execration

I have just wasted an hour of my life. An hour! Mind you, the people who made this university-based series have wasted months of theirs. And they have squandered the comic legacy endowed to them by Green Wing.

The Channel 4 announcer was at pains to point out the towering antecedent of this new comedy – ‘If like me you have been suffering Green Wing withdrawals for what seems like forever, then your prayers are answered’, he breathlessly intoned.  With a build up like that it had better be good. And Lord knows it was not.

Benny Hill meets It Ain’t Half Hot Mum with just a hint of The Office. That’s the nearest I can get to listing its real antecedents.

With the same creative team as Green Wing – but none of the same cast – why did it not work?  Here’s a list of my top seven reasons:

  • Can you do a fairly poor imitation of David Brent for us please? The main character – Vice-Chancellor, Jonty De Wolfe (see what they did there?) – was clearly intended to be a corrupt, ruthless, alpha male, making Kirke University spin around his every whim. He came across as the palest copy of David Brent, without the undercutting identity of being a regional sales manager.
  • Let’s take non-PC language and ideas dare to use them in cutting edge comedy, that will defy convention. So we had “spastics”, “cripples”, mockery of Indian students, fat women “jokes”. See that was funny wasn’t it?
  • Our comedy doesn’t need anything approaching a plot, right? Well actually you need something to keep you watching, since the writing and performing won’t.  This had a half-assed idea about the faculty needing to write best-selling books (the episode title being “Publication, Publication, Publication”) which failed to go anywhere.  And then something shoe-horned in about overpaying staff by mistake.  Are you interested yet?
  • Will anyone notice there’s not a semblance of plausibility? There are seven diverse characters from across the University – the VC, his PA, an English Professor, a maths lecturer, an engineering researcher, an accountant, and a housing officer. Yet they all know and speak to each other all the time. They seem all to be based in the same building.  The exciting publication that was to save the university was a popular science book. There’s a PhD student taking seminars, but only at the university because he’s good at sport. There were no committee meetings. Hmmmm.
  • Let’s not avoid stereotypes, stereotypes are funny. The English professor (Matt Beer – see what they did there?) is lecherous.  The maths lecturer (Imogen Moffatt – see what, oh no they just gave up on the funny names idea, I guess) is dowdy. The PA is fat and lazy. The boss is power-crazed. The accountant is incompetent.  Are you laughing yet?
  • Sex is funny, let’s mention sex.  A lot. By my reckoning, every character discussed having sex and used the word vagina – almost regardless of what scene they were in or what the plot point was they were involved in. High-larious, as Mr Burns says.
  • Hey wasn’t Green Wing great when characters did off beat things in the middle of a scene – let’s do that. So they did.  A bit.  Someone ate a cigarette.  The VC put on a green dress in the library and disappeared from a table. A woman pissed in a male urinal. A student sat awkwardly in a chair. Um, is that doing it for you?
  • We don’t need any sympathetic characters do we? Do we care about any of these people as they struggle and fail and hate each other? Nope. I don’t care what happens to them. Thankfully I’ll never have to find out.

I did not laugh at any of this even once.  I may have smiled.  My jaw regularly swung open – perhaps widest as I watched the VC openly mock the (non-English) language being spoken by a group of Indian students, while they happily went along with it.

After half an hour I was relieved it was ending. Then when I realised we were only half way through I swore out loud and literally punched the sofa. The direness of this programme was such that in the breaks the Halifax ads set in a fake staff radio station were amusing by comparison.

God help the university where they filmed this, since they sure as heckfire shouldn’t want to be associated with it.

Green Wing is available on 4OD.  This may also be.  Don’t watch it.

Posted by arialbold from the recovery room


Filed under Comedy

5 responses to “Campus: Execration, execration, execration

  1. Qwerty

    My word: this makes Ambridge Extra seem good.

  2. pauseliveaction

    I managed ten minutes of this, though Mr PLA watched it till the end (it didn’t get any better, he said – he sniggered once but didn’t actually laugh).

    Before I left him to it, I said, “This reminds me of another really unfunny, university-based so-called comedy we saw a while back.”
    “Yes,” he replied. “It was the pilot for this.”

    Beyond dreadful.

  3. Our Man in the South

    Hear hear! They clearly built this up as the successor to Green Wing, and it so clearly wasn’t! Utter rubbish. The David Brent impersonator was so wrong for that role. But then the material was so bad anyway, it didn’t really matter.

  4. Robert

    I only occasionally watched Green Wing so I didn’t get the full disappointment of this, but even without that expectation it was awful. Not in an Ambridge Extra kind of way … I could imagine from a long way off what that would sound like and how bad it would be. Having listened to one episode of it I know it’s not for me and I won’t listen to it again. No harm done. A brief exposure to Campus, however just left me depressed at how low comedy writing has sunk. This was really bad.

    I made the mistake of watching a couple of episodes of A Very Peculiar Practice at the weekend. I do this every now and then. It never fails to gladden the heart. I watch it out of nostalgia, I remember watching when it first went out when I was a student in a 1960s university. And now that I work on a campus I watch it out a different sort of recognition. They could re-shoot the scripts today (throw in a few more computers, mobile phones, update the fashions and add a mention or two of tuition fees) and they would still work as a fresh satire on higher education in an era of markets for learning.

    The great thing about A Very Peculiar Practice was that I cared about the characters, even the ones that were quite clearly horrible, like the proto-Thatcherite Bob Buzzard with his “rinky-dinky computer.” Also the scripts, by Andrew Davies, show an understanding of how universities work on an academic and social level, i.e. what it actually means to be a Professor (as opposed to a lowly Lecturer) and who sleeps with who (the gag being, sociologists only sleep with other sociologists). The comedy comes from exaggeration, but the basis of this exaggeration is in some identifiable reality.

    Campus had none of this lightness of touch – instead it felt like being smacked around the face by someone yelling “Look at me! I’m offensive! I’m funny!” Very depressing indeed.

  5. arialbold

    I nearly referenced A Very Peculiar Practice in the review, since that was a fine example of a university comedy drama which worked (in the way that campus fails). Now reading other reviews and reactions to Campus – none of which I had seen when I wrote this review – it’s clear that others had the same low and dismayed reaction. Even Sam Wollaston in the Guardian, who can be relied to be nice about even the least promising programme, damned it with just a veneer of the faintest of praise.

    Some people, however, thought it great – is there an age demographic here?

    From inside universities however the response has been one of incredulity – with so many potential current targets to aim at and ridicule, they have produced something devoid of currency.

    The most telling insight I thought may have been the reference to the semi-improvised nature of the production (which I was not aware of). Clearly Green Wing had some talented actor-creators involved. The woolly and directionless scenes in campus may be explained by the improvisational quality of the people they have here.