This week sees the long-awaited return of Cardinal Burns to our TV screens, with Episode 1 airing at 10:30pm.
The madcap sketch show starring Seb Cardinal and Dustin Debri-Burns is, once again, co-written by a large number of comedic talents, including TVO regulars Rufus Jones and Fergus Craig.
But with the show moving to Channel 4 – has it developed stronger legs to survive another run? TVO’s editor in chief, Paul Holmes, sat down with the first two episodes to find out…
Sketch shows are strange beasts. Since the early days of The Goons, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies, right through The Two Ronnies, Not The Nine O’Clock News, The Real McCoy, The Fast Show, Goodness Gracious Me and Little Britain, they’ve been the source of some of the most memorable characters and classic lines in the history of British comedy.
Yet they’re also, by nature, incredibly haphazard and difficult to summarise. We all remember the Dead Parrot or Computer Says No, but we often forget the dregs that fill the gaps in-between the classics: Ed Winchester, anyone?
Such selective memories are often called into play when judging new attempts at the format in an increasingly negative manner – a fate which befell the likes of Beehive and tittybangbang in the last decade. Cardinal Burns, returning for a second run, has polarised opinion as all sketch shows seem to do, and with the show being upgraded from E4 to parent channel Channel 4, the pressure for a smash hit, it seems, is on.
The pedigree is certainly there. Hot new talents Seb Cardinal and Dustin Debri-Burns honed their skills at the Edinburgh Fringe and countless live dates on the London comedy circuit, and whilst the first series offered Aisling Bea and Bridget Christie in its supporting ensemble, this year sees Catherine Shepherd (The IT Crowd), Simon Greenall (Alan Partridge) and series co-writer Rufus Jones joining the dynamic duo.
The result is something which won’t appeal to all sensibilities – but the crudity of the first series has been toned down considerably beyond the opening sketch and a few off-kilter moments, which perhaps should have been banished to the cutting room floor. To do so, however, would rob Cardinal Burns of their pull no punches approach, and make excuses for their eccentricities, and that would be a crying shame.
For whilst it’s true that riding a motorbike to human resources, two playaz failing to park their car outside a nightclub, and a serious duet between two grotesquely featured singers are all nice ideas that probably worked better on paper than they do on camera, for every failed laugh there’s at least two other ideas that will make you smile, even if belly laughs are not so commonplace.
The best of them make you see everyday events in a whole new light, and in that sense, the show is continuing the same drive Monty Python made over four decades ago. For example, there’s a sketch in the opening episode which will not only change how you look at one particular place, but make going there vastly more entertaining too, all via the gift of a Crystal Maze parody. Who knew in 2014 we’d be saying those three words in the same sentence again?
By the same token, the henchman sketch which opens Episode 2 is magnificent in its simplicity, taking an idea others have ruminated upon before but doing it, quite simply, better, without outstaying its welcome.
And the longer sketches can work well too – with the ghost-hunting gay couple from 1987 managing to fuse a Pet Shop Boys classic, reality television and modern horror spoof together without any of it seeming cliché. So too, do returning characters like the Office Flirts, Banksy and his family. It’s also great to see the oh-so-well observed trio of Rachel, Olivia and Yumi back in yuppie hipster spoof Young Dreams, which will thrill anyone who’s ever been stuck in North London with the kind of people who have more Instagram lunch photos than books on their shelves.
There are elements of extreme excess to the performances, like Little Britain and even Star Stories before it, but within the framework of the show, they just work, never more so than with Turkish/Dalston hybrid 80s tv show Hashtag and Bukake. Centering around two rough-n-ready cab drivers, it’s a pitch perfect pastiche that harks back to that other-realm populated by Garth Marenghi, right down to the One Track Lover moment as the stars of the show sing their hit single in Episode 2. Really, we almost wish THIS was the whole show – it’s that well done.
Sometimes, the ideas are great, such as a room service sketch we won’t spoil, but the final punchline is one anyone who watches a lot of comedy will be expecting. But the thrill is in the chase, not the capture, and with Cardinal Burns, it’s one hell of an adventure getting there.
Cardinal Burns begins at 10:30pm on Wednesday, 30th April on Channel 4. It will be available on 4oD shortly after transmission.