Last week we were lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at the new series of Luxury Comedy. So without giving away any spoilers, what can we expect when it finally hits our screens on 31st July?
In interviews about the new series, Noel Fielding has been pretty open about his decision to move away from the sketch show format of series 1, towards a more narrative programme structure with a beginning, middle and an end to each episode. He says it’s because he’s a story-teller at heart, and it’s what he does best. This change of structure is certainly one of the most noticeable differences between the two series. So does it work?
Luxury Comedy is Noel’s stand up in visual form. That’s not to do it down; the fact that anyone has managed to capture the fantastical mayhem that goes on inside Fielding’s mind is impressive enough. Noel’s stand up material is at its best when allowed to slowly weave its shapes, layer upon layer, over a period of time. Stories unfold, characters evolve and concepts crystallise through repetition. By contrast, on the occasions I’ve seen him perform short slots on crowded comedy bills, his ideas don’t always have time to develop. This is not a man for the rat-tat-tat of machine-gun punchlines.
In the same way, expanding his TV ideas into 30-minute stories gives them proper form, allowing the viewer to step inside, appreciate their complexities and get carried along with the narrative. These are ideas rich enough for full episodes; and to reduce each of them to a sketch of a few minutes would underplay them. For me, then, the new format isn’t just about telling stories – it’s about telling strange stories much better.
The different characters whom we encounter across the series are now part of each week’s story, which gives them purpose and makes the interaction between them feel genuine. The relationships between the characters are one of the aspects of the new series that gives the show its heart. This is no longer a disjointed collection of strange misfits; they’re friends, neighbours, and occasional enemies – as the story requires.
The friendship between the main four – Noel, Dolly, Andy and Smooth, allows for a solid dynamic at the centre of the action. The series 2 versions of the core team feel more ‘human’ and rounded, and as a result more sympathetic than before. Noel, in particular, presents a very different on-screen persona to anything we’ve seen from him previously: awkward, eager to please and uncool, he’s the Howard to Dolly’s preening Vince. Devoid of Howard Moon’s pomposity, however, this Noel is a character with whom we empathise, not just the one we laugh at.
Noel has said that he and Nigel spent longer writing the second series, and this comes across. I loved the first series, but there are more funnier moments in series 2 (based on the two episodes we saw). The writing’s sharp, the physical comedy is hilarious, and the characters are beautifully honed and gloriously wonky at the same time. Look out for star turns throughout from a whole host of TVO faces, including Richard Ayoade, Steve Oram, Dave Brown, Rich Fulcher, Arnab Chanda, Tania Wade, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Stuart Silver, Simon Farnaby and others.
This series is arguably the most self-aware output that we’ve ever seen from Fielding, with a number of knowing references to the public reaction that series 1 generated. He’s said that it’s a natural reaction to criticism – you try to get in there first before anyone else does. And it works well in this context, tethering the strange Luxury world to our own experience from time to time (thereby making it more relateable), and imbuing the series with a large helping of humility which, one hopes, the cynics out there will respond positively to.
Added to all of that, Luxury Comedy is still a fabulous feast for the eyes: the distinctive day-glo sets, wardrobe, make-up and animation all combine to create a uniquely visual world. Huge credit to Nigel Coan and his production team for putting it all together; you can see that it’s a labour of love in every single scene.
So will the rest of the world like it? I hope so. If people enjoyed the Boosh and the naysayers can get over their disproportionately extreme reaction to series 1, they would like this. Genuinely funny, beautifully magical and full of heart – what’s not to love?
Don’t forget to tune in: Luxury Comedy series 2 airs at 10pm on E4 on 31st July. For the less patient amongst you, episode 1 is available to view from TODAY – a whole week early, on 4oD here.