July 20, 2010

What constantly amazes about Look Around You is the precision of the comedy. When you watch a Judd Apatow movie, or for that matter most modern comedy, there’s a real shaggy sensibility to how the jokes are handled – it’s about the moment, about the people being funny in a situation, instead of creating an absurd environment for the comedy. But Look Around You gets a lot of laughs from camera angles, lighting choices and editing decisions. Creators Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper know exactly what they’re doing, which means that show is just as funny – if not more so – each successive time you watch it. A joke that gets a nod on first pass can blossom into a chuckle or laugh. And it’s a show that nearly demands to be re-watched because it has jokes that can get inside your head and stay there. My review of Look Around You Season One on DVD after the jump.

With each episode running less than ten minute, for the first season of Look Around You the premise is that the show is a British education program ala (as Trey Parker compares it) 3-2-1 Contact, or Mr. Wizard. Each episode has a theme of the week, like “Maths.” As to be expected, the show mixes a sense of mundane with each absurd joke. Narrated by Nigel Lambert and done completely straight-faced, the show creates science experiments and teaches you completely untrue facts about the world of science.

In one great bit, Sulfur is combined with 17 bottles of Champagne to create “Sulphagne” which then allows people to vaporize objects (and is used to destroy garbage on a regular basis). This joke is complete non-sequitur, but the care in which they go about it is amazing, the elaborate nature of the experiment and where it ends up is marvelous. To that end, they even have period laser effects for the vaporizing of things, where the object disappears and then the lasers retract from a very specific stopping point. That they are not only completely recreating the feel of a period science film, and the same effects work makes it a marvel. But then there are also the more basic jokes where they try and sow if Sulfur is magnetic or not with a prolonged bit as they lower a magnet to be near a pile of sulfur. And that’s the fun of the show. You have no idea where thinks are going to end up, or what strange right turn things are going to take, but all done in the exact cadence of shows of old.

Serafinowicz and Popper don’t show up on screen that often, though Popper gets a standout moment when he performs the pitch perfect song “Little Mouse,” while Serafinowicz and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World director Edgar Wright plays the scientists who enact the show’s experiments. Wright is only one of the guest performers who tie this into the British comedy families as Nick Frost and Simon Pegg make brief cameos, and there are other appearances from people like Julian Barratt and David Wailliams.

BBC America presents the show in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The show can be watched with or without the narration, though watching without is only mildly amusing. There are also two commentaries, one with director Tim Kirkby, writers Popper and Serafinowicz, and they are joined by Edgar Wright for the final episode. For two episodes each there are commentaries provided by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, and Tim and Eric. As for the rest of the special features “Calcium” (22 min.) functions as a test pilot, so there are some recycled jokes but lots of new ones, a music video for “Little Mouse” with a hidden commentary, credits for the DVD, and “Pages From Ceefax” text pages that apparently were written by Popper and Serafinowicz for even more jokes. This is the sort of thing that’s great to show to people.

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