The "mockumentary" — from This Is Spinal Tap
to Waiting for Guffman
and Best In Show
— has become a well-worn comic cliche. But when done well, there are few vehicles as effective at drawing laughs than wacky characters in deadpan situations.
And that's what Fake TV: Human Remains
— an upcoming installment in BBC America's "Fake TV" block — delivers during its funniest moments.
The U.S. premiere series skewers programs that take a look at the intimate lives of everyday couples, like Discovery Channel's A Dating Story. In each installment, comedians Julia Davis and Bob Brydon (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) portray seemingly normal couples who are revealed to have some, well, quirks.
The first episode of the series — "An English Squeak" — starts off looking like a portrait of a typical, upper-class English couple. Peter and Flick Morcross play tennis and wander about the grounds of their extensive estate in the English countryside.
But there's a dark side to it all: Specifically the specter of Flick's late fiancee, Geoffrey, who was "medically, a giant." Tiny Peter doesn't measure up, despite his wife's insistence on buying him riding clothes two sizes too big, in hopes he'll grow into them.
Making matters worse is that Flick suffers from a rare "disease" called "vaginismus," which leads to agonizing spasms, occasional blindness and the inability to have sex (except with one's masseusse).
Life for Peter is a series of small humiliations: His wife not only won't go to his show-jumping competition, but she schedules his 40th birthday party for the same moment — and hires clowns and kiddie rides as entertainment.
The fifth episode, "Hairless," features a different type of couple: expatriate Americans Barne and Fonte, who agree to be filmed to show off their "modern" relationship. Fonte is a would-be singer whose "music" consists of badly performed Alanis Morissette covers, and who suffers from delusions of grandeur. Because she sells her do-it-yourself albums over the Web, she claims to be a "global" artist.
Barne is as neurotic as Fonte is self-absorbed. A songwriter who took up selling cars to support his wife's career, he spends a lot of time in the bedroom with, er, himself — one of the many causes for conflict in their relationship.
The mock-documentary format creates a lot of opportunities for deadpan humor, and Davis and Brydon often cash in. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern here: neurotic, henpecked men married to self-absorbed, cold women. Hopefully, some of the relationships profiled in the series' other four episodes offer just as many laughs with a little more variety.
Episodes of Fake TV: Human Remains
air Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 on BBC America.