It came as a great gift that when I went to check out some old episodes of That Mitchell and Webb Look on Netflix, I found that a new season (series?) was available. Like the glutton I am, I sat down and watched all six episodes. What a delight these guys are. The show compares so well to American comedy. The primary reason I don’t watch Saturday Night Live, for example, is that the skits rarely go anywhere. A skit will have a (hopefully) funny idea, riff on it, and then end abruptly. In comparison, That Mitchell and Webb Look generally have skits that do go somewhere and provide a payoff.
A good example of their writing is found in one of their skits from the first episode of Season 4. It is a film set and an actress is giving an emotional performance. The actor playing opposite her is supposed to respond with the words, “I don’t know what you want any more.” But instead of matching her level of emotion, he mumbles the line. The director calls cut and then they riff on it a bit. The director tries to get the actor to emote (or even just speak the line properly), but all the actor can do is mumble the line in a different way. If this were an SNL skit, that’s where it would end. Here, the director continues to work with the actor. Finally, the director gives up and decides to cut the line. The actor is upset. “Mike!” he says. “I’m doing my best! I really am! It’s just…” Followed immediately by the mumbled, “I don’t know what you want any more.” The skit is hysterical and fulfilling.
Mitchell and Webb are good about retiring skits before they get old. In some cases, I’m glad to see them go. Numberwang—the unfathomably complex numbers game—never really worked for me fully. Maybe this is because I don’t have enough experience with British television. Two skits I do miss disappeared rather suddenly: The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar—a drunken and most likely psychotic homeless man and his sidekick Ginger—and Ted and Peter—the alcoholic commentators on televised snooker matches, a pool game I had never heard of before. Of course, they have all been replaced with, if anything, better skits like The Quiz Broadcast—a post-appocolypic quiz show that takes place after some unspeakable “event.”
What really caught my attention in Season 4, however, was a bit they started in Episode 5 that was paid off in Episode 6. In the middle of Episode 5, Mitchell was telling Webb about having finally seen all the Black Adder shows. He says that he thinks they screwed up the ending of Black Adder Goes Forth. For those who don’t know it, this show takes place in the trenches of World War I, and it ends very poignantly with all the men going over the top and being shot to pieces. So the joke is that Mitchell thinks this is just a joke that bombed. Amusing. Then they get to talking about how they need to end their show with “something tacked-on and mawkish.” They continue later in the show discussing ways they can end the show in this way. While thinking about it, they go to get some tea. But it’s not ready! It will take 5 minutes! They are devastated—in slow motion just like in Black Adder Goes Forth. Brilliant.
But that’s not the end. They finally decide that the way to end the show is to kill off their cast member, James. There is a montage of things James has been in before with the text, “James Bachmann: 1972-2010.” Then, it cuts to a room with a woodchipper. Two feet stick out of it with the words, “Tragically got put into a woodchipper for narrative reasons.” Brilliant.
But that’s not the end. Okay. It is the end of that episode. But then they end Episode 6 (the season finale) with a funny skit about an old Sherlock Holmes that ends poignantly and uncomfortably and in no way funny. Holmes is in a rest home with dementia. They go a long way with the comedy of a once brilliant man who is now a babbling fool, while Watson tries to cover and preserve Homes’ former image of himself. And then, it stops on a dime. Holmes looks at Watson seriously and says, “I know, John. I do know. I can’t get the fog to clear.” Watson is speechless. Devastated. Then Holmes looks pained and calls out for the nurse. She comes in and checks him. “Oh, dear. It looks like a two pipe problem. Let’s get you cleaned up.” This last bit is not cheap scatological humor. There is no laugh track here. It is deadly serious. Sad. Brilliant.
 A Bit of Fry and Laurie is equally good. Or a little better. Or a little worse. But definitely of similar quality.
 I believe they started The Quiz Broadcast in Season 3. It was definitely before Season 4, but it definitely comes into its all in Season 4.
 Yes. In that sentence “funny” is an adverb. Don’t ever let me hear you use the word “funnily”!