sun 20/04/2014

Campus, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Campus, Channel 4

Clever, absurd, rude, perhaps even edgy - but is it funny?

'Campus' follows the staff of Kirke University, led into battle by Jonty de Wolfe (Andy Nyman)
'Campus' follows the staff of Kirke University, led into battle by Jonty de Wolfe (Andy Nyman)

Let us begin with the nots. Fashionably weird is not enough. Edgy, whatever that means, is not enough. The repeated use of the word “vagina” is not enough and semi-improvised ensemble acting is not, in itself, quite enough. These were just some of the many not-thoughts which ran through my mind during the opening episode of the much-touted Campus. So what did picky me want? I wanted funny.

Created by Green Wing supremo Vicky Pile and written by six of the same team behind that fondly recalled surreal-com, it was difficult not to make comparisons between Green Wing and Campus simply because it so obviously and repeatedly invited them. Instead of a hospital the setting was Kirke University, an outpost of academic indolence overseen by Vice-Chancellor Jonty de Wolfe, played with a manic, eye-glinting relish by Andy Nyman, but that small shift aside, Campus tilled familiar ground with diminishing returns and zero warmth.

Many of the character types from Green Wing returned here in only slightly altered form. There was Matthew Beer (Joseph Millson), the permanently horny, cosmically bored and perennially indisposed English professor who set his cap – and the rest - at Imogen Moffat (Lisa Jackson), the mousey, repressed Maths-lecturer-turned-author of “shit-lit” bestseller The Year of Zero. A man whose "To Do" list is breathing and has breasts, Beer was only a twist of DNA away from Stephen Mangan’s womanising anaesthetist Guy Secretan. Meanwhile, deranged engineering lecturer Lydia (Dolly Wells) - “We all had nicknames at school: Whitey, Tinkerbell... they called me The Big Shit” – seemed like a pale echo of Michelle Gomez’s marvellously odd Sue White.

campus1At least de Wolfe (pictured right) was cut from a different cloth; what a shame it was another overly familiar one. David Brent reimagined as a nefarious and entirely OTT Shakespearean villain, he gave his staff wedgies in the campus courtyard and tried to persuade a student to kill himself to cover up a massive accountancy cock-up. He wanted, he said, to make Kirke “gleam like a bleached anus in a line-up of durrrrty arses”. Following Moffat’s publishing success he tasked Beer to write his own book to “bring the foreigns in”.

There was no real attempt to eviscerate the world of academia – the campus merely provided a suitable playground (crucially, one with several attractive young women) for absurdity, resentment and lust to run riot. There was the de rigueur pitiless gaze at office-based inanity (stray emails; bored flirtations) involving an enjoyable turn from Sara Pascoe as Nicole, the daffy accommodations officer and the only woman on the planet still saying “wassup”, and accounts manager Jason, played with plausible blankness by Will Adamsdale.

The barely suppressed urge to shock frequently trumped the necessity to be funny

The default setting was heightened mania and rather laboured surrealism. Beer fired plastic arrows at a student with a target painted on his naked chest and at one point de Wolfe, dressed in a green tutu, literally disappeared into thin air and left Beer with a wind-up monkey in his sock. The aspiration seemed to be magical realism with knob gags.

So why wasn’t I laughing? Well, for a start, halfway through I realised that the vogue in TV comedy for near-fatal doses of faux-naturalistic awkwardness is becoming as hackneyed as the laugh track an on old episode of Terry and June. The other problem was that the barely controlled urge to shock – as if comedy were in any way capable of taking such a scalp these days – time and again trumped the necessity to be funny.

Watch a clip from Campus


There was a disabled gag in the first 30 seconds, a bit of near-the-knuckle racism and a rape joke. The childish delight in portraying mild sexual deviancy soon palled, while the entire hour was pebble-dashed with scatological and biological riffs which sounded like cast-offs from Green Wing. Immensely pleased with itself, Campus ultimately suffered from a bad case of that niggling affliction which torpedoes much TV comedy these days: namely the suspicion that the actors are more concerned with their own amusement than ours.

I did laugh, but not very much. I nodded a lot, if that helps, but Campus was so desperate to be clever, dark and – heaven help us – edgy that it forgot what it was actually there for. It was well acted, engaging enough, fashionably absurd. All the right rude words were in all the right rude places (usually either heading towards or about to leave one orifice or other). Just one crucial piece of the jigsaw was missing: it simply wasn’t very funny.

Professor Beer was one of those men whose "To Do" list is breathing and has breasts

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Comments

didn't enjoy the first

didn't enjoy the first episode...first time, however, recently managed to work my way through all six episodes and loved them! I was a massive fan of the Green Wing, and the similarities are obvious (I may have even loved Capus because it filled the Green Wing shaped hole in my life, but I don't care), but I still loved Campus. I am now quite devastated to see that there will be no second series. Loved the characters and wanted to see more of them...

Publication! Publication!

Publication! Publication! Publication! More like Shit! Shit Shit! Poorly acted and badly written. All characters cloned from other major series from the last 5 or so years. This 1st show should be leaving me wanting more. Unfortunately it was more silence or more entertainment. Certainly not more of this. Poor, Poor, Poor!
Seems that you`re in the minority here.No use trying to put the silk hat on the pig.And I apologise to the pigs.
You're all so wrong I feel rather bad for you. Campus is, and this is a proven fact, hilarious. :)
It is so unfunny it actually hurts.
"the vogue in TV comedy for near-fatal doses of faux-naturalistic awkwardness is becoming as hackneyed as the laugh track an on old episode of Terry and June." Nail on head.
I found most of the characters in Green Wing loveable and most of the characters in Campus hateful. Big disappointment.
I thought it was alright. I've never seen 'Green Wing' so I didn't really know what to expect. But it's worth watching again - it did give me a few good laughs.
What an utter load of shite. Hate it
Quite easy to make a comparison really. Green Wing was genius, this is crap!! Sorry.
I also lasted ten minutes before switching over. I loved Green Wing but Campus seemed a pale and irredeemably awful imitation. Not funny. Not edgy. Just plain bad.
So many missed opportunities for humour: - job titles such as 'director of interdisciplinary studies', 'reader in pornography' (I made that one up but there probably is one) - PhD theses such as Prostitution in the Bahamas (I didn't make that up) - attempts to embrace diversity with LGBT societies and cross-dressing academics - efforts to go green by making students park their cars 3 miles away - Knowledge Transfer Partnerships ?!!? "A Very Peculiar Practice" - the 1986 series by Andrew Davies, did campus idiocy much better.
I thought it was brilliant - laughed all the way through.
How did they get away with such racism? Hopw it get's cancelled. However nice to Bath University again as I used to go there.
I loved it, but maybe it's the comedy equivalent of marmite.
I agree...this was filmed where I work so I was eager to see the programme...but it was dire. I lasted 10 minutes..most of which time I was looking at the "extras" to see if I knew anyone.....
It felt forced and poorly executed. Jonty's character was so blatantly out to shock that it was boring. I turned over to South Park which was a masterclass in how to successfully approach the cruder elements of Campus's scatalogical and 'offensive' humour. Won't be watching again.
I managed about 10 minutes before I switched off, normally I'm prepared to give something the benefit of the doubt but I could not find one single funny moment, likable character, or just any reason to care at all. A massive faux-pas from the makers of Green Wing
Agree completely.

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