There are few things lazier, more likely to hold its audience in utter contempt, than impressionist comedy. All the effort and creativity is sucked into perfecting the mechanics of the impression, leaving the humour not to proper jokes, but references to jokes. ‘Nigella Lawson is a saucy wench!’ ‘David Dickinson is orange!’ ‘Tony Blair is creepy and sycophantic!’ ‘John Prescott’s fat!’ Gordon Brown’s a bit grumpy’ ‘George Bush is stupid!’ (the latter four showing your ‘satirical side’, if you’re Rory Bremner and have no idea what satire means). At its nadir, the technique of impersonation is the actual joke – Alistair McGowan pointing out why Dot Cotton is mostly Alfred Steptoe belongs to a DVD commentary, not as the only joke in a three minute sketch.
None of the above is true of ‘The Peter Serafinowicz Show’.
In terms of impressions, Serafinowicz is technically superb. Unlike ‘Dead Ringers’ (which seems to presume that people are too stupid to understand who the impression is meant to represent without a ‘Hi! I’m Carol Smillie’ tacked onto the start of every sketch) Serefenowicz nails the body language of such impression-staples as Chris Tarrant and Simon Cowell, while being so nuanced that you can tell he is impersonating Basil Fawlty, not John Cleese. He is backed by just about every excellent supporting comedy player from the past ten years, including Benedict Wong, Paul Putner, Catherine Shepherd, as well as a very silly cameo from Robert Popper.
The series is shot and directed with the same loving attention to detail as ‘Look Around You’, from the overlit video of the spoof adverts to the washed-out NTSC of the ‘O! News’ segments. There is incredible visual ambition and attention to the ‘shape’ of the programme; split-screens are used extensively and flawlessly, while running gags are confined to an individual show. Here is a show that rewards you for paying attention, to the extent of including a silent George Martin in the Beatles sketches.
Amidst all the technical excellence, it never forgets the jokes. You can imagine the writers giggling to themselves. The humour never goes for the lazy or the obvious, but can effortlessly switch from ‘ambient’ comedy, sucking you into its absurd and terrifying world, to a hilarious one-liner, often within the same sketch.
This is the show that deserves to make Peter Serafinowicz into a household name. And rather helpfully for those households, there’s finally a definitive pronunciation of ‘Serafinowicz’.