Asylum

Genre: Comedy
Channel: Paramount Comedy Channel

Transmission: 1996



Who wants to be locked up in asylum? Anyone? Oh, just you Uncle Lionel. Well, take Granny's frock off and we'll talk about it over a cup of cherry brandy.

No, seriously, though, would you want to be locked up in an asylum? Trapped in an unfamiliar building, surrounded by unfriendly faces and out of your head on medication. It's like an even more horrific visit to a Wetherspoons.

Just imagine, though, if you visited the asylum simply to deliver a pizza and found yourself being committed...

The Lunatics Have Taken over the Asylum

Simon Pegg (playing himself) is a North London pizza delivery man tasked with delivering a Beef Magic to the old asylum. However, when he gets there, Dr Lovett (Norman Lovett) decides to take Simon in as part of his experiment.


But what's this experiment all about?

Well, in a rather cruel and sadistic exploration of psychology, Dr Lovett has invited a number of sane people to the asylum for an indefinite period. Little did they know, though, that his plan was to reprogram their identity and study the effects. So far it's been going for 6 years.


Martha (Jessica Stevenson) was a politics graduate, but now, after a diet of nothing but daytime television she has a strange obsession with Countdown and holds many conspiracy theories close to her chest.


Adam (Adam Bloom) previously lived the life of a "bug eyed bank clerk", but since being locked in a room with nothing but Lenny Bruce records, truly believes he's a stand up comic. He even carries a dictaphone with him at all times to play canned laughter.


Victor (Julian Barratt) was once known as Julian, painter and decorator from Barnsley. However, Dr Lovett manipulated his persona by surrounding him by Renaissance art. The result is a pretentious wannabe artist.


Paul (Paul Morocco) is a flamenco singer forced into a vow of silence, so he can only communicate with everyday objects. His favourite form of communication involves shooting ping pong balls out of his mouth.


Herding the inmates around are security guard Nobby Shanks and the dangerously seductive, but quite psychopathic Nurse McFadden (Jessica Stevenson).

It's Simon's aim to get this cruel experiment shut down, but first he needs to avoid getting dosed up and, more importantly, escape.

Amongst the main characters there are interstitial segments where other inmates get their chance to shine and perform stand up comedy. Names appearing include Paul Tonkinson, Bill Bailey, John Moloney and David Walliams (who looks uncannily like Lou from Lou and Andy).


You Don't Have to Be Mad to Work Here, But It Helps

Asylum aired on the Paramount Comedy Channel in 1996 and consisted of 6 episodes.

It was one of the earliest collaborations between Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson and Edgar Wright who would go on to produce the seminal Spaced on Channel 4.


The show is also notable for showcasing many other upcoming stars of the UK comedy scene.

All the episodes feature a short musical segment by David Devant and his Spirit Wife who acted as the house band for the series and their track 'Ginger' was the show's theme tune.

Petitions have been raised to try and force a DVD release, but the tapes sadly remain in the vaults. The whole series, though, is available on YouTube and was apparently uploaded by a cast member.

Patient Report

Even though it was only a few days ago, we can't actually remember how we discovered this show, but we'll put it down to some divine intervention by the gods of archive television.

We're big Simon Pegg fans, so we're surprised that we hadn't heard of it. However, we weren't really sure what to expect. Early forays are always hit and miss affairs with a lack of polish.

What the hell would we make of this?!


You know what, Simon Pegg was born to play Simon Pegg and he plays that Simon Pegg character we're so familiar with perfectly here. His everyman sensibilities contrast nicely against the insanity he's surrounded by and mark him out as the hero of the piece.


The inmates are all entertaining in their own way with Victor being far and away the most rewarding with his pomposity being pricked at every opportunity. Paul, though, is rather limited due to his lack of speech, but he displays some nice physical acting, particularly in his 'spanish guitar battle' with one of the security guards.

Norman Lovett perhaps isn't given as much screen time as he deserves. He's on fantastic form here with his dry wit and it's up there with his performance as Holly in Red Dwarf.


Nobby Shanks is a decent character and richly acted, but he's given very little to do throughout the series which seems a bit of a waste. With all the talent on offer, though, it's not a surprise he was shuffled to the side.

The stand up segments are pretty cool and we enjoyed seeing all the early appearances of Bill Bailey, David Walliams and the quite terrifyingly schizophrenic monologue delivered by Paul Tonkinson. They brought to mind Alexei Sayle's segments in The Young Ones and act as a nice breather in between the more manic narratives.

All the hallmarks of Edgar Wrights direction are present and he proudly displays his influences whilst retaining an original edge. The machine gun approach of angles and scene cuts aren't as prevalent here as in his later work, so the direction, instead, manifests itself as a haunting and woozy mix which matches the series' black humour.


There's a very naturalistic sense of humour with some surreal edges sprinkled liberally throughout. It would have seemed quite refreshing at the time compared to, oh I don't know, Oh Doctor Beeching! Don't get us wrong, we loved Oh Doctor Beeching! but perhaps it was time for something a little different.

We'd have liked some more big laughs, but it's early days here for Pegg and co, so we'll let them off.

But there are, of course, some negatives.


Despite being grounded in a great concept, the plots are a little thin and too much time is given over to showcasing each star's talent. We would have loved to see a bit more of Simon getting from A to B, but this is lost in the performances.

Final Thoughts

Yeah, so, we really enjoyed Asylum. It's not perfect by any means, but as an early distillation of what Pegg and Wright were aiming for it's a fascinating insight.

If you're a fan of any decent comedy from the 00s then you'll love this too.

Would we buy the DVD? YES!

CONVERSATION

5 comments:

  1. As a dedicated Pegg fan, I'm glad this finally found its way onto YouTube. I've had a copy for years & always thought it, & "Is It Bill Bailey", deserved a DVD release. Nice blog. :)

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Dolfyn. It's a great show and the cast members are just amazing. Such a great line up.

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  3. How is this not on DVD yet?! Does it really take an army of Jesi?! Great post!

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    1. Thanks! And, yes, it's a mystery as to why it's unreleased! There's a much more in-depth write up about the show (complete with Adam Bloom interview) in my ebook about British comedy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Oddities-British-Comedy-Vol-1-ebook/dp/B01IE257LC if you're interested!

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  4. This is great watched them all on Paramount Comedy which was a mad channel. Dan Doyle Spaceperson anyone?

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