The Week in Comedy: Could Warren United be the British answer to The Simpsons?


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The Independent Culture

The Simpsons began its 25th season on UK television this week, with a typically bravura spoof on Homeland, called "Homerland".

It was the 531st episode of the cartoon about a dysfunctional family who have yellow faces and weird hair. The Simpsons is, and has been for a few years now, the world’s longest running sitcom and the longest-running primetime scripted series on American television. Even the young upstarts it spawned – South Park (17 seasons, 247 episodes), Family Guy (12 seasons, 227 episodes) and Futurama (7 seasons, 141 episodes) - are veterans now. But just like Bart, the best adult animations never seem to get old.

In the UK, on the other hand, cartoons for grown-ups remain a bit of a blank slate. Not since Terry Gilliam’s giant foot crashed the credits of Monty Python has one captured the popular imagination. Might Warren United change that? The animated family sitcom about football started its run on ITV4 this week, on the very same day that David Moyes ended his. So its timing is good, at least.

On paper it looks like a winner. It’s about the national obsession. It’s produced by Baby Cow, the all-conquering comedy outfit behind Gavin and Stacey and Alan Partridge. Written by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly), David Quantick (Brass Eye) and Perrier winner Dominic Holland, its voice cast includes Johnny Vegas (as manager Fat Baz), Morgana Robinson, Morwenna Banks and Tony Law. And for the added ring of authenticity, its commentator is played by ITV’s voice of football, Clive Tyldesley.

The show’s Homer-style anti-hero is Warren, voiced by Darren Boyd. A 37-and-a-half year old kitchen fitter with a beer gut, he lives for only two things – his family and his football team, perennial strugglers, Brainsford United. In the first episode, July, faced with a soul-destroying six weeks between the last game of the season and the first of the new one, Warren takes drastic action, including aversion therapy, to get through the void.

Warren United has been in the works for eight years. “New animated narrative series in this country are so rare”, says Henry Normal, its co-producer at Baby Cow (to whom Warren bears some resemblance). “So are comedies about football, while those about fans are even rarer. On several counts, therefore, we’re trying something unusual.” Baby Cow has been tinkering with animation for a few years now. For the last World Cup, they produced a satirical fanzine fronted by an animated John Bishop and in 2012 Uncle Wormsley’s Christmas, a creepy seasonal offering voiced by Julia Davis and Steve Coogan, among others.

If anyone can make an adult cartoon stick, and therefore become as lucrative as its American counterparts, it is probably Baby Cow with its brilliant stable of talent. But it follows in the dispiriting footsteps of Monkey Dust which ran for three series on BBC3 a decade ago and was too dark to have mass appeal, and Channel 4’s Full English, drawn by Alex Scarfe (son of Gerald) and starring Richard Ayoade, which lasted one series in 2012.

It is little wonder that the UK lags behind America on this. With no Simpsons to emulate, the industry model is geared to churning out sitcoms, panel shows and stand-ups, not cartoonists. A new tax break for the animation industry, effective since 1 April, may encourage more experimentation, but it will take time and a change in attitude from commissioners and audiences alike. The first episode of Warren United was promising enough but with only six in the series, it will have to work very hard over the next few weeks to make itself as familiar, and unmissable, for audiences as Bart and co.

Miranda on the Generation Game

The news that Miranda Hart is in “early talks” with the BBC about exhuming The Generation Game is not surprising. Her current My, What I Call, Live Show plays out not unlike an audition for a Saturday night light entertainment spot. There are balloons, dance routines, sing-alongs, awkward audience set-ups and not a single swear word in the whole 90 minutes. The material is aimed at an audience from teens to pensioners and they largely lap it up. So Hart will no doubt do very well in the Bruce Forsyth role. It’s just a shame that commissioners cannot find a fresh format for her precious cross-generational appeal. 

What I Watched…

Food Club

Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric and Parks and Recreation director Jason Woliner have launched a new web series in which they review restaurants. It’s funny but this trio are clearly serious about their food, too.

Bunk Bed

I’ve only just discovered this little Radio 4 gem. Patrick Marber and Peter Curran lie in the darkness and have the kind of sleepy-profound chat that only happen beneath a duvet. A gorgeous 15 minutes before bedtime. Wednesdays, 11.15pm.

They Came Together

It’s Sundance London this weekend and this new rom-com parody, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd is the pick of the festival’s tempting comedy strand. Also showing are Hits, the new film from Arrested Development’s David Cross, Obvious Child, starring Girls’ Gaby Hoffmann as a stand-up and a feature length The Trip to Italy.