The return of Shooting Stars

Reeves and Mortimer are back with 'Shooting Stars'. James Rampton wonders why
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The Independent Culture

Never go back, they say. And if you look at the list of other recently resurrected television shows – Minder, Gladiators, The Krypton Factor, Mr and Mrs, Superstars and Challenge Anneka – you'd have to conclude that they were right. Most of these revivals have been accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a nag being flagellated long after it has expired.

So will the resurrection of BBC2's Shooting Stars, some seven years after the last full series, fare any better? After a well-received, one-off seasonal special last Christmas, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's "anti-panel show" is returning to BBC2 on 28 August. And judging by what they are getting up to in the rehearsal room, the omens look quite promising.

Reeves and Mortimer are having a break before running through a daffy sketch in which Reeves attempts to blow up a hot water bottle – don't ask – and prances around a gigantic model of Andrew Lloyd Webber – no idea!

Are they worried about being accused of reheating stale leftovers? The pair would be the first to admit to reservations about reviving a show that first aired 16 years ago. Mortimer, small, sparky, formerly a solicitor, concedes: "We did have some doubts about bringing it back." And, it seems, they were not alone.

"What has been the reaction of fans to the news that Shooting Stars is coming back?" asks Reeves, tall, dark and handsome in a Keanu Reeves meets Eric Morecambe kind of way. "They've simply said: 'why?'"

"Then," chips in Mortimer, "they blow a raspberry and walk off".

But it is just this kind of wilful silliness that has prompted the pair's comeback. Their Dadaist form of comedy is not subject to any trends; their deranged brand of humour – the meaningless Dove from Above and the nonsensical catchphrases "uvavu" and "eranu" – is simply timeless. With Reeves and Mortimer, the point is there is no point.

Perhaps, also, in this dark, recession-hit, swine flu-ridden era, audiences yearn for the sheer escapism of Reeves and Mortimer's childlike capers. Maybe viewers have tired of "aren't I clever?" comedy and long for something altogether more relaxing and, well, stupid. People are reacting against the smart alecs. It's time to send in the clowns.

"There has been a change in comedy over the past few years," contends Mortimer, who, like his double-act partner, turned 50 earlier this year. "There simply aren't many comedians like us around anymore. Comedy has recently been dominated by intelligent people like Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen. There has been a real cleverness and knowingness to it.

"Maybe that's why we've been commissioned – their dominance has enhanced our position as something starkly different. Oxbridge types like Armstrong and Miller, and Mitchell and Webb are great, but their comedy is very different from ours. I think there is still a place for us. And lines such as: 'True or false? Alan Sugar is diabetic'."

But, Mortimer continues, people should not think that their brand of tomfoolery is as easy as it looks. "It's very hard to get laughs out of blowing up a hot water bottle," he deadpans.

"It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of puff," adds Reeves, helpfully.

It is certainly possible to argue that even though Reeves and Mortimer have been stars since erupting onto our screens in 1990 with the surrealist explosion that was Vic Reeves' Big Night Out, no one has ever matched their unique brand of unhinged-ness.

Age could have mellowed the more puerile elements of their humour, but Reeves is quick to reassure us that is not the case. "Now that we're 50, our childish antics take on a whole new dimension. Men of 50 just shouldn't be doing our sort of juvenile toilet humour. We're one step away from embarrassing granddads!"

Nor have the advancing years lessened the amount Reeves and Mortimer send up the regular team captain, Ulrika "Ulrika-ka-ka-ka" Jonsson. Since the last series, the 42-year-old television presenter has had cosmetic surgery on her breasts, so, naturally enough, they now call her "New Boobs". Jonsson takes it all in her stride, laughing that, "basically I get paid so they can take the piss out of me".

Lisa Clark, the producer of Shooting Stars, explains how Jonsson is a fundamental ingredient to the comic proposition: "She always gives us more material – for instance, she has been married a couple of times since the last series, and no doubt that will be mentioned! She would be very hard to replace. If we put in another pretty girl like, say, Myleene Klass, the humour might come across as offensive. But people know that Ulrika is part of the gang and in on the joke."

All the same, isn't there a danger overall that Reeves and Mortimer's form of comic insanity will have dated after all these years? Not according to Matt Lucas, who is also returning to Shooting Stars to play George Dawes, the oversized, romper-suit-clad, drum-playing baby who delivers the scores. "Shooting Stars has got a whole new energy for this series, which is amazing given that it started in 1993."

Another reason why Shooting Stars has endured: it subverts the traditional panel-game genre. The format is merely an excuse for the double act's doolally sense of humour. Mortimer, who became partners with Reeves after coming out of the audience and joining him on stage at a live gig in 1986, reckons: "Shooting Stars works because the panel game is a Trojan Horse for our humour."

Shooting Stars starts on BBC2 on Wed 26 Aug