Fantasy and comedy have had a difficult history together. OK, we had Pratchett; a man of true genius writing biting satire in the tradition of Swift alongside some of the funniest creations in literature. He’s a one off. Otherwise funny fantasy is a rare species, difficult to pull off and even more difficult to put on film (see 2011's Your Highness for example). Zapped manages it with throcks to spare.
The show has been a bit of slow grower. The first series was only three episodes and told the story of Brian Weaver (James Buckley of Inbetweeners fame) an office temp in Isleworth magically transported to the fantasy city of Munty in a world of fairy security, magic, militant orcs, snail ambassadors, and weird goings on. Brian's attempts to get home and the crazy magical world he's thrust into form the basis of the series, but the counterpoint of the fantasy world versus modern London gives it a real satirical edge in places.
The cast is outstanding. Buckley is in his element playing the hapless modern slacker completely out of his depth and desperate to get home. Paul Kaye plays the wizard Howell with a typical manic energy and randomness that outrageously steals scenes, but the rest of the cast is strong enough to match him. Sharon Rooney as the Soothsayer Barbara, infatuated with Brian and not so great on the fortune telling, and Kenneth Collard as a Marxist mixed race giant/dwarf are fabulous. Brookside’s Louis Emerick completes the main cast as the pub landlord (The Jug and Other Jug) an ex soldier and generally the sanest of the ensemble. It really is an ensemble cast too, rather than Buckley and Kaye dominating, and that gives the show massive scope to expand on storylines (and hopefully future series). There are other regular guests such as Sally Phillips, Sylvester McCoy, Steve Coogan, and Ricky Grover as a fairy guard (honestly Grover as a fairy alone is worth the licence fee, but you get Dr Who and Alan Partridge too).
Despite it being Tolkeinesque fantasy rather than history, Zapped pulls off the world building trick that I discussed with Upstart Crow with aplomb, creating a very willing suspension of disbelief. That’s probably more difficult in a fantasy setting with audiences used to CGI and Hollywood than historical to pull off, but hey ho… The writing is hilarious and the setting accentuates that. It was a brave bold choice to commission this in the first place, perhaps demonstrated by the shortness of Series One, but it is paying off in spades. I really wish more Heads of Comedy (yes I’m looking at you BBC) would be as willing to try something very different. Series Three (only the second full series really) kicked off on Dave last night and is on Wednesdays at 10pm for the next few weeks. If you haven’t caught the show before, all the back episodes are on UKTV catch up and I highly recommend it.
The Last Roundhead and This Deceitful Light are available on AMAZON