TV Review: Cowards, BBC Four, Tuesday 20 Janurary, 10pm


BBC Four is pretty selective when it comes to comedy – Flight of the Conchords is really the only high-profile series they’ve put out – so it’s nice to see some proper home-grown talent on there. This new sketch show comes courtesy of Tom Basden, Stefan Golaszewski, Tim Key and Lloyd Woolf AKA Cowards. They’ve been performing live since 2004, and had a series on Radio 4 but now they’re making the jump to TV and, guess what – it’s pretty darn good.

Related: Tom Basden interview

I know, amazing huh? A new sketch show that doesn’t completely suck. I mean, it’s still Hit And Miss but the great thing about Cowards is that I don’t mind watching the misses because they’re still being performed by hugely watchable comedians. They’re all talented – Tom Basden and Tim Key are especially celebrated in their own right for their comedy songs and poems respectively – so no matter who’s on screen, it’s fun to watch.

This is certainly not set-up and punchline, wham bam thank you mam comedy though, so if you’re looking for an easy ride, and a procession of massive belly-laughs, you’re probably in the wrong place.

These are clearly massively clever people (hence the move from BBC Three, for which a series was originally commissioned) and the comedy is subtle and straight out of left-field. But then we don’t need another Coming Of Age, now, do we? I actually like the fact that I don’t get some of these sketches because I’m just not smart enough (or they’re being deliberately obtuse… yeah, let’s go for that).

Highlights from last night’s opener included a recurring sketch in which high court judges discuss their mistakes (such as thinking that you acquit someone when they’re guilty…) while passing around suspicious-looking cigarettes, and a dinner party game of Russian Roulette in which they forget to spin the barrel each time, meaning the last in the group has rather slim chances of surviving. They work out their mistake before he has his turn, but hey, they’ve been playing that way up until now, so it’s only fair they carry on. There’s also a recurring sketch where the four guys live together in a tiny caravan, having inane conversations and making different meals in the same frying pan. There are no jokes to speak of, but their banter is so bizarre that it’s a joy to watch.

Comedy is an incredibly personal thing, so there will many of you who hate this, but if you’re interested in your comedy and are willing to give something a bit different a go, this is definitely worth a punt.

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