Campus Series 1 – Review

28 Jun

Okay, I’ll just go ahead and say it. I liked Campus. In fact, I really liked Campus. From the writers behind sketch show Smack The Pony and hospital-sitcom classic Green Wing, Campus had massive shoes to fill. Initial reception of the show was painful, with critics left and right declaring it the immature pubescent little brother of Green Wing, slamming it for both its similarities and differences from the show. Sure, Channel 4’s advertisements in the run-up to the first episode made the Green Wing link its major selling-point and perhaps this hype was a little too much to handle, but is it really necessary to make such comparisons? Okay, so both shows focus on two marvellouly dysfunctional instituions and revolve around the relationships between the people inside of them, but what sitcom doesn’t?

The main focus of the show is the story of aging philanderer Professor Matt Beer and the painfully shy but delightful maths lecturer Imogen Moffat. The characters have often been accused of being one-dimensional and weak, and I can understand why people that gave up after the first episode would think so. The one annoying thing about Campus is that it is very slow to start. There are so many characters to introduce and tone-setting going on that the writers didn’t quite achieve to make the characters relateable enough in the first episode, meaning most audiences just didn’t want to invest any more time in the story. Over the course of the series though, most of the characters show a lot more depth and manage to develop amidst all the surrealism – Even “fossilised seducer” Matt Beer, whose mini breakdown in the final episode is exucted brilliantly. As an awkward maths geek with “limbs everywhere like a sexy game of Kerplunk” myself, perhaps I identify a little too much with Imogen and her bumbling interactions with other human beings, but there really is something quite identifiable about her trials and tribulations with Matt. After all, what woman on this earth hasn’t found a soft spot for a bad boy at least once in her life, desperate to peel away the layers and uncover something previously unseen? There’s something quite Shakespearean about the two, something that tells us that it will never be simple. Beer himself puts it more eloquently than I ever could (being a numbers girl and all): “We’re destined to clash, you see, that’s all. Words and numbers, you see, like fire and ice, order and chaos. Occassionally one of us gets the sweaty upperhand but we’re basically locked in wirthing sexy mortal combat for the rest of our days.” And with the way things are left in the final episode, that will most definitely be the case. That said, there are some really tender moments between the two when Matt manages to control himself long enough to play nice and not “ruin a good thing.” The dance around the courtyard to David Bowie’s Suffragette City is one of my favourites, though some of the scenes between unhappily-engaged accountant Jason and stupid-but-sweet “gay” accomodations officer Nicole do much better at portraying the most genuine moments in the show. There are some great characters in the series, including Andy Nyman’s power-crazy (and I really do mean crazy) vice chancellor Jonty de Wolfe, despite being overly racist at times. Nyman is a brilliant character actor and you can really tell how much fun he has with the multitude of opportunities that Jonty’s role brings. In fact, Campus is quite charming in the sense that it really does look like it was heaps of fun to film, and the semi-improvised nature of the script allows for some of that playfulness to shine through.

 

Many critics complained about the choice of setting, grumbling that the campus location has no parallels to draw from familiar nuggets of television as Green Wing did from hospital dramas at the time. Sure, Green Wing worked fantastically as a parody of these shows in many ways but that wasn’t the part that made it so great. It was the sharp humour and surrealism that integrated so well into the dreariness of working life that made Green Wing so enjoyable, and that is definitely something which carried over into Campus. That said, the humour is more abrasive and even offensive at times. But I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. The Campus writers have upped their game this time round, with more shock tactics, toilet humour and dick jokes than ever before. And in my opinion, they pull it off with style. Some critics have suggested that the show would have been more interesting had it focused on the students instead of the staff, which is something that really does make my toes curl. Had Campus gone down the easy route and focused on the student body, we would have ended up with something like Skins: The Uni Years. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of the angsty teen comedy drama where everyone parties harder than they study and has some kind of underlying mental disorder that’s exploited for the purposes of entertainment. Sure, some of the dialogue could have been something right out of The Inbetweeners – “I’m literally foaming at the gash,” anyone? – but I don’t have to sit through another painful gross-out scene of a teenage boy doing something hideous with his winkle. Campus even seems to poke fun at these kinds of shows with little tongue-in-cheek segments like the one in which all of Imogen Moffat’s class annouce that they have chlamydia. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I think Campus brings something to the table that we haven’t seen before, and it does it in a way that doesn’t make me want to shake my walking stick at the TV.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Campus. Though a bit slow to start, the cast gel more and more as the series goes on, creating some really fantastic moments, both funny and touching. Yes, it was made by the creators of Green Wing, but that doesn’t mean that it has to undergo such harsh scrutiny. Green Wing was cancelled for a reason. Sure, there are parallels, but Campus does something that Green Wing didn’t. Campus fuses surrealism, love stories and offensive humour in equal measures, and I think it does a bloody good job of it. Though the initial viewing figures weren’t all that great, I really hope some of you pick up the DVD and get on it because it really is a marvellous 6 hours of entertainment (if you stick with it and aren’t easily offended). After seeing how much the first series progressed, I think a second series could have a lot of potential. And judging by the cliff-hanger in the final episode, it looks like the creators of Campus have big plans for the show. Fingers crossed, eh?

You can still catch the entire first series on 4OD or go ahead and buy the DVD on Amazon for £12.  The DVD also comes with a nice behind-the-scenes feature and some deleted scenes.  Get involved!

 

You can follow me (Stacey) on Twitter at @Wilona and of course follow the blog at @Alt_Spotlight

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