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As I write this, the world is a scary place. Fascism is globally on the rise, the ice caps are melting, the incoming President of the US seems shockingly okay with throwing nuclear weapons around like candy- it’s easy to see us marching headfirst into some kind of apocalypse. Luckily for us, we can at least have a bit of a chuckle at our impending doomsday as the end of times has actually provided quite a bit of fodder for comedy.
More recently you’ve had hits like The World’s End, or This is the End and even the show Last Man on Earth all trying to find the humor in mankind’s great disaster. Personally, though, my favorite comedy take on what to expect after humanity experiences its final night comes from the British sketch comedy duo Mitchell and Webb in a reoccurring segment from their 3rd and 4th seasons entitled ‘Remain Indoors,’ about a game show being broadcast in the wake of the apocalypse.
This is going to be another review that’s on the shorter side owing to the subject being about 20 minutes or so long. That’s because it’s a collection of 9 individual segments that last between 2 and 3 minutes, but even then the individual segments have an internal consistency and actually tell a complete story across them.
The segments came from That Mitchell and Webb Look, a 2006-2010 sketch comedy from the UK starring comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb. It’s a very funny series, as are the various follow-up shows the duo created after getting their start on the 2000 sketch show Bruiser alongside Martin Freeman and Ricky Gervais.
‘Remain Indoors’ is a, as I said, the story of a game show being produced and broadcast in the wake of some unexplained apocalypse referred to as The Event. The idea is that we’re seeing post-Event transmissions on the British emergency broadcasting system, which is now trying to produce new content to fill the broadcasting day as it’s been some time since The Event happened. Each episode is installment is another brief scene from the quiz broadcast, which stars the chipper announcer, played by David Mitchell, a blind contestant Peter, played by Robert Webb, and a woman Sheila who worships Tesco.
Tesco, for the non-British readers out there, is a British grocery and general retail chain that really has never immigrated to America, which is actually key to my point about what a unique entity Remain Indoors is. One of the misconceptions that’s formed between Britains and Americans is that, because we shared a common origin and speak the same language, our cultures are more or less identical. That’s not true on a lot of levels, but two, in particular, relate to Remain Indoors. Firstly, game shows are a much bigger deal in the UK.
Over here in America our game shows have been pretty much frozen, to the point that most of the big modern names like American Idol or Big Brother are just American rip-offs of British shows. This has to do with the way TV is produced in the UK and the fact that their biggest network is the BBC, a government channel.
Mitchell and Webb have always reflected this in their comedy, with one of their biggest running gags based around the fictional game show Numberwang. So the idea that the first thing the government would put back on TV after humanity scrambled back from the brink being a game show is a uniquely British bit of satire.
The other uniquely British take on post-apocalyptic life in Remain Indoors is about trying to find a bit of fun in the end of the world. It’s an idea very much in line with the “Keep Calm and Carry On” sentiment that’s become a popular Internet meme. It also forms the backbone of why Remain Indoors manages to be hilarious but also poignant. The segment has two major kinds of jokes, the first is based around the idea of people misusing/misidentifying pre-apocalypse stuff, an idea which fits the game show set-up perfectly.
The other central joke of the show is about that idea of putting on a smile in the face of the world’s destruction. It’s definitely a darker kind of humor, but if it fits your style, there’s a lot of hilarity in there, especially with how well a job David Mitchell does keeping his chipper exterior as the host. That persona ends up key to what makes Remain Indoors more than just a funny little idea but actually human and kind of moving.
Over the course of all 9 segments, we do see things in the studio slowly deteriorating, with the characters' situation slowly collapsing around them. This impacts the contestants at first, while the Host almost always remains in character as the chipper, jokey man at the helm, handling the abject horrors of starvation and contamination with a smile and a quip.
He eventually starts to crack as well and while it’s funny because of how well it contrasts with his human persona, it’s also kind of sad and deeply reflective. There’s a sense, especially now, that on some level the host is meant to be a reflection of ourselves in this kind of a situation.
It makes one wonder if maybe we’re the ones putting a happy face on the end of days, just trying to grin and smile our way through a terrible situation that’s only going to have a terrible end. Speaking of, the ending to this run of segments is a real standout that manages to speak to the uncertainty of life and the future as well as reaffirming the sketch’s core premise of finding comfort in the trappings of normalcy.
I highly recommend checking out the full sequence, all of which has been uploaded to Youtube for the curious. It shows how much more engaging and lasting comedy can be with a real idea behind the laughs. It’s a clever joke in the face of the darkest time line, even as we soldier on proudly towards oblivion and do our best to remain indoors.
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