As I have stated in previous reviews, I am a massive comedy fan. While I grew up watching programmes such as Friends and Frasier, as I've gotten a little older my tastes have moved closer to home and I now regard British comedy as being the best in the world. I love sitcoms and comedy series such as Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, Peep Show and the like, but I also have a very large soft spot for sketch shows. While this form of comedy is notorious for being much more hit and miss than a traditional situation comedy, a good sketch show can be truly exceptional and enjoyable from start to finish even if the odd sketch is slightly below par.
My current favourite sketch show is none other than Burnistoun. Set in the fictional Scottish town of Burnistoun, it stars (and was written by) Robert Florence and Iain Connell playing a variety of roles from one sketch to the next. I discovered the first series last year, having never previously heard of it, after a friend recommended it to me, and loved it instantly. When the second series came out a few months ago I didn't hesitate to download it from iTunes, such was my enjoyment of the first series that I knew I wouldn't regret it.
But, it is just the first series that I am reviewing for you today, and so I will focus on that. Comprising of six half hour episodes, Burnistoun Series 1 is one of the best sketch shows I have ever seen, and I often go back to watch particular sketches if not entire episodes again and again. There are several recurring characters, such as murderer the 'Burnistoun Butcher', who is upset about failing to get recognition for his crimes, and brothers Paul and Walter, who own an ice cream van, but (as is often the case with sketch shows) it is the stand alone sketches that are the best, in my opinion. This series contains gems such as 'Burnistoun's Got Talent'; one containing the problem of installing voice activated lifts in Scotland; one set in Burnistoun's A&E department; single issue candidate for the Burnistoun West area; and, my absolute favourite, a play entitled 'What's This I See?'. While there are dozens of sketches in this series that I really enjoyed, these five stand out as being ones that I can view time and time again and still find them hilarious and as enjoyable as the first time I saw them.
The writing in this series is, in my view, top notch. There are some genius comedy lines, situations and exchanges to be found here and my hat really goes off to Connell and Florence for thinking up most of it. While I feel that Burnistoun could (and should) be enjoyed by viewers from anywhere, it is most likely particularly funny and interesting to watch for those from Scotland and in particular the Glasgow area, as well as for people like me who are familiar with the place. Most of the dialogue is delivered in regional accent and dialect, although it is nowhere near strong enough as to be even approaching unintelligible by people unfamiliar with it, though if it's an accent you don't hear too often it will probably take a few minutes to tune into it.
I have similar praise for the acting, most of which is done by writers Iain Connell and Robert Florence, although they are also joined by Kirsty Strain in any sketches featuring a female character, as well as Richard Rankin and Louise Stewart in several minor roles. The comic timing of the actors is brilliant and their ability to deliver comical lines with straight faces, as well as genuinely playing the parts of the characters well, means that this programme is one that is more than good purely on paper. I've not seen any of the cast doing drama or more 'serious' acting (serious as in non-comedy - I'm not implying that comedy acting is in any way easier or less impressive) but I imagine that they'd be successful actors in other fields as well.
Series One is available on DVD for £13.94 from Amazon, or slightly more cheaply from Thehut.com for £12.85. If you don't mind not having a hard copy of the DVD, however, it is available most cheaply of all at £9.99 for download from iTunes. If you haven't seen Burnistoun before and don't want to part with your hard earned cash sight unseen, a lot of the sketches from this series are available to watch on Youtube. So that you can watch them and therefore get a better idea as to whether you'd enjoy the series in its entirety, I've included links to some of my favourites below:
What's This I See?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQiht_HqMno
Single Issue Candidate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8cV3u_DR8M
Burnistoun A&E: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZK60FUCSnc
Voice Activated Lift: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iNtOWLS7aY
Burnistoun's Got Talent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phJ9OdYniuM
I do, however, recommend watching these only to get an idea of the series and not watching the sketches online instead of purchasing them, as I believe that great comedy should be supported and that DVD sales will undoubtedly influence BBC Scotland to continue making this programme. Series 2 is also available on DVD and on iTunes, and while the quality of the two series is comparable, due to my favourite sketches from both series being the ones listed above, I would have to say that I prefer Series One of the two and therefore recommend it highly.