I was a big fan of the late-night sketch show Barking when it first aired on Ch4 back in 1998, so I was very happy to see it finally appear on DVD last month… but I feel sorry for any newcomers who get conned into buying it by the misleading marketing strategy. The rather cheap and shoddy cover (left) boasts large photographs of Catherine Tate, Peter Kay and David Walliams, along with the tag-line “Together for the first time ever”… which is actually a bit of a fib. I mean to say, Tate and Walliams do appear several times in every episode, and do indeed have a sketch together here… but Kay only crops up once, in episode five, and he never shares the screen with either of the other two headliners. It’s a shame they felt the need to be so underhanded to shift units, because I actually think the show stands on its own merits… admittedly some of the skits are a bit hit and miss, but overall there are more than enough funny and/or bizarre moments to make it worth watching (and re-watching), imho.
Because the end credits just lump everyone together, without any way of connecting the names to any particular sketches or faces, I didn’t have the faintest clue who Tate was as the time… all I knew was that I fancied her like mad! She appears in various guises here, but her main recurring character is one half of a superficially “right-on” middle-class couple, who saunter around in overtly “ethnic” garb, and self-righteously lecture everyone they meet. Other standout performers include Mackenzie Crook as a dim-witted, bullying P.E. teacher (is there any other kind?), Walliams as a demented Royal Family fanatic, and Martin Trenaman as a ludicrously touchy-feely physician. The MVP award has to go to Marcus Brigstocke though, both for his Poseidon-worshipping airplane pilot, ‘Cpt. Herring’, and his messianic cyclist, ‘The Cycle Master’… who really should get his own cartoon series spin-off someday. I like the idea of a superhero (villain?) whose sole purpose in life is to prove that he can cycle anywhere in the world, and crush anyone who stands in his way. There’s also plenty of potential for a will-they-won’t-they romance to blossom between him and his arch-rival, the succinctly-named ‘Rollerblading Mistress Girl Babe Skating Woman’!
Amongst all the craziness, crash-zooms and cartoonish characters, there’s also a more subdued study of suburban mundanity, brought to us by Kay Stonham and Simon Greenall, as an unhappily married couple who’ve built a large model town in their garage, and frequently disagree on how the fictional “Mayfield” should be policed. There’s no mention of it in the sensationalist DVD cover blurb, but Stonham and Greenall later revisited the characters in the form of a BBC Radio 4 comedy series, called Robin and Wendy’s Wet Weekends, which ran for 18 episodes between 2001 and 2005.