Armstrong and Miller (aka “The Armstrong & Miller Show”) (1997-2001) was one of the last great British sketch shows… from the good old days when catchphrases and running gags were used more sparingly, and greater emphasis was placed on telling absurd little self-contained stories across single episodes, before moving on to a whole new batch of characters/situations the following week. Sadly, only the fourth (and final) series has ever been released on DVD… receiving an adults-only “18” rating and a warning about strong sexual content, thanks to a bonus compilation of skits that were judged “too hot” to air in the show’s regular time-slot. The majority of that extra episode is gobbled up by a soap-opera parody titled Porn Beach, which depicts the backstage drama surrounding a pair of South African porn actors… and while it’s amusing to see the two of them having heartfelt conversations about their personal lives while being “fluffed” by female co-stars, the premise and jokes aren’t really funny enough to justify all of the nudity and rudery, imho.
Far more successful is the Nude Practice runner that appeared in the regular series, centred on a stuffy trio of countryside veterinarians, who happen to spend all of their time stark-bullock naked. A lot of thought and effort is put into arranging props to hide their genitalia, as you would expect… but then there’s always a moment where the barrier is removed, or the actor (accidentally-on-purpose) stands behind something more transparent, and their bare penis is revealed to the audience. I’m not sure Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller would be quite so game now that they’ve crossed over into the mainstream, but it was emblematic of the devil-may-care attitude that made Channel Four such an exciting place to discover new comedy, back in the day. Meanwhile, their female co-star, Sarah Alexander, was brave enough to walk around in little more than a strategically-positioned scarf or apron, which left her rear completely uncovered… and Emma Pierson remained fully-clothed in her cameo as a super-cute crusty/traveller with an injured dog.
Although a lot of the sketches are quite sweary and near-the-knuckle, they aren’t all as salacious as Nude Practice… in fact there’s quite a sweet/silly Jane Austen pastiche, in which all of the heroines’ suitors are replaced by minor modern-day celebrities, such as “H-from-Steps” (which, weirdly, dates the sketch a lot more than if it had been a more straight-forward costume-drama parody). Overall, I’d say the show has aged remarkably well, with a high hit-to-miss ratio, and plenty laughs to be had… despite the fact I watched these episodes to death when I had them recorded on old-timey VHS-tape!