Image Credit: BBCYou could call the UK TV comedy Look Around You a perfectly honed parody of ’70s-era, kiddie-aimed, educational shows. Or you could borrow star Peter Serafinowicz’s preferred one word descriptor: “Nightmarish!” In fact, Look Around You, which was originally broadcast in Britain between 2002 and 2005, is without doubt one of the oddest comedy shows ever made.
Each episode purports to illuminate the viewer about a different, and usually very dull-sounding, subject—”Sulphur,” “Maths,” “Iron”—but is filled with bizarre experiments and almost always incorrect information. In one episode the hand of Serafinowicz, who plays a scientist, is repeatedly shown extracting an egg from boiling water, and becoming more and more scalded with each shot. In a different show another scientist, portrayed by Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright, electrocutes a troublesome ghost. Throughout all the madness, a narrator “informs” the audience of such alleged facts as, “The largest number is about 45 billion,” “Man has been using iron since the Stone Age,” and “Germs originated in Germany.”
The result is hilarious, but also oddly unsettling. “There’s something almost fascistic about it,” says Serafinowicz, whose big screen credits include Couples Retreat and The Phantom Menace, for which the expert impressionist provided the voice of Darth Maul. “It’s very surreal, but the things that we based it on were all hugely surreal.”
The show was created by Serafinowicz and fellow comedy writer-performer Robert Popper following a discussion in which they reminisced about the educational shows they had been forced to watch at school. Popper says they both recalled them being “bleak and soulless”—an assessment that was reconfirmed when they tracked down copies of the shows while writing Look Around You.
“We’d spend hours, late at night, watching a show about copper, and then one about radioactivity, and one about titration,” says Popper. “It was like our pornography, basically. And they were even worse than we remembered. One of the bleakest things we saw was a thing about blue bottles, and it had a close-up of a blue bottle and the narrator said, ‘Bluebottles aren’t nasty creatures, it’s just that they settle on nasty things.’ And the camera pulled back to reveal the bluebottle was sitting on top of this brown mess. And the narrator said, ‘Like this dog dropping!’ We rewound that about 50 times.”
Image Credit: BBCLook Around You has screened on both BBC America and Adult Swim, and has attracted some high profile fans including Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Simon Pegg, Tim and Eric, and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. All of the aforementioned recorded commentary tracks for the DVD of the first season, which is available to buy from Tuesday. Popper and Serafinowicz are promoting the DVD at a Comic-Con panel, during which the pair will also screen a brand new mini-episode. “Edgar Wright is going to be showing stuff from Scott Pilgrim at Comic-Con, and we’re talking about our ridiculous, pointless, stupid, headf—, whatever!” says Serafinowicz. “It’s so stupid! But the new show is funny. It makes us laugh.”
And what subject do the pair cover in the episode?
“It’s called Markets of Britain,” laughs Serafinowicz. “See, I can tell you’re excited already!”
Are you a fan of Look Around You? Then let us know! And if you’ve never seen the show, check out “Sulphur,” which is embedded after the jump
The Look Around You Comic-Con panel takes place in at 5pm on Thursday.