"Look at them shine!"
The Mighty Boosh has been a hit in its native Britain for a few years, and it boasts a slowly growing cult fan base in many other countries, but only recently has it been officially unleashed on the world at large. In the US, it airs in the late, late night Sunday slot of Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network, and those episodes are edited, in a blatant crime against comedy, by as much as ten minutes per show.
Thankfully, BBC Video recently released The Mighty Boosh: Series 1, 2 and 3 on DVDs containing the complete episodes and a wealth of extras. These DVDs coincided with The Boosh boys’ invasion of America, which included stops in New York, San Diego (for Comic-Con, of course) and Los Angeles, where the live show at The Roxy was received like the homecoming of conquering cock-rock comedy heroes.
“Ok. But what is The Mighty Boosh?” you ask? Well… it’ many things, to many people. For the purposes of this article and the education of those yet unfamiliar, however, it’s a television show. It’s a comedy. It’s an adventure. It may be a bona-fide phenomenon. It’s definitely magical. It can turn viewers into fans, fans into devotees, gorillas into drummers, and zookeepers, shopkeepers and shamans into rock stars.
The Mighty Boosh is the brainchild (or brain children, or, perhaps, brain tumors) of comedians Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. It follows “jazz maverick” Howard Moon (Barratt) and “King of the Mods” Vince Noir (Fielding) and their friends through flights of fancy and some of the fastest, fiercest farce since the ‘70s. The show has been called “surreal” by both fans and reviewers, but that’s not at all an accurate summation.
The Mighty Boosh has themes. It has plots. It has continuity. It may have surrealistic elements, outlandish ideas and absurd set ups, but there is always a reason and a skewed sort of logic behind them (even if the reason is simply to stuff as many pop culture references, crazy characters and costume changes as possible into every episode). The surreal tag may be a lazy shortcut some people use to describe the psychedelic sensibility of the storytelling.
Upon first viewing, you may find yourself wondering, as I did, if you are supposed to be on drugs to watch The Mighty Boosh. Later, if the show takes hold, as it did with me, you’ll realize that it’s not necessary to be high, because the show itself is a mind-altering substance. All you have to do is remember what it was like to be a child (that said, remembering what it’s like to be on drugs couldn’t hurt). The opening theme boldly states, “Come with Us Now on a Journey through Time and Space to the World of The Mighty Boosh.” The willingness to go along with the absurdity is an important aspect of recognizing the charm, innocence and sweet magical quality of these shows, and if you are willing, they will take you on grand and silly comical adventures the likes of which you haven’t had since age six.
I hesitate to give away specific episodic details at the risk of ruining the thrill of discovery for the uninitiated. Also, I fear my descriptions will be woefully inadequate for Boosh veterans and virgins alike, but it’s unfair to make blanket statements such as “You just need to watch it to understand,” so I’ll try to provide an overview (but after that, you just need to watch it!). Barratt and Fielding originally conceived of The Mighty Boosh in the 1998 TV sketch-comedy series Unnatural Acts, then it was a stage act and a radio show before finally transitioning to TV.
In the first series, which aired on BBC Three in 2004, each episode begins with Howard (the older, wiser, more boring one) and Vince (the younger, shallower, more daring one) introducing the show in front of a red curtain, like a vintage television variety program. It’s in these first eight episodes that they are zookeepers in the Zooniverse, where they work for the hilariously concept-challenged Bob Fossil (played with obvious restraint by the fabulous Rich Fulcher), consult with stoned shaman, Naboo (Michael Fielding) and commune with Bollo the talking gorilla. Series one is not about the zoo, of course, that’s just a jumping off point and part of what makes this show so exciting and amusing is that The Mighty Boosh isn’t afraid to leap without looking.
Sometimes it works brilliantly and sometimes it falls apart—also brilliantly, but it’s all about the imaginatively ridiculous escapades Howard and Vince find themselves having. Whether it’s an arctic excursion, a jungle junket, fleeing “The Hitcher” (a garish, green Cockney nightmare) en route to The Zoo for Animal Offenders or taking a reaper-driven cab ride through outer space, it’s always adventurous.
And it’s often musical. Each episode has at least one instance of melodic interlude in addition to impromptu “crimps (sensational, syncopated a capella songs, usually duets).” The music is composed by Barratt and is as catchy as it is comical. It’s just one of multiple reasons The Mighty Boosh is so addictive.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that sometime during the fourth episode of the first series, titled “Tundra”, I lost all objectivity as a reviewer. It may have been the Gary Numan ringtones or the “Ice Flow” rap. It was probably the glam-rock ski-suit. I flew straight past fan and crashed full-bore into Boosh obsession. So by the second series, I was sold.
Even given my slant, though, the second set of shows is the best so far. Howard and Vince have vacated the Zooniverse and are living in a house with Naboo and Bollo (now played by Dave Brown), and it’s a little The Young Ones. This time out, the characters have expanded a bit, but only to allow for more outrageous exploration. Vince is a bit more sarcastic and a lot more sartorially fixated—he’s moved beyond mod and is cultivating a glitter-rock, cartoon, space-cowboy look. He’s monkey man-child no more, now he’s slick, shiny adolescent attitude.
Howard is still wearing tweed, spouting philosophy and scatting be-bop, but he’s grown out of some of the simpler straight man to Vince’s wild card bits. He gets to be even weirder than in series one, as well. In general, the adventures are also weirder and wilder in series two and the show hits its stride as it becomes more of an ensemble piece, with Naboo and Bollo joining in on most journeys. It’s hard to pick best episodes, because this set has so many highlights: “The Call of The Yeti”, with Vince’s wardrobe, Kodiak Jack and the Yeti-mating, Howard-brainwashing, hippie-hairstyling sequence; “Nanageddon”, which features Goth Juice, a geriatric demon, Howard and Vince in bingo-night drag and Tony Harrison, the pink, tentacled, disembodied head who sits on the Board of Shamen; “The Nightmare of Milky Joe”, which finds Howard and Vince shipwrecked and dating coconuts (which doesn’t sound like much, but the coconut-coppers car-chase scene is genius!) and “The Legend of Old Gregg”, which has, um, Old Gregg, Bailey’s, sea shanties and a box of underwater funk (“Forget the P-Funk, We got the Sea-Funk!”)
By the time I watched the third series, I was fully addicted with the world of The Mighty Boosh and its odd inhabitants. I found myself wondering what it might be like to live in Howard’s “Stationary Village”, and decided that I wouldn’t want to reside beneath the Cello-Tape Tree (as it provides no shade whatsoever and would be very difficult to climb!). I’m not the only one. The first episode of series three (“Eels”), which originally aired in November 2007, was the most watched comedy program in BBC Three’s history, with more than one million viewers.
This time the adventures begin in Naboo’s curio shop, Nabootique, where Howard and Vince work. Howard takes his role as shopkeeper seriously, of course, and Vince has graduated from Glam to become a Punk. Series three’s six episodes spend a lot of time revisiting and incorporating earlier characters. “Eels” brings back fan favorite character The Hitcher again, as well as introducing Eleanor (Rich Fulcher, again), who has the hots for Howard. Tony Harrison, Dennis the Head Shaman, and the rest of the Board of Shamen return as well, specifically in the uplifting episode “Party” ,which is great fun and has the best sing-along Boosh song yet (“Bouncy Bouncy”).
This series’ best episodes, though, are, arguably, “Journey to Centre of the Punk”, in which Naboo shrinks Howard and his pal Lester so they can take a tour of Vince Noir in order to save him from a malignant jazz cell, and “The Power of The Crimp” where Gary Numan lives inside a cabinet in Nabootique and The Mighty Boosh challenge copycats “The Flighty Zeus” to a crimp-off. This one especially is imminently re-watchable, because of the music, but then, the entire set holds up to oft-repeated viewings (a fact I know from personal experience).
The Mighty Boosh: Series 1, 2 and 3 is packaged in three separate two-disc cases, and each contains enough extras for endless hours of entertainment beyond the show itself. The first series extras include “Inside the Zooniverse”, “History of the Boosh” outtakes, pictures, commentaries on four episodes and “Boosh Music”, which is the music clips as stand alone features.
The second series extras include the series pilot (which later became “Tundra”), “Boosh Publicity” following Barratt and Fielding on promotional rounds, the “Making of Series Two” commentary on all six episodes, outtakes, deleted scenes, more “Boosh Music” and “Sweet”, a side-splitting, pre-Boosh, short film starring Barratt and Fielding. The third series extras are similar to the previous special features: the “Making of Series Three; more “Boosh Publicity” and interviews; series three’s “Boosh Music” deleted scenes, outtakes, and five commentaries; a Boosh 3 trailer and the 2002 video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song” which featured Barratt and Fielding, along with fellow comedians Nick Frost and Michael Smiley. There are also several hidden “Easter egg” features across all the discs.
The Mighty Boosh seems made from equal parts inspiration and hallucination. It’s child-like creative receptivity paired with adult-oriented cultural references. It’s almost perfect escapist entertainment, and I think most of us would want to live the world of The Mighty Boosh (or in Vince’s wardrobe closet), where life is the ultimate game of dress up and the possibilities are limited only by the borders of imagination.