“I’m not a gifted sumo wrestler, but I do enjoy the triple jump.”
Man Stroke Woman, the brilliantly skewed British sketch comedy is just the sort of quirky, quality television one expects from producer Ash Atalla (The Office, The IT Crowd). The series stars Nick Frost (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead), Amanda Abbington (After You’ve Gone), Daisy Haggard (Psychoville), Ben Crompton (Ideal), Meredith MacNeill (Confetti), and Nicholas Burns (Absolute Power), and although Frost may be the best known cast member, the entire ensemble is firing on all comic cylinders.
Though they all center on the various relationships, interactions and psychological differences between men and women, the individual sketches of Man Stroke Woman: The Complete Series are rarely more than a couple of minutes in long—some last for mere seconds—so the funny stuff flies by pretty fast. It may take the uninitiated viewer an episode or two to become accustomed to the pace, but don’t worry about keeping up with every joke, because not only do scenarios recur in several variations, but skits bear up to repeat viewings without losing their hilarity (in fact some are even better the second time around).
Some of the funniest are the ongoing ones from series one, such as the sketch in which a man is so devastated by a break up with his girlfriend that he is reduced to sobbing incomprehensibility, at which point whoever he’s with—the ex-girlfriend, his mates, guests at a dinner party, a prospective employer—tries to decipher his blubbering with increasingly absurd results. Other favorites are the “Where’s Josh” skits, involving a new father continually switching his infant son for another object without realizing it until his wife asks (baby Josh initially ends up in the recycling bin, and the setups get darker, and more perversely amusing, from there); and “You Can Never Just Say I Look Nice, Can You?”, where a husband is asked his opinion on his wife’s parade of outrageous outfits and the episode-ending “Makeup Girls”, in which the staff of a department store cosmetic counter poke fun at, harass and abuse their customers amid gales of laughter. If it sounds infantile, that’s because it is, but it’s also hysterical.
Of course, sometimes it’s not just the setups and the punchlines that are funny. Sometimes it’s the reaction shot. The aforementioned dog comes to mind. Sometimes it’s the sheer silliness or the shock of the visual. It’s utterly impossible not to laugh at the sudden sight of Nick Frost in leather hot-pants (or a pink leotard and tutu or whipped cream and rose petals, or a burqa…), and not simply because of his physicality, his facial expressions and delivery alone could sell the gags.
Man Stroke Woman: The Complete Series DVD collects the 12 episodes of the two series into one set on two discs, along with several extras. Both discs include cast commentaries. Disc one has the featurette “Making Man Stroke Woman”, which includes my favorite behind-the-scenes bit, based on name alone: “How to Explode a Dog”. Disc one also has “Music of Man Stroke Woman”, which allows viewers to listen to the full version of the opening theme, “Dive”, and gives information on the band performing it, The Sanderson Pitch.
Additionally, the first disc has credits, humorous cast biographies and “Favorite Sketches”, a section where each cast member picks and explains their personal favorite sketches. Disc two’s bonus material includes a “24 Hours of Man Stroke Woman” featurette, three short films (“Ben Crompton’s Film About Ash”, “Nick Frost’s Love Letter to Emma Thomas” “A Day In The Life Of Nick Burns”) and outtakes in addition to more “Favorite Sketches”.
Man Stroke Woman is a hilariously off-kilter show filled with often unexpected payoffs. As memorable as it is mad, it’s surely one of the best comedies of its kind.