'Campus' Series Premiere

The new series from the makers of Green Wing feels like comedy by the numbers.


Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm GMT
Cast: Andy Nyman, Joseph Millson, Sara Pascoe, Will Adamsdale, Dolly Wells, Lisa Jackson, Jonathan Bailey, Katherine Ryan
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Channel 4
Air Date: 2011-04-05

There’s a fine line between the comedy of the absurd and the just plain absurd. Based on the first episode of their new series, Campus, the makers of cult comedy hits Green Wing and Smack the Pony have gone and leapt right over it. Set in the ostentatiously branded concrete hive of the fictional Kirke University, Campus doesn’t so much satirise the management culture of British Universities as draw inspiration from it for an array of grotesque characters and tableaux.

Chief among these is the University’s monstrously unstable Vice-Chancellor, Jonty de Wolfe, played by Andy Nyman. Whether you love the show, find it uncomfortably close to the bone or just think it’s unbearable will depend on how you respond to this lewd, amoral, manipulative bigot of a senior manager. While his facial hair and tendency to address himself directly to the camera suggest a shared ancestry with David Brent of The Office, de Wolfe has none of Brent’s warmth or vulnerability. Neither does his constant monologuing seem a convention of mockumentary form. De Wolfe is such a megalomaniac that he doesn’t need the excuse of a camera to deliver self-aggrandising speeches. He rages at the feckless academics under his charge, fondles the successful ones, and spews a torrent of racist and sexist abuse like Bernard Manning suffering a fit of Tourette syndrome. He encourages one student to commit suicide and blackmails another with a fabricated prostitution charge. Despite the humour mixed in with this slurry of abuse, why anyone in the audience might want to suffer through de Wolfe’s company to hear them is a mystery.

For the inhumanly persistent, or the Green Wing cultists, who are willing to endure de Wolfe, the rest of the show holds up tolerably well. A milder, and much more amusing, version of de Wolfe’s psychosis seems to afflict Lydia Tennant (Dolly Wells), an Engineering lecturer, and further surreality duties are performed by administrative staffers Nicole Huggins (Sarah Pascoe) and Jason Armitage (Will Adamsdale), and Flatpack (Jonathan Bailey), a lay-about graduate student on a sports bursary.

As the feckless, sex-obsessed English lecturer Matt Beer, Joseph Millson is partly the kind of academic lothario you might meet in a Kingsley Amis or David Lodge novel, but inflected by the brand of stream-of-consciousness filth made de rigueur by Peep Show. In the first episode, he tries to save his career by leeching off of the success of maths lecturer Imogen (Lisa Jackson). At the same time, Jason tries to mop up a payroll error he committed when showing off for Nicole, and de Wolfe, Lydia, and Flatpack circle the action, offering occasional comment and farcical set pieces.

As these plots suggest, most of the characters have one joke and two dimensions at their best: we have the horny one, the uptight one, the fool, the ditz, and the desperate underachiever, each boringly predictable, especially for those familiar with the general field of British comedy of embarrassment. Those who add a bit of unpredictably, like DeWolfe, do so almost at random, puncturing the already thin veil of plausibility that might make the show function as satire. And in this Campus misses an opportunity. With American comedies like Greek and Glory Daze portraying university life through students' drunken, nostalgic haze, a genuine satire, from the staff's point of view, could have had real potential.

For all its failings, however, it’s hard to imagine that Campus this won’t find an audience. Channel 4 figured out long ago that a sizeable proportion of the audience will laugh at phrases like "I can see your crack through the slit in the door" and "Oddly shaped anal cavity," no matter the context. (Indeed, the columnist Charlie Brooker made his reputation and subsequent leap from print to television based on precisely that insight.) It doesn’t make for good comedy, but don’t be surprised if it makes for good ratings.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.