Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy gets funnier the more it apologises for its own rubbishness

The Mighty Boosh star’s first solo series was a flop, but self-awareness (and a hammer) are saving series two from sinking under the weight of its surrealism

The biggest problem with the first series of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (E4) was its title, which was so wildly off the mark that it almost certainly contravened some form of trade-description legislation. It was more self-indulgent than luxurious, focused only on pushing Fielding’s hepcat Izzard shtick further up his own backside than ever before. And since the whole thing contained approximately zero jokes, the “Comedy” part was a bit iffy, too.

Fielding has acknowledged this himself, revealing that even he found the last series “quite difficult to watch” and mumbling that “I was listening to a lot of Hawkwind” by way of apologetic explanation in a recent interview. As a result, he’s given this series a new subtitle, Tales from Painted Hawaii, to distance it from the tedious Human Centipede of rudderless whimsy that came before. Yet the reception doled out to series two has still been muted. Viewers have been burned by his nonsense once before, and they’re reluctant to return now.

In a way, this is a shame. So far, Painted Hawaii has been a marked improvement on the last series. Better yet, this is entirely down to how flat-out atrocious the last series was. Painted Hawaii is basically a direct reaction to series one, simultaneously defending and apologising for its excesses so relentlessly that the only realistic take-home lesson is that not even Noel Fielding knew what to make of it.

The first episode, for example, opened with a slightly contrite joke about how impenetrable it had all been. We were then introduced to Paul Panfer, a character as irritatingly abstract as anything Fielding had ever created – a blue, surfing, four-eyed panther who kept drinking milk out of his own breasts – who Fielding killed off quite brutally at the earliest opportunity.

If the subtext of that episode was that Fielding was tiring of his own dumb surrealism, it was made much more explicit the following week, with the entire storyline acting as an open admission that very few people actually watch or enjoy the series. Even better, it contained a monster that smashed Fielding on the head with a hammer whenever his whimsy got too much to bear. Obviously this happened a lot.

Then there was the character played by Noel Fielding who started mocking the real-life Noel Fielding for his reliance on lazy surreal juxtapositions. So, to spite him, Noel Fielding built a canoe made of vultures. It sank, as Fielding performed a song about how unpopular the series is. Without giving anything away, this week’s episode goes further still: you can barely move for people berating Fielding for his lack of comedic range. There are times when Painted Hawaii comes across less like a comedy show and more a really expensive nervous breakdown.

Yet, somehow, this lacerating self-awareness works. Noel Fielding has arguably never been funnier than when he’s making jokes at his own expense. Up until now, there’s been a sense that he lives in a vacuum, throwing together material with a fridge-magnet poetry kit that only consists of various woodland creatures and the word “jazz”. But now that he’s started mucking around with his public image, the show has instantly become more grounded. The end result is that Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy has become a pretty good little programme. It’s just a shame that nobody wants to watch it.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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