Comedy is always a matter of taste, whatever form it takes, but there’s something about the sketch show that seems particularly tricky. Judging by the paucity of them, they must be incredibly hard to get right. Who, in the age of TikTok and Reels turning anything and everything into an instant-access series of ad hoc jokes, would bother trying their hand at such a thankless old format? In terms of modern successes, I can only think of Famalam and I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.
Happily, Ellie & Natasia (Tuesday, 10pm, BBC Three) – Ellie White and Natasia Demetriou – are joining the fold with a full series, three years after they released a pilot episode in 2019. It is excellent. Each brief episode is stuffed with great ideas, recurring characters and enough twists to keep you unsteady just when you think you’ve found your feet. It’s anarchic and surreal, and makes a strong case that there is plenty of life in the British sketch show yet.
As well as their pilot and some lockdown sketches online, White and Demetriou appeared together in Stath Lets Flats, the Channel 4 sitcom about estate agents written by and starring Demetriou’s brother Jamie. Several members of the Stath cast, from Katy Wix to Jamie himself, make guest appearances, and while this doesn’t revive Ellie and Natasia’s characters from the series, it picks up crumbs from them. I always loved Sophie and Katia’s songs and plays, and here they have been supercharged. There are Smack the Pony-style musical spoofs, though they aren’t so much parodies of an artist as the pair taking an artist’s style and turning it into a song about snakes or the impossibility of getting through an airport with ease. There is a running skit about Greek-Cypriot entrepreneurs who launch new businesses from their bedroom via shonky promotional videos shot on a camcorder, for a gym, a spa, and a James Bond film called James Bond Has Got Himself Into Hot Water Again. It is the sequel the franchise didn’t know it needed.
They have their favoured targets – trustafarians, empty-headed east London types – and, unlike certain comedians doing the rounds at the moment, they don’t punch down. They are uncannily good at doing rich, vacant young people taking part in a banking advert-esque Q&A. There is a soppy, soft-focus documentary about wild swimming, as a woman who doesn’t need a job extols the virtues: “Some people use drugs, but I use plunging my body into an abyss of dark water full of big fish and dead bodies.” The Brothers Pomodoro, also known as Hugo and Barnosh, are “two cheeky lads with a lot of disposable family coin” who make instructional cooking videos and hit each other a lot, while referring to the sauce in increasingly filthy, violent ways.
There is a playfulness with language that reminds me of Julia Davis and particularly her podcast with Vicki Pepperdine, Dear Joan and Jericha; I will allow you to find out for yourself to what “the mouth of a screaming seal” refers. There is a touch of Blue Jam to one sketch about a rowing couple who find common ground at the gym, and a bit of French and Saunders in the Mum’s the Word YouTubers, who give tours of their kitchen and love packing suitcases. I say this not to draw lazy comparisons between comedians, but because it suggests that they share DNA with some of the best.
There are moments of surprising gore, and clever one-offs that will, surely, need revisiting if there is to be another run, and I hope there will be. The best sketch in the whole series might be the strippers who celebrate a birthday by hiring a man with a normal job to perform for them. I would also gobble up more than one sketch of the Coffee Spotters, who are like the internet-famous trainspotter Francis Bourgeois, if he referred to trains as cheese and had an anger management problem.
Best of all is its unrelenting silly streak. There are silly voices, silly ideas, a sketch about an overly flirty dental assistant I can say, with absolute certainty, does not go where you expect, a recurring bit in which Ellie and Natasia are vox-popped in the street and asked to describe their outfits, which is proof that concise comedy is an art form all of its own. The only problem is that, at 15 minutes an episode, it’s just too concise. More please!