Nathan Barley is an achingly clever and antagonistic piece of time-filler. Is it funny? Is the joke on us? Is it reviewable? These are questions I can only try to answer.

Chris Morris, the brain behind the successful and critically lauded The Day Today and Brass Eye, turns his hand to a sitcom with moderate results. The amount of genuine belly laughs can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but the characters - some interesting - and the spot-on lampooning of London media types, the worst kind of pretentious art - a man taking photographs of his laptop collection and celebrities urinating - defy criticism.

Copy picture

Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barratt) writes an incisive article for Sugarape magazine about The Rise Of The Idiots, self-obsessed people who have loud annoying phones, play stupid tricks on each other, use made up language in a supposedly cool way, play transmuted games like Cock, Muff and Bumhole - "Hey, I've just farted up your muff!" - and generally act like the morons they are. Nathan Barley (Nicholas Burns), the ultimate pretentious "idiot" and "self-facilitating media node," promotes his website ( and is an irreproachable bastard to his employee.

He, and those who follow his antics, do not recognise themselves as the objects of Ashcroft's column. Indeed, they latch onto his words, in a hero-worshipful fashion, which enrages him. The idiots are taking over Ashcroft's professional and personal life. He must escape from them forever, or destroy them! Ashcroft is the closest we have to a straight man in this show, but he's clearly a bit of a berk himself.

Nathan Barley starts off poorly. Its first two episodes suffer from a lethargic lack of quality drama and comedy, but from episode three onwards, it digs its heels in and occasionally stuns with cleverly observed satire. I guess the real criterion of whether you'll get much out of Barley is whether you recognise the pop culture and glossy media emptiness that are the object of his jibes.

There's not much else. The characters are well observed and likeable. Even the moronic Nathan is very much a vanilla force of nature, acting along to his instinct.

I don't like it enough to recommend it, being as much infuriating as entertainment.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2005
Share this with others on...
Nathan Barley packshot
TV sitcom that satirises celebrity media types and pretentious art.
Amazon link

Director: Christopher Morris

Writer: Christopher Morris, Charlie Booker

Starring: Nicholas Burns, Julian Barratt, Claire Keelan, Ben Whishaw, Richard Ayoade, Spencer Brown

Year: 2005

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database: