BBC sketch show starring Julia Davis, Simon Pegg & Catherine Tate
Notes: Originally shown in 1998, Big Train was the eagerly awaited follow-up to Father Ted from writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews. Resisting the pressure to make another sitcom, Big Train is, instead, a sketch show in the best Monty Python tradition, updated with influences from arch-surrealist Chris Morris as well as the contemporary The Fast Show. The sketches can be joyously odd--Pythonesque firefighting showjumpers, the evil hypnotist, and the outrageous onanistic office workers, for example--but the show never neglects to keep the punchlines coming thick and fast (though the animated staring contest does rather drag after a while). The cast comprises some of the best new names in comedy, including Kevin Eldon, Simon Pegg, Mark Heap, Julia Davis and Amelia Bullmore (who went on to become Alan Partridge's Ukrainian girlfriend).
Series 2 didn't pull into the platform until 2002, by which time Graham Linehan was absent writing Black Books. But Arthur Matthews maintains the quality of the first series on the whole--the man with oversized hands, the creepy cult questionnaire, the zookeeper's recruitment agency--adding some spot-on French art house cinema spoofs and other movie-style take offs somewhat in the manner of Spaced, which Pegg and Heap had gone on to make. That duo return here for more silliness along with new cast members Rebecca Front (The Day Today, Knowing Me, Knowing You) and Tracey-Ann Oberman (better known now as Chrissie Watts in Eastenders).
On the DVD: Big Train belatedly arrives on DVD in a two-disc set which includes a plethora of deleted scenes for both Series 1 and 2. There are cast biogs plus three of the sketches as performed on a German TV sketch show. Commentary on the first series is by both writers, though happily Pegg, Heap and Eldon gatecrash halfway through. Matthews and Eldon join director and producer for the somewhat more straight-faced commentary on the second disc. Menu options thankfully include the treasurable "Play all" facility. --Mark Walker
Region 1 NTSC format. Will only play on multiregion DVD players.