Premiering on Dave on 13 October
Created and written by: Dan Gaster, Will Ing and Paul Powell
Starring: James Buckley, Paul Kaye, Sharon Rooney
Clearly flushed with the success of sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, Dave is seeing if it can have a similar comedy success with the fantasy genre… even though they’ve given it a very sci-fi title. Aliens get zapped. Dwarves and magicians and orcs get stabbed, blasted by spells or eaten by trolls. But Stabbed, Blasted and Eaten are all rubbish titles, so Zapped will have to do.
What Zapped doesn’t have is a ready-made fanbase built up over two decades, like Red Dwarf did when it
dimension channel jumped. Instead Dave presumably hopes that some well-known comedy names in the cast and behind the scenes will give viewers an extra incentive to tune in. Executive producer is Steve Coogan (who will also be guest starring) while the main cast includes The Inbetweeners’ James Buckley, Paul Kaye née Dennis Pennis (now also famous for Game Of Thrones) and My Mad Fat Diary’s Sharon Rooney.
So, first the good news. It’s much, much better than another previous UK attempt at a fantasy sitcom, Kröd Mändoon And The Flaming Sword of Fire. The bad news is it doesn’t have the same instant appeal – aka, cute gimmick, aka puppets – as Sky’s very similar Yonderland. Presumably it doesn’t have the same budget either; in the two episodes we’ve seen we think there have been five different sets at most.
But is the script as sharp as Yonderland’s? Well, on the evidence of the first two episodes no, but it’s not far off, and episode two is funnier and cleverer than the pilot, so it’s going in the right direction.
What’s it about? Brian is a dorky office worker performing an information-age function that defies description (but which could be as menial as being a virtual delivery boy) who receives an incorrectly addressed package in the post: a magic amulet that transports him to the medieval-esque town of Munty in an alternative dimension of dodgy wizards, inept soothsayers, giant/dwarf crossbreeds and bootboy faeries. As you can guess he’s soon separated from his amulet and appears to be set to spend most of the series in the local pub, The Jug And The Other Jug, planning schemes that will never work to get him back home.
Because on the evidence of the first two episodes, this isn’t a sitcom that’ll be exploring the world Brian finds himself in; it’s a sitcom about a group of slightly sad misfits sitting at the bar, having bizarre conversations and taking the piss out of each other.
And largely, it works. It’s actually refreshing to have a fantasy comedy that isn’t merely a fantasy parody. Sure, there are plenty of gags involving magic – especially in the second episode – but you don’t need to know Lord Of The Rings or Dungeons And Dragons to pick up cultural references. This is more like the early days of Red Dwarf when Lister and Rimmer used to sit around nattering a lot and bemoaning their lot in life.
The cast is excellent, with Paul Kaye as the deadbeat mage a stand-out in any scene, though Sharon Rooney is also fun as a rubbish seer who takes a shine to Brian. James Buckley is fine as Brian, though he’s battling against being the main cliché in the show; while the stock fantasy characters are all given a twist Brian’s an off-the-shelf office nerd who you just know spends all his private time playing GTA in his pants (he can’t be a Skyrim geek because that would mean him spending the entire series going, “You’re nothing like the dwarves/mages/whatever in the game,” which would become rapidly tedious).
Some gags work better than others, but the second episode has a much better hit rate and a willingness go get a bit more surreal with its humour. For the moment, Zapped isn’t the NEXT BIG THING in genre comedy, but there’s evidence that it could carry on improving as the actors and writers become more familiar with the characters. It’s definitely worth checking out and sticking around for episode two to see if it’s your goblet of mead.