"We developed Jinsy for a year or so before we made the BBC pilot. Because
we're both from Guernsey it seemed a good idea to begin from something
real that we could draw on. There are some rather strange Guernsey
customs, like the Clameur de haro, which is an ancient French law people
still use to try and redress legal wrongs, and which involves kneeling
down and intoning the Lord's Prayer backwards in Guernsey-French!"
It's easy to have a go at Rupert Murdoch. In fact some may say that it's actually necessary to have a go at Rupert Murdoch, mandatory even. Let's skate warily over the thin ice that is News International while the Rebekah Brooks trial still rages as I write. I wonder why a small part of me sighed as she got off the first charge... Still, the big guns are yet to fire. We wait, baited breath etc. Then there's Murdoch's Sky. At its birth in the 80s it was a little lost among terrestrial broadcasting but now the aerial is on the other roof. Or to be a little more stringent with the metaphor, the dish is bolted on the other wall. I have never been a satellite TV subscriber. Insert joke here about sewage needing to be sent away from the home rather than welcomed in. If you remember that observation as a Stephen Fry QI off the cuff gag, then alas, there is no way I can prove to you that I had that thought quite a few years ago. The principal reason for this denial of incoming fecal matter is that I very rarely watch programmed television. I think Sherlock and Doctor Who are suitably magnetic in family terms but for the rest, there are disc based alternatives to the rigidity of the Radio Times et al. A few good reviews from trusted sources for a bizarre little show on Sky piqued my interest and before long, Yonderland had utterly enchanted me (from the makers of Horrible Histories). It's wildly inventive, sometimes gently, sometimes wildly funny and for a show aimed at families, it has a subversive edge that keeps it buoyant. The linchpin at the centre of the muppetry and multi-coloured lunacy is bored housewife and mum played with an exact amount of acceptance, disbelief and common sense by Martha Howe-Douglas. Her judgement (aided one assumes by the director Steve Connelly) is spot on. It's a wonderful balancing act and a testament to the entertainment power of rod controlled puppets and a kick in the gonads for the paucity of charm emanating from any computer generated creature. Everything, except for the digitally enhanced milieu, is physical and that's how it should be. Just as I thought this was a one off, a friend alerted me to this...
Now then, presumably you've had a quick look. This either leaves you scratching your head and indifferent to the frequency of silliness on offer or, like me, you're anxious to see what kind of a show could possibly contain that scene? And yet, you may be well ahead of me having seen Jinsy in its incarnations over a good two and a half years now. Well, despite a newbie's 'wtf?', This Is Jinsy is something quite original. How could any commissioning editor think for a second that this could hit big? Maybe that’s no longer the criteria for the green light, heaven (and even Jinsy) be praised. Jinsy’s not just a surreal comedy despite the evidence. While Yonderland 's first series DVD (released a few weeks ago) awaits a glowing review, This Is Jinsy has already two series under its belt and to serve as a taste, this is a review of season one on DVD. Stuck on a premium pay for view channel (Sky Atlantic, where HBO rents space), it's perhaps not as appreciated as it might be and anything we can do to help it find a wider audience is a favour to that wider audience. So what the hell is Jinsy?
This Is Jinsy is a comedic, surreal and bizzaroland twist on the island of Guernsey just north of the French coast under the dependency of the British Crown. In other words, it's a place where many cultural smash-ups occur and the location has gifted the show's two starring performers a peculiar take on life. This in turn has been translated into This Is Jinsy, the bastard lovechild of The Prisoner, The Wicker Man's Summerisle and Monty Python featuring a veritable galaxy of guest stars all of which seem to be happy to play in a most peculiar sandpit. After the introductory song (sample lyric, "Island of silt and sand, twigs and stumps and tilth and...") we are introduced to the leading men, Justin Chubb as Arbiter Maven and his sidekick, Sporrall played by Chris Bran. They are in nominal charge of the island aided by tesselators, machines designed to broadcast to and spy on the island residents. They exert their control from what appears to be a golden lighthouse (No. 2's residence?) As if any other nod to The Prisoner is required, there is an ultimate power, a 'Number One', the unseen 'He'. Once mentioned 'He' has to be saluted, like deities in some regressive cultures, in this case with a physical leg jerk and the homily "Jinsy, Praise Him!" It's hard not to act this out every once in a while once you've had an overdose of the show. There is even a version of The Prisoner's Village voice performed in McGoohan’s masterpiece by Fenella Fielding. But this time she has a name - it's Mrs. Reason voiced by Jennifer Saunders. Jinsy is crammed with more famous-than-its-context comedy talent much to the creators' delight.
The charm of the show lies in the performances of the two stars despite their stellar guests (ranging from an ex-Doctor Who to a benevolent Roman Emperor). Arbiter Maven (Justin Chubb) is officialdom gone off the deep end. Blind to any fault of his own, he is easily led, gullible in the extreme and has the most striking physical presence. It looks like he should be bald but a curly black mop sits too far back and too high on his head looking like it's clinging there but not through choice. Chubb exploits what we must presume are his own teeth for comic potential - there's nothing wrong with them per se except they are not lined up the way most people's are and they have their own strange attraction when we're presented with any close ups. In their own way, they add to his allure as a comic fall guy. His mannerisms bring Rowan Atkinson to mind (the hand wringing and over pronouncement of words) and the less admired about his ridiculous costume, the better. His chin seems to be magnetically attracted to anything north of its present location. What the brilliant and unsung Alice Lowe sees in him is anyone's guess. Playing repairwoman Soosan Noop, Lowe, with her auburn thatched wig and lower register tones, stays buried in character as usual. Like Katherine Parkinson, she has the ability of being simultaneously funny and sexy. Actors of all genders have difficulty in pulling that combination off effortlessly. I'm trying to think of any... Is Johnny Depp sexy as Jack Sparrow? To many I suppose, he'd be sexy as a corpse. Lowe's career has taken her all over the place. You may remember her as the surly supermarket assistant in Hot Fuzz, a late series regular in Horrible Histories and she's also popped up up in The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh and as the nurse who had dinner with a ghost sharing her story with a pissed and falling asleep detective in The Sign of Three in the third season of Sherlock. Let's not forget she co-wrote and starred in Ben Wheatley's Sightseers (have not seen it but will very soon). Our principal identification figure is mainly with the most normal of the cast, Chubb's co-writer and co-star, Chris Bran. Dressed in what appears to be a classic 70s beige suit and sporting a mullet hairstyle, it seems he's just jumped out of a Cortina. He's the perfect foil to the ever-preening Chubb. He also, unsurprisingly, has the hots for Soosan. As conventionally attractive goes, she's the shining light on the island. One look at the pasty-stuffing Miss Jinsy sort of confirms this. Sporall has his own little schemes in place but is very much the 'normal guy' in an ocean of surreal characters who've leapt from imaginations too fertile and deranged to be anything approaching orthodox. Again, kudos to Lucy Lumsden for commissioning it.
Chubb and Bran (there's a healthy diet right there) play many parts and they are not at all shy to don a multitude of dresses to flesh out the Island Singers (why are they so dentally mesmeric?) with my favourite lyric as they writhe out of time "We got rhythm but no tuning capability... Ow!" Chubb and Bran play a host of other women mostly in the folk singing department. As odd as it sounds but Chubb makes a very creditable female (it's got to be the wigs). Bran is more recognisable as a man in a wig and a dress but... (should I really be admitting that Chubb is an utterly convincing member of the female sex?) The wigs just tie his features together into something effortlessly female. And no, I have no explanation for this. I could find only one example of a female almost passing herself off as a male. KT Tunstall turns up in man-drag performing a song about onions dressed as singer Briiian Raggatan in the 4th episode, Ool Bat. Wonderfully insane. Music is very important to the whole effect of the show. There are at least three songs per episode, most driven by the plot but some are thrown in as stand alone pieces. Sandy's Choice is always a winner (with a bandana-wearing white Labrador ready to pronounce a positive 'Woof' or a 'get 'em off!' 'Enoof'). As Master Croog and Joolian, the two leads give us an updated version of Kenneth William's immortal Ramblin' Sid Rumpo from the 60s radio comedy Round The Horne. Rumpo's raison d'etre was to get as many faux-dodgy words broadcast as possible while not crossing any lines of offence. As an example, here's Sid's second verse of his own take on What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor...
Hit him in the nadgers with the bosun’s plunger,
Slap him on the grummitt with a wrought iron lunger,
Cuff him in the moolies with the Captain’s grungerrrrr....
Till his bodgers dangle.
Compare this with Jinsy's Master Croog and Joolian's first verse as they perform at the island's Knacken event...
Place your nut chaff on my tingle bar,
Walk me to the shore...
Crouch with me inside the winkle dell,
And pull my fottle some more.
Perhaps one of the character names originated from Julian and Sandy, the overtly effeminate and one presumes gay pair from the same radio show. The cynic in me might suggest that the optimum song length fits nicely on a You Tube page but hey, whatever works to get this show noticed by more than just Sky Atlantic subscribers. I have to admit being surprised at the ferocity of those who don't find this kind of humour funny or even palatable. It's as if they are offended by it. I think the phase appropriate for them and the show they loathe is "There's nowt as queer as folk..."
There aren't many negative aspects to the series that need flagging. Jinsy is as prone as Family Guy to the set up line and smash cut to the punch line usually in a different time and location and probably surreal to boot. This threadbare comedy trope has been overused but as Seth McFarlane says "Who cares as long as it's funny?" The locations are mostly CG fabrications but that might add to its homegrown charm rather than distract. I can't imagine anyone saying "God, it's obvious they aren't really there..." Like The Mighty Boosh, it's sometimes hard to figure out if some aspects, effects or otherwise, are designed to look amateurish (I'm assuming so) and again, this adds to the show's allure rather than subtracts. There seems to be either a nod or a direct borrow from Father Ted with the enthusiastic advert for Brownlap Parish in Episode 3. The attractions (Grassland and Myryam's Haunted Post etc.) are stylistically reminiscent of Funland in Ted's very first episode. But if you're going to borrow, then borrow from the best. I did like the hysterical overpraising of The Mystery Pond...
On the two discs, there are eight shows plus Extras and a sentence or two on each should suffice.
1 - Wedding Lottery
David Tennant guest stars as the odiously camp Mr. Slightlyman, scourge of child performers and in league with another who's fixing the wedding lottery. Maven enters Sporall into the draw and vice versa but it's Tennant's venal impresario who steals this show.
2 - Cupboards
Peter Serafinowicz is Eric Dunt, cupboard salesman and to some of the islanders including Maven himself, he is the personification of the great 'He'! It's the moustache apparently.
3 - Beardboy
Catherine Tate, dressed in all white has hygiene issues. She runs a magazine, the cover of which Maven is anxious to get on. But there's a wandering goat that's become attached to Sporall who's entered the island's beard growing competition. Let the worlds collide.
4 - Ool Bat
Kevin Eldon is the environmental activist who scuppers Maven's plans to build a bridge based on his own nose. There is an extraordinary cameo by KT Tunstall (credited as 'Katie'). Is it a proper cameo when you're damn near unrecognisable? And does it really look just like an onion?
5 - Nameworm
It's winter on Jinsy and we discover that every islander has a 'nameworm' writhing inside them and it's removed at death. Or is this a scam perpetuated by Maven's rambling teacher played by Simon Callow?
6 - Vel
Jane Horrocks plays a children's home mistress with an odd creature on her arm (or should I say 'as' her arm). One of the bullied boys has produced a wooden car (no jokes please) and that's more than enough for Maven to steal. He's trying to cheat his way into Jinsy's very own MENSA. There's a nice 'fork' based pun delivered to perfection.
7 - Zoop
There's a rogue band on the island that Maven bans (of course). After taking hallucinogenic soup, Maven (via pig express) ends up on stage as the star attraction. The relationship between Sporall and Soosan heats up here in three exchanges, two of which made me laugh out loud. There is something about Alice Lowe's delivery and character that makes me smile and I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is.
8 - Kelpman
Brian Murphy (last seen by this reviewer in Ken Russell's The Devils) plays a doddery mapmaker haunted by the lives of his ex-wives. And who is the mysterious 'Kelpman' threatening Maven as he tries to fix a broken Tesselator?
The 16:9 anamorphic picture quality is first rate. I can only assume no film was involved in the production and without official notification can only guess at the medium of capture. Some images have been deliberately dirtied down in keeping with the show's stylistic continuity.
The easy sound choice between the basic Dolby 2.0 Stereo or the 5.1 Surround shouldn't keep you awake at night. For a show with as much emphasis on the music as the drama, the sound quality is excellent and deserves the extra boost of the 5.1. That said, the mix is not showy and always serves the episode not itself.
There are subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. And, believe it or not, this is where you find the correct spelling for all the made up words – kudos folks.
Commentary on Episode 2 – Cupboards by Mrs Podge and Mrs Henk
The surreality does not take a break. This isn't an informative and behind the scenes commentary; it's two island residents who react to whatever they're watching. If this has been scripted, it's performed very well. Mrs Podge and Mrs Henk are featured in Episode 3, Beardboy, competing in the Inter Parish Tea-athlon. "This is getting a bit boring..." says one after mentioning that she performed the commentaries for both The Shining and Chainsaw Massacre (she left out the word 'Texas') "Sometimes the odd pornographic film is a bit exciting..." Interruptions from men looking for toilets leads to a fly based chaos. The women carry on regardless... Fairly sure their reference to Carmen Miranda was not an obscure Prisoner reference though I wouldn't put it past them. "I told you, it's a stupid programme..."
Pameric – The Lost Episode (3' 18")
Back in the day (what does that actually mean?) I used to work for a famous TV company. To maintain its anonymity, I'll just give you the initials – B, B and C. In the small area to which we were providing entertainment lived a soap opera whose depths of mediocrity were plumbed on a weekly basis. I remember a scene of a woman attempting to open a letter. She slid the knife in and then believing it sharp enough to do the job, gave it some wellie. The paper didn't give which resulted in said letter flying about twelve feet through the air. It was without question one of the funniest things I have ever seen knowing I will never see it again. Well, Pameric is Jinsy's version of said soap opera. It leaves Acorn Antiques dead in the layby. Botched continuity, appalling acting, misunderstandings etc. It's not exactly must see TV but it's fun nonetheless.
Melody Lane – David's Pond (00' 48")
Forty-eight seconds of the irresistibly female Justin Chubb (with absurdly long legs) singing of the laughter of the love of her life. Utterly and exceedingly absurd. Drip, ha.
Jinsyokey – Licky Licky Licky (01' 30"), Jeremony's Obituary (00' 24"), Pipes! (00' 46")
& Far Away (01' 56")
Karaoke cannot get any better than this, can it? Four musical clips invite you to be as surreal as the filmmakers. Sing along. I honestly think that a singing obituary should be mandatory in some parishes. In fact, writing the lyrics to one's own obituary should be mandatory. I am aware I have used that harsh and quietly militaristic word three times in one review. I prostrate myself in front of the altar of He. Jinsy Praise Him!
Let's be aware that Medialand these days is a very crowded market place. In 1969, Monty Python pitched up like a tornado in an origami convention. They made quite a splash. I mix my metaphors but don't care if anyone notices. These days it's the getting noticed which is the hard part, not the actual production of wonderfully silly and surreal entertainment. Sky should be proud but more has to be done if shows like This Is Jinsy will take if not mainstream flight, then financial-sense-to-make-more flight. Having said this, after a successful 2nd series, I hope the soil is fecund enough to squeeze out a third. But then only weatherman Tracee Henge would know that and he's not telling. This DVD is highly recommended for all those with a fondness for the bizarre and lovingly created surreality. Over to Master Croog and Joolian to sing us out...
So grind me, grind me moogle-een,
Manker my stented gleep.
Wrap my looly, and dunderdendle me,
Till my looly grows weak.