Ellie & Natasia: here are the saviors of the sketch show! | Television & radio
VSComedy is always a matter of taste, whatever form it takes, but there’s something about the sketch show that feels particularly tricky. Judging by their rarity, they must be incredibly difficult to get properly. Who, in the age of TikTok and Reels turning anything and everything into a series of ad-hoc, instant-access jokes, would bother trying their hand at such an ungrateful old format? In terms of modern hits, I can only think of Famalam and I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.
Fortunately, Ellie & Natasia (Tuesday, 10pm, BBC Three) – Ellie White and Natasia Demetriou – joins the fold with a full series, three years after releasing a pilot episode in 2019. That’s excellent. Each brief episode is packed with great ideas, recurring characters, and enough twists and turns to keep you unsteady just when you think you’ve found your bearings. It’s anarchic and surreal, and it just goes to show that there’s still a lot of life in British sketching.
As well as their pilot and some online lockdown sketches, 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 Stath cast members, from Katy Wix to Jamie himself, make appearances, and while it doesn’t revive the show’s Ellie and Natasia characters, it does pick up some crumbs. I have always loved the songs and pieces of Sophie and Katia, and here they have been supercharged. There are Smack the Pony-style musical parodies, though they’re not so much one-artist parodies as the duo taking one artist’s style and turning it into a song about snakes or the impossibility of easily cross an airport. There’s a skit about Greek Cypriot entrepreneurs starting new businesses from their bedrooms via shonky promotional videos shot on a camcorder, for a gym, a spa and a James Bond movie called James Bond Got Still in hot water. This is the sequel the franchise didn’t know it needed.
They have their favorite targets – the Trustafarians, the empty-headed East Londoners – and, unlike some comedians doing the rounds at the moment, they don’t knock. They are incredibly good at engaging rich, vacant youngsters in a Q&A on banking advertising. There’s a bland, fuzzy documentary about wild swimming, the virtues of which a woman who doesn’t need work extols: “Some people use drugs, but I plunge my body into an abyss of dark water full of big fish and corpses.” The Pomodoro brothers, also known as Hugo and Barnosh, are “two cheeky guys with lots of disposable family coins” who make instructional cooking videos and bang each other a lot, while referring to the sauce in increasingly dirty and violent ways.
There is a play with language that reminds me of Julia Davis and in particular her podcast with Vicki Pepperdine, Dear Joan and Jericha; I’ll let you discover for yourself what “the mouth of a howling seal” refers to. There’s a touch of Blue Jam in a skit 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 show their kitchen around and love to pack. I say this not to draw lazy comparisons between comedians, but because it suggests they share DNA with some of the best.
There are some surprising moments of gore and clever outliers that will surely need to be revisited if there is to be another run, and hopefully there will be. The best skit of the entire series might be of the strippers celebrating a birthday by hiring a man with a normal job to perform for them. I’d also swallow more than one sketch of the Coffee Spotters, who are like famous internet trainspotter Francis Bourgeois, if he called trains cheese and had an anger management problem.
Best of all is his relentless silly streak. There are silly voices, silly ideas, a skit about an overly attractive dental assistant I can say with absolute certainty doesn’t go where you expect it to, a recurring track in which Ellie and Natasia are voxed in the street and asked to describe their outfits, which is proof that short comedy is an art form in its own right. The only problem is, at 15 minutes per episode, it’s just too concise. More please!