Mockumentaries rarely come more monumental than Pern. If you have enjoyed rock over the last 40 years, you should enjoy this. It's Spinal Tap for prog rock.
To get the best out of this mockumentary series, you probably have to be a certain age. And if you get the Peter Gabriel-spoofing cover, you probably don’t need to know much more.
Brian Pern, played by Simon Day (BBC’s The Fast Show), is an ageing rock star who has gone through most stages of rock, from fronting prog band Thotch to confronting both health and tax issues, via an acrimonious split from the band to go solo, musical re-invention and curating charity gigs (in Pern’s case, for bi-polar polar bears, among other creatures).
One of the most striking features of this show is the vast host of top-level guests and stars, which speaks volumes about the quality.
Fast Show colleague Paul Whitehouse plays Thotch’s guitarist Pat Quid (their relationship mimics the Gilmour-Waters rift); Nigel Havers is thoroughly enjoyable and well-cast as the band’s egotistical keys player; Reeves and Mortimer revisit their alter-egos Mulligan and O’Hare, by now wrecked by too much real ale; and Michael Kitchen is also outstanding as the blunt and sweary manager John Farrow (apparently, a caricature of Queen’s manager). Actors Christopher Ecclestone and Martin Freeman also guest.
Playing themselves as if they are recounting events from their own lives are Rick Wakeman, Tim Rice, Queen’s Roger Taylor, Jools Holland, Billy Bragg, and a host of BBC DJs and presenters. When Pern claims, “I was the first musician to use Plasticine in videos," we are left in no doubt about the Gabriel references – and the man obliges with cameos.
There are laugh-out-loud moments: I found myself guffawing at the less-than-subtle spoof of Fleetwood Mac and even more at the magnificent March of the Triffids episode with Sir Roger Moore – a brilliant pastiche of Jeff Lynne’s War of the Worlds.
However, the mockumentary style generally makes the humour too restrained for a feast of laughter; it’s more of a smilefest. Day’s manner (part-impassive, part-bewildered) is not convincing enough for a lead character, but more enjoyable than his over-extrovert South American wife, played in sixth-form style by Lucy Montgomery.
Much of the humour comes from comedy moments, such as Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp looking at the back of a pizza packet, trying to find cooking instructions for using a trouser press to heat it; deliberately wrong sub-titles and recognising the targets in the well-aimed spoofs (the parody of the Osbournes is about as discreet as tweaking someone’s toupée).
And because this was for the BBC, there are some ingeniously edited-in archive clips.
For maximum enjoyment, you probably have to be British to catch all the references, but with all three mini-series included and a whopping two hours of bonus material, this is great value, wherever you come from. If you have lived through several decades of rock, you’ll find plenty to amuse you, and even if you haven’t, the surreal oddness of Mulligan and O’Hare will be more than welcome.
For a taste, here is the series trailer.