In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Nathan Barley.
There used to be a time when the word, “hipster,” evoked the image of that lovable Seinfeld doofus, Kramer. But somewhere between the late 90’s and the mid aughts, the term, “hipster,” became the catch-all description for alternative minded young people.
And when I say, “alternative minded,” what I actually mean is obnoxiously self-centered, irony-steeped, trust-fund reliant, aggressively apathetic, faux-intellectual jerks. NYC’s East Village and Williamsburg, Brooklyn seemed to be its epicenter. However, those scenes more often than not took their cues from the real fertile crescent of hipsterdom, London.
Enter Nathan Barley, the brilliant hate-letter to the post 9/11, nhilist, hipster scene.
Created by ascerbic writer/director Chris Morris (there’s that genius again!) and starring Jullian Barratt (of Mighty Boosh fame), Nathan Barley follows the downward spiral of Dan Ashcroft (Barratt) a pop-culture journalist suffering a sort of mid-ife crisis, as he realizes he’s outgrown the bohemian world of man-children, yet is thoroughly unqualified to join the ranks of serious adult journalism.
Stuck between these two worlds, Ashcroft twists in the wind and is beset upon by the idiocy of the hipsters (who he terms, “idiots”) he’s forced to live amongst and work alongside at the vapid, Sugar-Ape magazine (sort of like Vice on stupid-pills).
Rise of the Idiots:
The show is at once absurd parody and pitch-perfect satire, as the “idiots” Ashcroft bemoans present themselves in ridiculous, yet not totally unbelievable ways. Anyone who’s lived in Brooklyn will recognize these trendy archetypes rather quickly, and without much shock.
If the, “idiots,” are a community, then titular character, Nathan Barley, is their king. He embodies the absolute worst and most insipid of hipster tendencies, and quickly becomes Ashcroft’s arch-nemesis (though Barley doesn’t realize this; he delusionally thinks Ashcroft is his pal).
Barley runs a self aggrandizing online entertainment site called, Trashbat.co.ck, which he gleefully and lasciviously reminds people as he constatly promotes it through the series.
Nathan performs the Trashbat Rap:
In typical Chris Morris fashion, Nathan Barley is a very dark show, filled with venom, and is of course is absolutely hilarious. The fact that the show was made before hipster-ism became such a household concept is remarkable and speaks volumes of Morris’ ability as a social critic.
NB is by far one of my favorite shows of all time, and its short six-episode run makes it easily digestable (though sadly brief!).
So, do yourself a favor this weekend: find Nathan Barley, crack open a PBR, adjust your tiny hat and enjoy.
Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.