If you read Splitsider, you’ve probably got one or two favorite British comedy series that you’ve watched through and through, that you’re always eager to push on someone who hasn’t seen them. Mine is one that doesn’t come up often enough with comedy nerds, at least in my experience: It’s Smack the Pony, the female-led sketch series that ran on Channel 4 from 1999 to 2003. Popular during its run in England, Smack the Pony drew enthusiastic reviews and a handful of awards, but it doesn’t enjoy the reputation that other solid British series do. However, the entire series run is available on Hulu — that is, regular Hulu, not just fancypants Hulu Plus — and there’s a generous smattering available on YouTube. With this post, I’m hoping I can convince a few people to blow through all 22 episodes.
Smack the Pony stars Fiona Allen (Goodness Gracious Me, Comedy Nation), Doon Mackichan (The Day Today, Brass Eye) and Sally Phillips, who’s probably the most recognizable of the three for her roles on I’m Alan Partridge and Bridget Jones’s Diary. A few other actors appear frequently, and Sarah Alexander (Green Wing, Coupling and notably, for this audience, the wife of Peter Serafinowicz) shows up often enough that she’s basically the fourth lead. Together, they perform short sketches that range in comedic focus from ladies falling down to the strange ways humans interact with each other to sight gags about unkempt, shaggy muffs. What more could you want?
Here, then, is a sample of what makes Smack the Pony great.
The show’s signature sketch has to be the dating videos. They’re more than just Mad TV’s “Lowered Expectations” with British accents, however; the actors play a range of broken, lonely women, and we are encouraged to laugh at them. Example: “Hello. I’m Margaret. I’m 46. And I’ve never come.”
Every episode ends with a musical parody, and they always poke fun at bands popular at the time. End result: nostalgia for late ’90s/early 2000s bands and a shred of cultural relevance for Republica, which is right now being mentioned on the internet in 2013!
It’s a musically talented cast, and Doon Mackichan in particular gets to show off her awesome voice in this sketch, one of the show’s most famous:
In fact, this kind of competition between women is a recurring theme on the show, and this compilation shows off the best of it:
But the majority of sketches are one-offs that thoroughly investigate a funny idea and then run off into something else, the way comedy should.
Good, weird stuff, and the kind of comedy that should have made the Smack the Pony ladies bigger deals stateside. Alas, the cast’s follow-up project — 2004’s Gladiator parody, Gladiatress — wasn’t successful and, worse, was released roughly around the time the success of Shaun of the Dead made a lot of Americans suddenly interested in Spaced. That said, Fiona Allen and Sally Phillips have said that they’d like to work together again. In the meantime, here’s the first full episode of the show:
That makes as good a place to start as any, right?
Drew Mackie is a writer living in Los Angeles, where he mostly watches Simpsons reruns.