When you talk about rock music mockumentaries, one film in particular always comes to mind. That film, of course, is Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve quoted it – whether you know it or not. So influential was Spinal Tap that its hilarious dialogue has trickled into everyday vernacular, and the film itself is known as one of the finest comedies in the history or cinema. Many have tried to make a mockumentary like it, and many have failed. But Rhys Thomas is here, and he’s brought his friend Brian Pern with him. Watch out, Spinal Tap. Your days as the ‘funniest mockumentary of all time’ are numbered.
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Brian Pern: The Complete Series 1-3 follows the life of fictitious progressive rock-star Brian Pern - and from the opening seconds, it is clear this character isn’t completely fabricated. Brian Pern is in fact an affectionate parody of ‘prog’ icon Peter Gabriel, from his beginnings in a band (Thotch, a spoof of Genesis) through his solo career full of world music, charity and plasticine-filled videos. So much so, Peter even cameos in 3 episodes of the show and has publicly said “It made me laugh a lot, even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh”. It says a lot about a person’s character when they can laugh at themselves, and just when I thought I could never respect Peter Gabriel any more than I already do – boom, it looks like I can. What a legend.
Brian’s story is told over three 3-part programmes; The Life of Rock, A Life in Rock and 45 Years of Prog and Roll…And every single second of it is genius. As such, it’s hard to review Brian Pern. If I were to list everything that is good about it, this review would be the longest I’ve ever written. So let’s keep it brief and look at the best things about it, shall we? Firstly, the cast are phenomenal. Simon Day (known for The Fast Show and Grass) brings us easily his finest work to date as the often bewildered Brian Pern, with subtly brilliant Peter Gabriel mannerisms and speaking patterns throughout. But the show is an ensemble piece. Delivered as a serious fly-on-the-wall documentary, everybody delivers hilarious straight-faced performances from Paul Whitehouse and Nigel Havers as two of Brian’s ex-bandmates, to Michael Kitchen as Brian’s foul-mouthed no-nonsense manager. Look out for brilliant cameos throughout from Brian’s music contemporaries such as Roy Wood and Queen’s Roger Taylor – humorously confused in the show with Duran Duran’s drummer of the same name. From Reeves and Mortimer’s Mulligan & O’Hare to stars playing themselves and showing us their funny bones, the whole cast gives Brian Pern a surreal sort of realism that adds massively to the immense enjoyment of the series.
There’s something for everyone in Brian Pern and whoever you are, I can guarantee you’ll be on the floor laughing within the first episode alone. But with that said, there’s a lot more to like here for music-buffs. Brian Pern sharply satirises all elements of the music business across most genres, with shedloads of hilarious references to true music stories and albums. All periods of Brian’s career are clear spoofs of real music works, from his heavily Peter Gabriel-influenced ‘Spirit Level’ album to his Day of the Triffids concept rock opera which is a wonderfully bonkers War of the Worlds parody. Throw in some collaborations with a Happy Mondays-esque Manchester band produced by a hilarious Christopher Eccleston, a charity album to raise money for bi-polar polar bears, a jukebox musical on the West End starring Martin Freeman and a troubled break-up and reunion with Thotch – and that’s just a small taster of Brian Pern’s hilariously cliché-stuffed story. Nobody, and no music story, is safe from spoofing here.
Brian Pern is easily one of the most consistently hilarious television programmes in recent years. And at just 9 episodes (10 if you count the bonus ‘Brian Pern at the BBC’ episode), it leaves you wanting more – but thanks to not outstaying its welcome, it doesn’t begin to go sour either. Rhys Thomas has created a future cult-classic here, and has kicked Spinal Tap off the top spot in the genre. Absolutely pitch perfect comedy gold.
Brian Pern is a flawless piece of work that will be the ‘mockumentary’ to beat for many years to come. Long live mock. 5/5.
Brian Pern: The Complete Series 1-3 at CeX
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