Comedy goes through fashions. A decade ago, mockumentaries such as The Office were being commissioned ten-a-penny, largely in response to the bursting of the docu-soap bubble that dominated in the late 90’s. Then Gavin & Stacey started a trend for comedies with provincial settings where a fairly sedate couple of central characters were surrounded by an assortment of local oddballs. The most recent in-thing has been the return of the traditional sitcom, with live audiences and a flat-stage format, for example Miranda or Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Yet surrealist, mad-cap comedy has been by-passed. Ok, we had The Mighty Boosh, but that never really left its cult origins, even if Noel Fielding is now allowed to appear on prime-time shows like QI. But the genre may have found its saviour in the shape of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer new sitcom House of Fools. I have loved their work since watching Shooting Stars as a child and I was bitterly disappointed when the BBC axed it a couple of years ago in the face of apparent competition from Celebrity Juice and the like. Personally, I avoid CJ and it’s even more cerebrally-challenged cousins Fake Reaction and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff  like bum-plague.

I digress. Anyway, it is a delight to have them back on our screens being Vic and Bob the performers and centre-stage again, with Vic stepping out of the shadows of Hebburn and Bob getting a gig other than panel show host or guest (although he is brilliant at this – see both of his appearance on Would I Lie To You? where he steals the show). The sitcom is exactly what you would expect from them – bizarre cultural references, outlandish physical humour and a plot that never seems to matter yet somehow comes together as the episode progresses.

The choice of supporting cast is inspired as well. Matt Berry is more than capable of handling the oddest of scenes and delivers his lines with an Olivier-style roar that makes his role far funnier than it has a right to be. Morgana Robinson, Dan Skinner and Erik Simonson all likewise ham it up the way they should. Mortimer is a great straight guy to the outlandishness of the others yet is never forced into the background. The one and only criticism I have of the show is its tendency to stray to the scatological to easily to bridge a gap in the script, but Vic and Bob have always been known for this, and if anyone can actually write a half-decent fart gag it is them.

On the one hand, it would be nice if House of Fools encouraged more shows such as this on to the mainstream channels. The dominance of ‘family’ sitcoms needs to be challenged. Yet somehow, I don’t think anyone could make a show like this as good as Vic and Bob, and an inferior product would only tarnish the quality of the genre as a whole. Maybe, for the sake of us comedy lovers everywhere, House of Fools and its closest relation Count Arthur Strong (another gem), should remain the isolated examples that they are. At least, until someone who can surpass them finally comes along.