Hyperdrive/Feel the Force
Empty10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19
BBC America tries its hand at flat-out farce with this pair of comedies that -- like most spoofs -- prove to be a fairly even mix of hit and miss. But when "Hyperdrive" and "Feel the Force" do hit, they're pretty darn hilarious, proving that the American primetime TV comedy vacuum of the moment hasn't extended overseas in general and the U.K. in particular.
"Hyperdrive" is a sci-fi parody set in the year 2151. The idea is that the British have launched a fleet of spaceships to explore the galaxy and keep the intergalactic realm safe for understated human reserve and regular tea breaks. The assignment facing the clueless Commander Henderson (Nick Frost of "Shaun of the Dead"), who leads the HMS Camden Lock, is supposedly to keep his nation's interests well represented in the great beyond. But clearly, the commander is far more interested in preserving his historical legacy than he is in seeking out new life/civilizations, much less boldly going where no one has gone before. He struggles to lead the usual crew of misfits, whom in the premiere seem to greatly minimize the fact that a murderous parasite has found its way on board their spacecraft until it's nearly too late. Think "Galaxy Quest" on hallucinogens.
The gang of nutballs in "Hyperdrive" includes a borderline psychopath first officer (Kevin Eldon), a diplomatic officer who is a confirmed sycophant (Miranda Hart), a manic-depressive navigator (Stephen Evans), a technical officer who could blow at any moment (Dan Antopolski) and -- giving orders from on high -- a baldly ambitious space marshal (Paterson Joseph). There are some funny lines and sight gags and knee-slapping situations, but the show has the feel of a quick burnout, a one-joke concept that may be a bit too broad for its own potential longevity.
"Feel the Force," by contrast, is clearly inspired by Comedy Central's "Reno 911!" -- if a somewhat more droll and less obvious homage. Less slapstick than cheeky, it focuses on a pair of doofus cops named Sally Bobbins (Michelle Gomez) and Sally Frank (Rosie Cavaliero) who are to "Cagney & Lacey" what the pogo stick is to mass transportation. They are divertingly clueless and incessantly bumbling, constantly running afoul of a steely sergeant (Leigh Zimmerman) who realizes that these women have little chance of keeping the city of Edinburgh free of crime. They are not only an accident waiting to happen; they're accidents in progress.
The irreverence here often is obvious but produces plenty of laughs nonetheless. Like "Hyperdrive," "Force" doesn't forge new comedic directions, supplying instead a nice piece of escapist fun. And if it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.