The pilot episode of Campus seemed a little too animated and familiar in format to its writer’s previous works, Green Wing and Smack the Pony, to meet the expectations of an audience used to the brilliance of writer Victoria Pile. However, the new comedy, following the lives of staff and students at the fictitious Kirke University, has matured and proven to become a hilarious depiction of characters in an ‘archetypal’ university campus.
Amongst the brilliant extreme and hyper -charged characters is the bigoted, sexist and racist Jonty De Wolfe, Vice Chancellor of Kirke. Equally amusing as he is disturbing, the show follows his bizarre attempts to raise the prestige and reputation of the University through any means possible – from making staff members play ‘Twister’ in order to keep their jobs, to persuading a student to commit suicide over a budget mishap. Although obvious and superficial comparisons can be seen between De Wolfe and David Brent of The Office, the flashes of dark and twisted genius drawn from Kirke’s Vice Chancellor set him apart from anything cast in the Gervais mould.
As the series has progressed, we come to see that the real brilliance of this show derives from the subtle humour and awkwardness of the more authentic characters. The childlike and comical relationship between naïve and hapless accountant Jason and accommodations officer Nicole, is a highlight, whilst the eager post-grad/sportsman Flatpack provides an endearing contrast to the caricature that is Matt Beer (geddit), both seeking the affection of the Maths geek, Imogen Moffat.
The womanizer, Matt Beer, is a particular treat to watch, portrayed brilliantly by Joseph Millson. He has delighted me, and fellow English Literature students, with lines like “If you want to get laid do English, if you want your genitals to wither away do Science.”
However, plot gaps are poorly filled, such as the arrival of Canadian George Bryan, a cold and rather dull character who has been brought in to resolve the University’s financial problems and the aggressive two-dimensional mechanics teacher Lydia. Green Wing fans may well be disappointed with its successor, it set a high bar for great British comedy, but Kirke University is warming up, providing a backdrop for outrageous characters and some genuinely funny writing.
Save for the gem that is Inbetweeners, Campus provides refreshing drink of surrealist wit in a veritable TV drought. Just as Jonty De Wolfe said of Kirke University, Campus “gleams like a bleached anus in a line-up of dirty arses.”