Nathan Barley, Channel 4

by | Mar 18, 2005 | All, Reviews

Debut Friday 11 February 2005, Channel 4

Chris Morris’s return to TV, a sitcom featuring the obnoxious character from satirical website TVGoHome. It is co-written by The Guardian Guide’s Charlie Brooker. Barley is a former public schoolboy who lives in fictional district of Hosegate (based on trendy Hoxton), works as a webmaster, guerrilla film-maker and “self-facilitating media node” and is obsessed with gadgets and extreme sports.

Also features the fictional Channel 7 where rad chick VJ Dajve Bikinus presents weekly music show Snoopy Beats, which was commissioned by Ivan Plapp.

The cast

Nicholas Burns as Nathan Barley, who runs, “an online urban culture dispatj”

Julian Barratt as Dan Ashcroft, a columnist for the style bible Sugar Ape

Charlie Condou as Sugar Ape’s editor Jonatton Yeah? (the “?” was added by deed poll)

Claire Keelen as Dan’s sister Claire, a documentary film-maker

Noel Fielding as Jones

Richard Ayoade as Ned

Oliver Chris as Weekend On Sunday features editor Max Herbert

Spencer Brown as Rufus Onslatt

David Hoyle as Doug Rocket

Nina Sosanya as receptionist Sasha

Rhys Thomas as Toby, the receptionist as the studio facility

Ben Whipshaw as trashbat’s animator Pingu

Stephen Beresford as Ivan Plapp

Paul Chipes as Frank Boyce

Benedict Cumberbatch as Robin

Kevin Eldon as Nikolai The Barber

Julia Davis as the weathergirl

Iddo Goldberg as 15Peter20

Matthew Horne as Bumph-UK Assistant

Ophelia Lovibond as Mandy

Stapehen Mangan as Rod Senseless

Celia Meiras as Dajve Bikinus

Episode guide

1 – Dan Ashcroft, the self-styled pus-jockey and columinist on Sugar Ape magazine, encounters the horrendous Nathan Barley who adores Dan’s latest article, The Rise of the Idiots. And things get worse for Dan when he walks out on Sugar Ape but then fails to land a job on Weekend On Sunday (which is leading on (‘Tom Paulin – Haunted by Rumour’ and features what’s on Michael Portillo’s iPod) because he knows nothing of wine (even Dutch wine). And then his stubborn sister Claire moves into Barley’s media empire.

2 – Barley throws a celebratory party for his cripplingly awful website, and gets closer to Claire. Meanwhile, Dan is canonised against his wishes.

3 – Dan is afflicted by the presence of a photographer who labels himself 15Peter20. Meanwhile, his sister Claire is succumbing to the advances of the unpleasant Nathan who is seducing her with the aid of alcohol.

4 – As Nathan adjusts his style to ever lower depths of self-depravity to impress TV hostess Djave ‘dave’ Bikinus, Dan is bemused to discover he is lauded by the Sugar Ape staff for creating a new hair style after sleeping in paint. Elsewhere, something is killed.

5 – Dan feels the strain of enraged alienation once more as Sugar Ape editor Jonatton Yeah? asks him to get it on with another straight man. Meanwhile, Nathan sinks his tainted claws into a pliant, and decidedly stupid, model as she enjoys a coke-induced high.

6 – Nathan piggy backs his way into Claire’s meeting with a TV commissioner, while his oppressed sidekick Pingu suffers again. Meanwhile, Dan is euphoric about his plan to destroy Nathan, but will it mean destroying himself, too?

Nathan Barley, Friday, Channel 4

What to say of you liked it

A savage expose of the incestuous, indulgent, incompetent world of the London media.

What to say if you didn’t like it

• A horridly bigoted fantasy concocted by a bunch of estranged malcontents jealous of the incandescent imagination of Britain’s premier creative industry – the media.

What was good about it?

• The original format for the comedy which is essentially a torrent of venom spat at the people who control the contemporary tastes of the nation but who are in reality a pair of leaden boots trying to keep everybody else at their abasing abyssal depth of humanity.

• Its targets read like a checklist of the most putrid effluence in society – people who wear sunglasses on their head; the glib bastardisation of the English language by indolent “creatives”; those who determine their entire identity through their mobile phone; “wacky” web “funnies” and the people who proliferate them through emails; those mannequins of excrement who overuse the words “cool”, “et-cet-eraaa” and “awesome” as well as using “yeah” as capital letters at the start of sentences, apostrophes and full stops; and people who believe Peter Doherty is “cool”. Hopefully

those who believe fashion is at all relevant and who drink champagne to celebrate when they don’t like the taste will be covered in future episodes.

• The allegory to Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which weary journalist Dan writes a piece on the “Idiots” inspired by his oblivious colleagues, who hail the article as a work of genius. But after Dan goes for an interview at the more grown up Weekend on Sunday he finds that the idiots are everywhere and he must do all he can to prevent himself from falling into their ways represented by the crude version of Paper, Scissors, Stone (Cock, Muff, Bumhole) rather than by falling asleep. But sadly he succumbs on a trip to the pub.

• The excruciatingly well-observed interview Dan has at the Weekend on Sunday, where he is expected to write features on the twin dread omens of middle-age obsolescence – motoring and wine – and his failure to have an interest in either subject doesn’t impress the guitar strumming editor.

• The utter conceited ignorance of those media-types most deeply entrenched in their own pit of decadent slurry such as receptionist Toby who remarks that a band were able “to knock themselves off number one with the same record”, but doesn’t know how because “it was in France”.

What was bad about it?

• Most of the characters are so irritating they would have been quietly dispatched into the afterlife at an earlier stage of their careers, which was most keenly illustrated in the Sugar Ape offices with the writer who applauded using just his forefingers and staffers who rode around the office on child’s toy tractors with micro-cowboy hats atop their empty heads. It was very funny, though.

• Because of the ranting nature of the script there are very few conventional jokes and it may only appeal to an esoteric few who have been exposed to the kind of irradiated idiocy exhibited by Nathan Barley and his cronies.

Top 10 highlights of Nathan Barley (2), Channel 4

1 – is celebrating its first birthday. The flyers are a tasteful Guantanamo Bay theme. “You can come,” guffs Nathan to a bloke on the bus. “So can you!” he leers at a girl. “Again, and again, and again…”

2 – Editor of SugaRAPE magazine Jonatton Yeah? (question mark added by deed poll) justifies Dan Aschroft’s absurd preacher man outfit, which is set to grace the next edition’s front page: “Stupid people think it’s cool, smart people think it’s a joke. Either way works for me.”

3 – According to Nathan, Friday’s party will be “well Jackson,” as well as “totally f**kin’ Mexico” as well as “totally de-reg.”

4 – What is also totally de-reg in Nathan’s mind is Scum Vegas, a Russian website where you can bet on such delights as Tramp Racing and Teeth Pulling.

5 – A past SugaRAPE front page, framed in Dan’s office features a large photo of Johnny Depp with the legend: “Am I a Twat?”

6 – Dan and Claire’s nutty flatmate, busting out “massive beats” from an iPod/deck/kazoo contraption. “I’m just popping out for about four or five days. But I’ll still be here if you need me!”

7 – Dan trying desperately to be thrown out of a club to avoid the embarrassment of his preacher outfit. “I’m trouble!” “No you’re not.” “I’ve got a gun!” “Really?!”

8 – The absurd, yet strangely plausible outfits of the dancers at the club – beekeepers boogie alongside frogmen with breathing apparatus. Is this really so unbelievable?

9 – Nathan’s atrocious rap. “Malcolm X, Memorex, Billy Hicks, MTV…Trashbat says nice and gently/Easy as you park the Bentley!”

10 – Dan’s rant at the crowd (“You’re all idiots! What’s wrong with you people?”) is received with cheers. There is no way out for this man: having failed miserably in trying to get into ‘serious’ journalism, all that’s left for him is a world of idiots – of which he is slowly but inevitably becoming a part.

Top 10 highlights of Nathan Barley (3), Channel 4, Friday

1 – Photographer 15Peter20’s exhibition of celebrities pissing (“I believe that pissing is like crying through your genitals”) which included Mark Thomas urinating through the letterbox of 10 Downing Street; a laughing David Bowie in a toaster; a naked Jamie Oliver leaping as an arc of wee loops around his thighs; Bono slashing into an electric fan and luxuriating in the sprayback; and Kylie in a soaked flimsy outfit (“We knew Kylie’s piss was real because her hotpants smelt of bees.”)

2 – The Regime restaurant that Nathan takes Claire to where your meal is decided for you by placing a finger in a slot that analyses your mineral balance and orders a suitable dish.

3 – Nathan rapping in patois while he forlornly tries to seduce Claire in bed. “Kissin’ the neck, kissin, the neck/taking de lips down to de nips/ then I head down south, south with de mouth/ comin’ up for air and me mouth say ‘yeah’.” And after she rejects his advances, Nathan goes to sleep on top of her.

4 – The pretentious idiot on the adjacent table to Nathan and Claire at Regime, who enlightens the couple when their drinks arrive in bizarre spherical containers (“It’s a beer gourd, actually. It’s part of the analogue brewing process that helps retain the flavours.”). And later when he scolds Claire for swearing at Dan during a phone call (“Could you moderate the language, please. Some of us are trying to communicate in pleasancy!”).

5 – When Claire visits Doug Rocket about funding for her film, she is forced to watch him leap about like a monkey as he concludes his “Ape Hour”; but as she goes to sit down he warns her: “Would you move off there. That’s my high rock.”

6 – Toby complimenting Claire on her pissing technique as part of his futile efforts to chat her up. “It sounded good. Strong, healthy jet.”

7 – Sugar Ape writers Ned Smanks and Rufus Onslatt perpetually repeating what each other has just said in a slightly different way.

8 – The poster on Doug Rocket’s wall for Email – The Musical starring Dannii Minogue, Roger Taylor and Ross Kemp as Pixel; with lyrics by Ben Elton.

9 – Dan’s introduction to his article on 15Peter20 which begins: “15Peter20 is a tadpole. Give him a punch on the cock from me. And then burn down his gallery and blow the ashes us his arse with a trumpet.” Until he is informed the editorial stance of Sugar Ape is to regard 15Peter20 as a genius.

10 – The cast having names almost as odd as the characters. Iddo Goldberg, Benedict Cumberbatch, Charlie Condou, Jolyon Rubenstein, Isibeal Balance, Rupert Degas, Joe van Moyland and Deah Miranda.

Top 10 highlights of Nathan Barley (4), Channel 4

1 – The fickle finger of fashion fate being raised in ridicule at Nathan, but then pointing in admiration, but then being raised again in ridicule, but then pointing again in admiration. His copying of Dan’s Geek Pie hairstyle (which Dan accidentally acquired – see below) was a fashion faux pas (although Nathan insisted: “Today ridicule, tomorrow really cool”), but grabbing a golden bag and putting that on his head was a triumph (“Mexican street gangs wear bags on their heads”). But when the bag was ripped off, his Geek Pie attracted derisive laughter. But not from the crew from Japanese fashion TV who grabbed him as he walked away in shame and decided the style was just the coolest thing.

2 – Nathan’s infatuation with his female equivalent in fatuousness Dajve Bikinus who was well impressed by Nathan’s dance to Can’t Stop This

3 – Dajve’s row with her stylish as she prepares to take Nathan to the premiere of the new video by The Bikes. “I do not beige!”

3 – A drunken Dan falling asleep among cans of paint and waking up in such a mess that he had to rush to a barber’s before a meeting with a bank manager.

4 – Dan’s unfortunate mistake in picking mad Nikolai (the ever sinister Kevin Eldon) to cut his hair – the barber snipped with painstaking precision when he wasn’t talking about his growling cat Elizabeth.

5 – The accidental death of Elizabeth when Dan dropped Nikolai’s scissors into the cat’s skull.

6 – Dave Rocket, played brilliantly by the man who used to be the world’s best cabaret star the Divine David, not caring a jot when his accountant told him he’d lost 400 grand. “Have you ever taken acid, because maybe you should.” There’s no need for Dave to worry, really, because he’s full of bright ideas. His latest? A4 Sounds, a concept album about the various sizes of paper.

7 – Nathan’s latest expressions: Clairsickle, well bum, laters you greasy cockfart, alright me niggaz, honeytits, glovef**ks, awesome fu**king Welles, does the Pope f**k kids?

8 – The ultra-trendy Stanley Knives hair salon where DJ Jones (Noel Fielding) is on the decks

9 – The hideously bad song by The Bikes called Terrorists Are Gay

10 – Glit magazine, leading on Celebrity Munters

Top 8 highlights of Nathan Barley (5), Channel 4

1 – Chris Morris proving he’s still got the power to shock with the scene in which Nathan Barley is getting a blowjob from cokehead Maria and then comes instantly when he hears, via mobile phone, that she’s only 13.

2 – Nathan getting praise from Rufus and Ned, who are very impressed that he got the blowjob from a 13-year-old (“Well munch!”).

3 – Coked-up Maria also being coerced by Nathan to appear in a video, singing being abused by her uncle

4 – Dan getting his latest commission from sugaRAPE editor Jonatton Yeah? “Write about the straight-on-straight gay action in working class pubs like the Grey Lion. Toss off a builder, then write about it.”

5 – Dan bringing a builder to orgasm at the urinal in the gents at the Grey Lion, while wearing gloves and a very miserable expression

6 – The pretentious dancing to Hey Ya at the launch of sugaRAPE’s Vice Issue

7 – Julia Davis as the miserable, eye rolling TV weather forecaster

8 – Nathan’s tartan trousers, yellow shirt and sky blue jacket

Top 7 highlights of Nathan Barley (6), Channel 4

1 – Nathan’s trick on the distracted Pingu as he jumps out of a door wearing a balaclava and brandishing a fake pistol which causes the agitated boffin to leap out of their first floor office window on to the sidestreet below. And later when Dan repeats the same jape on Nathan, just as Pingu is returning from hospital with Claire which provokes him to toss himself out of the same window again. He is shortly followed by a suicidal Dan, who realises in his plot to destroy “King of the Idiots” he has become that which he most despises. Pingu luckily lands on a parked van and is fine; Dan, however, “bounced” and lies in a crumpled heap in the sidestreet.

2 – Nathan hijacking Claire’s meeting at Channel 7 (whose logo is a six fingered hand contorting on a liquid screen) where she aims to pitch her film about London’s underclass. Commissioning Editor Ivan Plapp dismisses Claire’s film as “sad face”, but is intrigued by her film on ex-heroin addict choirs (“It’s not funny, but it does make us laugh. There’s a positive message for people, but if we want, we can drop back a layer and laugh if we’re in the chuckle demographic.”). And Ivan is very impressed by Nathan’s webcam pranks: “Very satirical and Swift as Jackass.” To which the bemused Nathan retorts: “Or even faster!”

3 – When Dan gets hold of the film in which Nathan is seen to be the masked “robber” who scared Pingu out of the window he orders him to sabotage his fledgling TV career in the pub by grabbing Ivan Plapp’s bollocks, throwing nuts at him (Ivan: “Peanuts in the face. Interesting!”) and pouring a pint over his head. To which the incredulous Ivan, thinking he might be part of a Barley prank, shrilly responds: “Am I the centre of something here? Is something brilliant happening?”

4 – After Nathan buys Dan a coffee, Dan deliberately avoids the same style of coffee as his oblivious nemesis. Dan: “No sugar.” Nathan: “Sugar’s rubbish!” Dan: “Can I have one sugar.” Nathan: “Actually, I’ll have one sugar as well.” Dan: “Can I have some scrambled egg in there, please.” Nathan: “Put some egg in mine.” Dan: “And some tomato salmon as well.” But much to Dan’s annoyance Nathan enjoys the concoction and signs off with a “Cheers, Preach!”

5 – Pingu immersed in a computer game called Labour Party Conference where he controls Andrew Marr from a first-person perspective who is “trapped in a hotel” where “something has gone wrong”. The sub-Resident Evil clone features Gordon Brown in his underpants squawking down the deserted corridors and a trouserless Tony Blair doing something unspeakable.

6 – The police sign about an armed robbery that causes the already traumatised Pingu to shake with fear again. “We are 90% certain he was an anti-terrorist police officer because they’ve all gone mental you should see them just trying to tie their shoelaces without shooting the f**k out of everything but just in case it wasn’t please call the number but if it was we are sorry.” And the appendage to viewers with a pause button that ran along the lines of: “What are you reading this for you obsessional deviant DVD bandit sodsplit.”

7 – The SugaRAPE team debating Nathan Barley’s latest webcam antics. The wearied Jonatton Yeah? remarks: “That’s hilarious & Co.”. Rufus: “You should give Nathan Barley a column.” Ned: “Yeah, you should give Nathan Barley a column!” Rufus: “You should call it Nathan Barley’s Column.” Ned: “Just call it Barley, yeah.” etcetera.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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