Before I started writing about what I watched on TV, I carved out a living as a primary school supply teacher. Though I was often left work to teach the pupils, I was told on multiple occasions to stick on a song from the Horrible Histories video if they were getting a little out-of-hand. These videos always seemed to do the trick and all the kids were entranced, unaware that they were actually learning about history. After four series and numerous specials, Horrible Histories finished on CBBC and the gang were looking for new projects. Initially thinking about making a film based around an elf, the Horrible Histories group later decided to use this idea for a series. The result was Yonderland, a fantasy sitcom that has something for the whole family and which Sky One were quick to snap up.
The basic plot of Yonderland is centred on Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas), a bored housewife who spends her days at Zumba classes or watching the rubbish game show ‘What’s in the Box?’ Her days are empty now that her daughters are at school though her well-meaning husband Peter (Dan Renton Skinner) tries his best to calm her down. But Debbie is soon thrust into a world of adventure after the Elders of Yonderland believe that she is ‘The Chosen One’ who will save them from the evil Negatus (Simon Barnaby). The only problem is that they don’t quite know what she’s been chosen for as the scroll with that information on was mislaid by Lord Elder Pressley (Jim Howick) on a drunken night out. Debbie is then forced to undertake a series of missions to discover her true identity while making sure she’s back in time to pick up her girls from school.
I don’t want to give too much away about Yonderland, as part of the charm is not knowing anything about the jokes beforehand. According to cast member Matthew Baynton, the main influence for the show was the film ‘Labyrinth’. Indeed, the combination of puppets and live action adventure does slightly put me in mind of the Jim Henson film, even if Barnaby’s evil villain doesn’t have quite the same effect as David Bowie’s Jareth. Another comparison that was made during the preview was to Monty Python and I would say this was more apt. The combination of a well-written plot and sketch show elements does evoke memories of the Monty Python films and it appears to me as if every effort was made to get as many laughs in as possible. In particular Howick’s old crone really put me in mind of Terry Jones in ‘Life of Brian’ to the extent that I was expecting him to acclaim ‘he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.’
With plenty of jokes to appeal to every member of the family, as well as a moral lesson build into every episode, I feel that Yonderland will be Sky’s biggest homegrown comedy hit to date. I laughed throughout at the sometimes clever, often silly humour and felt all six performers really did their all to transport the audience to Yonderland. I really can’t wait for the show to air so I can share my favourite gags with other people who’ve already seen it. Though Yonderland won’t be the go-to video for supply teachers to air, I can see the pupils quoting lines from it on the playground the next day and I’m guessing that’s just what the team behind the show would want.
Yonderland begins this Sunday at 6:30pm on Sky One.