** (out of four)
The Midnight Beast are a charismatic trio of singer-songwriters who've amassed a big following on YouTube with over 290,000 subscribers and a combined 40 million video hits. (Non-fans may remember their parody of Ke$ha's "TiK ToK" from 2009, which became a viral hit around the world.) Recently, The Midnight Beast have been touring the country and had a semi-autobiographic book published, and now E4 have decided to give Stefan Abingdon, Dru Wakely and Ashley Horne their own six-part sitcom.
It's understandable why, because this feels like it's intended to be a trendier version of Flight of the Conchords, spliced with the madcap tone of The Young Ones with some Inbetweeners-style attitude. The first thing to note is that it's been crafted with considerable care and attention, particular when the show breaks off into various songs from the band's repertoire. The ensuing music videos are wonderfully energetic, vibrant, creative and rather catchy. It's easy to see why The Midnight Beast has attracted a vocal following, as their online output is similarly sophisticated and professional. Whenever this pilot, "Someone Called Sam", essentially televised their YouTube act, it was on very safe ground.
Unfortunately, despite the group's charisma and enjoyable interplay, everything in-between the music is less amusing and witty. The basic setup of the sitcom has some promise, with the three guys flat-sharing in a graffiti-covered East London tower block, annoying their weird neighbour Sloman (Simon Farnaby), while trying to make it into the big time with the help of their useless manager Chevy (Ryan Pope). It's not too far removed from the Conchords' own HBO series—especially as Sloman effectively becomes a male version of Kristen Schaal's oddball super-fan by the end of this episode—but at least the similarities end there. The style of music and comedy is very different than the lackadaisical Conchords, being more effervescent and eagerly performed.
On the evidence of this first episode, the show falls between two stools. The music's great, the three leads are irresistible, and the production's slick and visually smart... but it just wasn't funny whenever the MD weren't performing, and the overall concept feels a little worn. It definitely needs stronger writing and more jokes, otherwise you could probably watch the group's YouTube channel and have a more enjoyable half-hour. But we'll see how things develop, because beyond the fact I didn't laugh at anything outside of the songs (like "I Kicked a Shark in the Face"), there was a confidence and swagger that made the show a fun watch.
written by Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris / directed by Ben Gregor / 5 July 2012 / E4