Before diving into the highly bizarre 2006 BBC Three sketch-comedy series Snuff Box, it may help to check out the DVD set’s “Taking Control Of Your Body” featurette, in which an eclectic array of Snuff Box fans from Weird Al to Simon Pegg explain why a six-episode show that almost nobody watched is one of the peak achievements of the recent British comedy Golden Age. Created by comic character actors Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher—best-known for their supporting roles in cult shows like The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace—Snuff Box features Berry as a hangman/lothario and Fulcher as his assistant/rival; they spend each episode wandering in and out of skits while also continuing the serialized story of their troubled friendship. Some elements recur from week to week: The boys hang out in a classy executioners’ club; Fulcher travels through time to a room apparently designed to accommodate occult rituals and topless prostitutes; Berry deals with unhelpful sales clerks; the boys re-imagine a musical performance from The Old Grey Whistle Test (with Richard Ayoade playing the host); a censorship board thoughtfully weighs the pros and cons of porno films; and so on. But even these repeated bits back up what Paul Rudd says in the featurette, that Snuff Box takes some adjusting to, because it’s “not derivative of anything.”
Although that isn’t entirely true. The show’s sketch/story hybrid resembles Monty Python and Firesign Theater—not just in structure, but in sense of humor—and the feel of Snuff Box overall is very ’70s, right down to Berry’s nonsense disco theme song “I Can’t Be In Love If It’s Plastic.” But there’s a particularly weird energy to the pairing of these two largely low-key, pudgy guys: one an Englishmen who mutters his way through life unless he’s hollering for “Whiskeeeey!” or shouting “Fuck you!” to pretty girls who already have boyfriends, the other an American with a voice so nasal and monotone that he almost sounds like a Brit doing an impression of an American. They’re both so nondescript that they make Snuff Box’s sudden veering into graphic violence and sex-talk all the more shocking—and all the funnier. Because it isn’t just the style that makes Snuff Box so addicting; it’s sublimely silly sketches like The Rapper With A Baby (“a little bitty motherfuckin’ bay-bay”), and hilariously crude throwaway lines like “I know you’ve got chemotherapy tomorrow, but can’t you break away for one fuckin’ night?” It’d be impossible to pinpoint one Snuff Box moment as definitive, but it’s hard to beat Berry and Fulcher’s imagining of a hard-up Christopher Lee doing his horror shtick for a skin flick, if only because it contains the quintessentially Snuff Box-ian line, “Whaddaya want her to do: come, or shit all over the floor?”
Key features: Video testimonials galore from famous (and cult) comedians; behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes; commentary on three episodes by Berry, Fulcher, and director Michael Cumming; and a bonus disc containing the show’s soundtrack.