I recommend the 2005 Channel 4 sitcom Nathan Barley to those who, like me, may have missed it. It was released ten years ago now, and ten years ago those of us who are now 21 were 11. That’s just maths. I don’t recommend it to 11 year olds. Sorry, but you just won’t enjoy it.
The 21 year olds will though, because its lambasting of hipster twattery is still very relevant. While Nicholas Burns does a great job of playing the BMX-riding, Bluetooth-wearing Nathan Barley, the real protagonist is Dan Ashcroft. Dan, played by Julian Barratt, is a curmudgeonly writer whose constant efforts to insult the brainless idiots surrounding him at the magazine ‘Sugar Ape’ (stylised sugaRAPE) are routinely misinterpreted by said idiots, and they worship him as a genius. This drives him to despair, and whenever he thinks he’s finally got one up on them, it comes round to bite him in the arse.
You can tell from the straight-faced surrealness of the dialogue that it was written by the Dark Lord of comedy: Chris Morris. It’s interesting that he also co-wrote it with his equally formidable satirical successor Charlie Brooker. The Mighty Boosh both feature along with fellow Boosh, Darkplace and IT Crowder Richard Ayoade, and Benedict Cumberbatch seems to have been favoured by Chris Morris long before he became the acting world’s darling. The cast is an interweaving web of British comedy.
Nathan Barley is the epitome of everything Dan Ashcroft hates. While Dan is permanently broke, Barley is a ‘self-facilitated media node’ with his own offices and editing facilities where he makes cruel prank videos featuring his timid assistant Pingu (Ben Wishaw). His entire career is based on creating vacuous shit for his obnoxious website Trashbat.co.ck, and is a satirical attack on the Shoreditch media-types who have the dress sense and confidence of The Libertines, but with none of the talent.
Dan’s sister Claire Ashcroft (Claire Keelan) is a filmmaker who wants to capture the tragedy of drug addiction in London. Like Dan, she isn’t a member of the hipster hoards, but she isn’t opposed to them either. When Nathan offers her the use of his editing suite she can’t say yes quickly enough. In a funny yet disturbing scene, legitimate filmmaking getting into bed with vacuous new-media is depicted all too literally as Nathan freestyles in a faux Jamaican accent about what he’s going to do to Claire.
The supporting characters provide different angles to the show. Noel Fielding plays Jones, Dan’s flat mate who is completely oblivious to the sheer awfulness of the techno music he spends his life creating. Despite this, Dan doesn’t hate him. Jones is the sweet, good-intentioned side of Shoreditch. While Nathan Barley is a savage satire, it’s willing to concede that not all hipsters are bad people. Jonatton Yeah? (Charlie Condou) is the editor of Sugar Ape, and is perfectly aware that the people he employs are imbeciles. He seems too sardonic to be part of Barley et. al’s world, yet humours them all the same, taking a sadistic pleasure in submitting Dan to it and making a profit while he’s at it. Normal people Sasha (Nina Sosanya) secretary of Suger Ape, and Robin (Benedict Cumberbatch) accountant of pop star lunatic Doug Rockett, pop-up on occasion, proving that Nathan Barley isn’t just a pilot for Black Mirror. Richard Ayoade, Rhys Thomas, and Spencer Brown, all do a great job of playing dickheads.
I said at the start that Nathan Barley is still relevant, and it is. I would like to think that, like Dan Ashcroft, I’m an under-appreciated writer amongst all the Barley-esque Youtube twerps. I am, however, someone who writes a blog accompanied by poorly drawn pictures made in Microsoft paint….