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Image credit: Mischief Theater

'The Goes Wrong Show' gets funnier while things get worse

Meet the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society.
Daniel Cooper, @danielwcooper
August 17, 2020
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The Goes Wrong Show
The Goes Wrong Show - 'A Trial To Watch' Mischief Theater

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There are comedies that try to dazzle you with the depth of their cleverness and comedies that just want to hit the big red button in our brains that make us giggle. There are comedies that feel above the need to go for a joke and instead relying on our relationship to the characters. And then there are comedies where someone gets smacked in the face because, damn it, someone getting smacked in the face is almost always funny.

It takes a rare show that can do all of those things at once and get away with it, but The Goes Wrong Show isn’t your average half-hour British sitcom. The show is the latest installment in the Goes Wrong saga, spanning three theater shows and, before this, two hour-long comedy specials. And it’s available to Amazon Prime Video users in the US as of August 15th, eight months after its first airing in the UK.

Each Goes Wrong story is set in the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, a bunch of amateur actors and technicians. To fit the six-episode, half-hour format, the society has been chosen to front Play of the Week, a new anthology series for BBC One. Each week, an obscure play is taken from the archives and performed and broadcast to the nation live. And each week, the play goes wrong through a combination of incompetence and overambition.

On one level, The Goes Wrong Show is about disaster, and the plucky spirit of people out of their depth trying to struggle on. There’s also the saga of the “cast’s” dueling egos as they break out of character to fight for more screen time and attention live on British TV. The show’s plots are then intricate Swiss watches of British farce as each indignity and crisis piles on to one another. Oh, and you can laugh when people get smacked in the head.

In order to be this bad, the cast have to be inch-perfect, and on your fourth or fifth re-watch you’ll start to spot how difficult making this show must have been. Each member of the cast is a pro at something or other and they frequently do their own stunts live in order to keep things moving. It helps that the production team outdo themselves with sets that go wrong in increasingly complicated ways. Being awful has never taken this much effort. 

The finest thing I can say about it is that, as a dedicated Mischief Theatre fan, I’ve watched and re-watched this series at least ten times. And not too long ago, my four-year-old daughter asked to watch it with me, and often asks to watch episodes again. She doesn’t even just laugh at the really broad bits: She’s low-key obsessed with how Henry Shields (as Cornley head Chris Bean) manages to demonstrate simmering rage without ever breaking into real anger.

— Dan Cooper, Senior Editor

*The series is posted out of order, as a scheduling snafu meant the Christmas episode aired first, when it should be last. Of course, on streaming you can watch things in any order, and episode two, helpfully titled “The Pilot (Not the Pilot)” may be a better introduction to the the show’s concept.

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