Continuing our series of TV shows you need to see, it’s Chris Morris’s controversial Jam.
Despite having considerably less of a media presence than many of his Twitter-happy panel-guest peers, Chris Morris has been quietly and steadily creating some of the best satire of the last 20 years. Like all the best satirists, his work has always drawn controversy, from the infamous Brass Eye paedophile special, which drew thousands of complaints when it aired in 2001, to his film Four Lions, which dared to portray terrorists as being possibly more than rambling jihadists. This controversy though, as is most often the case, was mostly a knee jerk reaction from people who had either failed to understand the satirical nature of Morris’ comedy or hadn’t in fact seen the episode or film in question. Even David Blunkett, then the Home Secretary, weighed in on the Brass Eye special to say he had been dismayed by it, regardless of the fact that he had been on holiday at the time that it aired.
Jam is one of the darkest TV shows ever. Each episode begins with a monologue from Morris delivered over discordant ambient music
Jam, and its Radio 1 predecessor, Blue Jam, were born from Morris’s desolate mood after struggling to get the first series of Brass Eye on the air and having to act as a “surrogate lawyer” whilst defending the show against its detractors. The product of a man at the end of his tether due to the restrictions of broadcasting, the original radio series was a mix of surreal sketches, monologues and radio stings, with the stings taking aim at popular presenters of the time like Chris Moyles and Simon Mayo, who were the antithesis of Morris’s comedy. Performing the sketches were some of Britain’s finest comedic actors, including Mark Heap, Kevin Eldon and Julia Davis, who all followed Morris in the show’s transition to the small screen.
Jam is without a doubt one of the darkest television shows ever produced, rivalled only perhaps by its star Julia Davis’s sitcom Nighty Night. Each episode begins with a monologue from Morris delivered over discordant ambient music, the scenes alternating between extreme slow motion and rapid fast cuts as Morris’s narration, peppered with random phrases like “oh chemotherapy wig”, welcomes the viewer to his world. The precedent is set for the following 25 minutes, the music, which feels like it’s been taken off a random chill-out compilation, acting as a thread through its disorientating sketches. In most scenes, the cast lip sync to audio taken from the radio series, creating an atmosphere as if you’re watching from the bottom of a bottle.
So thoroughly bleak and peculiar, it’s hard to label Jam as a comedy, but those who are able to stomach it will find plenty to laugh at. In one sketch, a man who has murdered his flatmate calls for a fixer to help dispose of the body, the fixer turning out to be a six-year-old girl. Disturbing as it is, it’s hard to stifle a giggle when she’s barking orders to “not argue and just chop him up!”. Another scene covers the fictional epidemic of ‘The Gush’, an affliction affecting male pornstars wherein they ejaculate until they die. Over solemn footage of studs withering away, Morris’s German-accented pornstar laments the precautions he now has to take and how “when you have to stay soft as a mouse in a big sexy twat it is tricky”. Once again, the subject matter is grotesque, but the delivery is perfect.
Once you’ve seen Jam, you may find yourself desensitised to anything of lesser quality, such is the nature of Morris’s genius
Though there is significantly less social and political commentary than in Morris’s other work, Jam still has time for a few satirical popshots, especially aimed at a few choice TV presenters who at the time were flooding our screens with mediocrity. The Day Kilroy Lost His Mind sketch has a lookalike of everybody’s favourite ex-UKIP leader running naked through a shopping centre, pissing on a TV showing his own chat show and eventually passing out in an Iceland freezer. Later on we see grainy CCTV footage of Richard Madeley throwing his cleaner down a set of stairs, these brief vignettes revealing some of the impetus behind Jam’s creation.
By this stage you’ll likely know if Jam is something which appeals to you. With only six episodes ever having been made there’s little to work through, and those who have an appetite for it will devour it in no time. Be warned though – once you’ve seen Jam, you may find yourself desensitised to anything of lesser quality, such is the nature of Morris’s genius.
More in this series: It’s Time You Watched: FX’s Justified
All images: Channel 4