The 60 Greatest Never Mind the Buzzcocks Episodes (#s 50 to 41)

Continuing the countdown, knocking out another post’s worth of the back half of the all time greats. I don’t know how it worked out that both my Rich Hall picks wound up back in the 50s, so I’ll tease that both picks of a NMTB legend wind up here. And that’s all I’ll tease, as we get right into it with #50:

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#50: S06E05
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Sean Hughes
Panelists: Boy George, Jo Brand, Suggs, Lisa Scott-Lee

First of all…THAT is a panel right there. Literally all four proved on multiple occasions that they could work with Mark, and work with NMTB stuff. Plus, any team with Suggs and a comedian is kind of like having two comedians, because Suggs is hella funny (On Rod Stewart and The Damned: “Can they both be repelled with garlic?”), and putting him on a panel with Jo Brand is perfect for both of their senses of humor.

But…another thing about the panel stacking is that I feel like they stacked Phill’s team with two separate kinds of great Mark dartboards: a member of Steps (Lisa) and an actual Boy George (Suggs, lol). Yes, Sean’s team here is great because Jo and Suggs are cracking jokes with Sean all night, and that alone is hysterical, as well as their ability to also throw stuff at the dartboards.

But…it’s really about Phill’s team. And more specifically, it’s really about Boy George. This was his best panel performance of his three episodes, and the fact that he gets along so well with Mark (in a very bitchy sort of way) elevates this tremendously. Like, when I saw that Boy George made some appearances, I was thinking it’d be more like…2008-era Boy George. Like, drunk, burnout, dialing-up-escorts Boy George. Forgetting, of course, that popstars have burnout periods and don’t always have their shit together (and now he’s a Celebrity Apprentice finalist, which is nice).

Boy George, especially in this episode, was jovial, quick, and having loads of fun. I still love the visual of George bopping his head (very faintly) back and forth as Lisa and Phill do their first intro (with Lisa on top of the desk). And…obviously the amount of good-natured gay jokes is sky-high, starting from a Rod Stewart fisting slam early on (Mark: “Well, we have an expert on the subject in the studio, so…”), going right through the rest of the show, comparing George’s spotted hat to something Cruella De Vil would wear, to…Mark and George just ending up flirting more than halfway through the show.

The thing is, even if the show is very Mark-George centric, there’s still time for a great Jo story involving Old Dirty Bastard, a ton of Steps jokes from Phill and Mark, a really funny ID Parade including an early appearance by Al the Pirate, and some really funny stuff from Phill. It, like a lot of S6 episodes, is PACKED. But it doesn’t feel overwhelming, thanks to Boy George just being super laid-back.

Best Moment:
George: “Is it the ‘ion sleeps tonight?”
Mark: “THE IRON SLEEPS TONIGHT! You know, from ‘The Iron King.” While they all sat around drinking ginger beer…GEORGE…YA BIG POOF!”

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#49: S16E07
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Bill Bailey
Panelists: Ricky Wilson, Ortis Deley, Jim Jeffries, Keisha White

Series 16 was around the time where Mark Lamarr would be a bit burned out by Buzzcocks, hence his departure. The thing is, of his last two series on the show, it was S16 where he really tried to keep things together and have a good time, whereas S17 was a bit less controlled and bit more lackadaisically-put-together. Plus, Mark was supposed to come back after Series 18, according to interviews, but Simon Amstell’s star was rising too quickly for anyone to contain. So he didn’t.

…If he had come back, I feel like it would have been a lot like this show. Because this show is very much rooted in the NOW, in the modern 2005-era scene, with Ricky Wilson and Keisha White, and 2005-era comedian Jim Jeffries. Like…there are no safety nets for Mark. No Mike Read or Barry Cryer or even Suggs. He had to make a show work with mostly new personalities that he didn’t have a huge connection to. And if he’d done Series 19, with new people like Lily Allen, John Barrowman and Vanessa Feltz (who he would have had a BALL making fun of), it’d be a lot like this one.

Because look at how much fun he was having with Ricky Wilson. Look at how hard he was laughing. And this is just the kid from the Kaiser Chiefs, the supposed heirs apparent of rock in 2005. He could have smacked him back to his own level, but Lamarr knew that Ricky had something. So he let him have a phenomenal night. And he definitely did, cracking Blue jokes like the best of them, and coming off as much a comedian as a musician.

That isn’t to say Mark’s hosting took a backseat. No, he was just as active as ever, making Ricky restart an intro for doing a ‘Bobby Darin count off’, and predicting how Bill’s team will immediately make a joke at Marilyn Manson’s expense. Plus, there’s Phill’s team’s entire ID Parade, where Phill, Ricky, Ortis Deley and Mark are all riffing on how they all look like lesbian cowboys (with Mark eventually adding “you know, I don’t mind lesbians. it’s COWBOYS i’m worried about). It’s a classic bit, one that kept building as the round, and the show, went on.

Still, even the littlest things worked. Even Bill screwing with HIS ID Parade worked. Even some solo lines from Jim Jeffries worked. Even Ricky Wilson insinuating the five male panelists could easily romance five lesbian cowboys. It all worked, in a way I don’t even think Mark expected it to.

So…I’d say that this was the last great Lamarr show, but…there’s one more from later than this coming up.

Best Moment:  Bill, with this ID Parade of younger guys, gets a sudden inspiration, and runs up to them saying “there’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
He enters from the side, crosses in front of the lineup, and goes “looking to meet guys in your area?”

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#48: S05E06
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Sean
Panelists: Toyah Wilcox, Adam Bloom, Kele Le Roc, Tom Gray 

What I’ll point out firstly about this episode’s success is that it didn’t even come from a particularly great panel. Tom and Kele didn’t do a great deal in this one, and Adam was only partially successful. Really, only Toyah Wilcox, the survivor of the punk scene, and of a few Derek Jarman films, had any bit of expertise and material…and thankfully she was able to stretch it out.

And before I even get to the Toyah bits with this one, note that this episode proved how on Phill and Sean, and Mark, were during this stretch. In the Bjork Freeze-Frame round, the jokes are flying from all cylinders (after Bjork’s teeth grow to huge heights, Mark: “The answer is she turns into Jack from ‘On the Buses’.”), Phill does the one effective impression he has all series with his loud, indecipherable Bjork, and they did manage a few really good Intros in this.

But…this is the Toyah show. Like the #50 pick, this was not Toyah’s first Buzzcocks, yet the main Toyah-bashing really began with this one, rather than her S3 appearance, which only had a few Teletubbies jokes. The Toyah-bashing was in the air from the very beginning, as nearly everything she said in the first round was essentially a set-up for a Mark joke.

Then, in Intros, Kele and Phill start going into ‘I Want to be Free’. While Toyah looks on. Now, they’d do this bit with other artists, like David Essex, but it arguably works the best here because the second Toyah hears her song, she immediately knows what they’re doing, and facepalms, giving herself away. Yes, Adam praises the song upon guessing it, and yes, she does get a fun moment as she sings along to the playback, but this worked so well for whoever set this up.

And then…in the newly-super-sized Band Names round, where there was already a running gag about a bunch of monkeys in a factory typing up ‘Chumbawumba’ (which, for the record, is one of many fake origins for the band’s name, as Danbert Nobacon kept like 50 of them in circulation), Toyah managed to completely bungle a train of thought about JFK, thinking an oddhanded Mark joke has to do with the answer. It’s one of those embarrassing blunders that would have to go right up there with Jessica Garlick asking which of the ID Parade looks foreign, or Josie D’Arby legitimately thinking that ducks go moo.

Mark, with the golden response: “…d’you know those chimps that typed up Chumbawumba? You wouldn’t even have gotten that far, would you?”

And so, the rest of the show, we embarked on the visual of An Infinite Number of Toyahs typing up Chumbawumba somewhere in a factory. And while a passerby could see this as ‘hey, they spent all show making fun of her’, I mean…they did, but she’s got enough self-awareness to be at peace with her joke status. I mean, why else did she keep coming on, LITERALLY UP UNTIL MARK’S LAST SHOW? She knew that she’d get insulted, but she enjoyed the fun environment of the show. And it was most evident here, I think.

Such a fun bunch of runners in this one. May not have had the ingredients for the best show, but it certainly turned out a charmer.

Best Moment: after some more ‘An Infinite Number of Toyahs’ jokes, Toyah, reaching her near-breaking point, goes, to Mark and Phill, “I’m gonna come over there and fist you both in a minute…”
Mark, taking this the exact wrong way: “ME FIRST!”

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#47: S26E04
Host: Nick Grimshaw
Captains: Phill and Noel Fielding
Panelists: Joe Lycett, Fred Macpherson, Nancy Dell’olio, Conor Maynard
Special Guests: Pat Sharp, Mike Read, Tony Blackburn

Sometimes, when Buzzcocks tries a show-long gimmick, it doesn’t exact work…especially in the Guest Host era. David O’Doherty tried to bridge a runner that Shakira was supposed to host instead, but it could only stretch so thin. Stephen Mangan tried to make his episode the World Music Special, but the episode wasn’t strong enough to keep it up. Tim Westwood tried to implement the Wheel of JLS, but it didn’t work because Tim Westwood sucks [insert hutt-esque Big Narstie laugh here]

This one, the ‘Hey Mr. DJ’ special…definitely worked.

It helped that Nick Grimshaw was a strong, sharp, if slightly pedestrian, guest host pick. But also, the gimmick was that at any time, the panelists could call upon the help of legendary DJs Mike Read (who was a hero of a Mark Lamarr show in S12), Pat Sharp (who had become a running gag of his own during Series 24), and Tony Blackburn (who’d made his name as a legendary, fun presence on Buzzcocks after 3 appearances). They could aid in an opening round, join in on Intros (like Blackburn did with Joe Lycett), help out in ID Parade, or just…be along for the ride. It’s an intriguing idea, and it helps that all three are insanely good people AND good Buzzcocks presences.

So all it needed was a good episode to be based around. And…this was definitely one of those.

First of all, the team of Joe, Phill and Fred was a very fun, very goofy little team. Fred’s really funny on his own as well, and was a great intros presence. Joe Lycett is…Joe Lycett. Like, of course he’s gonna do funny shit. What else is he gonna do? His interactions with Tony were also wonderful and wholesome.

But…honestly, the only reason a lot of people remember this one is because of Nancy Dell’olio on Noel’s side. Someone who wasn’t especially aware of a lot of the jokes at her expense, being a professional TV personality, and…most of the show was just Noel, Conor and Phill just lambasting her. Nancy, not very familiar with the show obviously, eventually just said “I’m, uh, learning”. Which really just summed it all up.

Eventually it just turned into Noel and Nancy plotting to kidnap Dalmatians, adopt Conor, then Nancy wanted to take Nick out for dinner (Phill, giving my favorite line of the show, replied: “I can see it now: “FOUR HUNDRED HAPPY MEAL.””). It just got funnier and funnier, and I can only imagine that eventually Nancy cooled down about being the butt of everyone’s jokes. The eventual joke that she’s actually dating Tony Blackburn now felt earned, and…fit with this episode’s insane yet cordial mood.

But…just so many funny things happened this show. So many good DJ interactions. So many good moments for Phill and Noel. Even if Nick could have been slightly stronger as host, it was just a successful, very funny show in a murky era of Buzzcocks.

Best Moment: After Joe correctly guesses the first intro, of What Makes You Beautiful by 1D, as ‘Bollocks’, his whole panel ends up turning the playback into ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease. It’s as funny as it is wholesome.

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#46: S14E07
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Bill
Panelists: Dara O’Briain, Fatman Scoop, Gary Jules, Wes Butters

For those of you not from America, which has to be a great deal of you, I’m going to educate you on a type of reality show character called a ‘Rupert’.

A Rupert is a character that is big, brash, and has very simple principles, something like ‘do what’s right’ or ‘make eye-opening music’ or something like that. And…ultimately there’s nothing more to this character than just those simple principles. So when other characters bounce off of them, they really don’t have many cards to play with other than what we know of them. It’s also easy for anyone else to make fun of them, because they’re always really going to do the same thing.

There are contemporary examples, like Horst, the ‘I Killed a man with THIS thumb’ guy from Ratatouille, or Dr. Loomis in Halloween II, who gives the same speech seven times. But I call this a Rupert because of a character on Survivor, Rupert Boneham, who was a big, strong bearded guy from Indiana whose goals were to be big, loud and heroic the entire game. Ultimately, this did not amount to a win, but the audience sure loved him.

Fatman Scoop…is a Rupert. He’s probably a better Rupert than Rupert is. His schtick is that he’s a big, fat, black American rapper from Jersey. And that’s it. He’s like Pitbull if he didn’t have any self-awareness. He was placed on the show because he was making hits in the UK, and his agent thought it’d be a good idea. It…sort of was? I mean, he got exposure..?

But, Fatman Scoop did manage to take the game of Buzzcocks very seriously. Not unlike another American east-coaster, he was pointing out pragmatic flaws in the game, like angrily announcing that Bill and Gary’s intro sounded nothing like Dilemma by Nelly, or decreeing that the producers should just put Athelston back where he came from. Most flagrant of all, at the end of the show:
Mark: “So the final scores are, Phill, you got 9…”
Scoop: “What did they get?….WHAT DID DEY GET???
(Mark’s trying to hold it in)
Mark: “….We’ll find out after this break…”

Scoop’s thing is a lot of the times, he saw the show kind of literally, and didn’t see that some things didn’t need to be taken so seriously, especially in Intros and Next Lines. This…made it easier for people like Mark and Phill to screw with him. My favorite is Mark asking what to call him, Fatman or Scoop, and Scoop saying he doesn’t care.
Mark: “Alright, I’ll call you Jeremy.”
Scoop, as if he’s aping Mr. T: “NOOO!”
Phill, smirking: “Scoop. Kill him.”

And the rest of the show works just as well around him. Gary Jules is a very patient American guest, jokingly confused by Mark asking if they have anal sex in the states. Dara improved upon his too-forward first appearance, and balanced his team with Scoop very well. Bill and Gary’s intros round was great, as Mark kept trying to distract them with singing The Passenger. And…Athelston wound up in full Scottish garb, with a kilt and hat. Mark even admitted, “I’m gonna put you on my mantlepiece tonight”

But having Fatman Scoop and his slight naivety there…enhanced matters especially. It was a banner series for Buzzcocks, and this one was even stronger than anticipated.

Best Moment: Learning that ‘Combine Harvester’ by the Wurzels is actually Bill’s national anthem. As the playback comes in, he subconsciously stands and monotone-ly adds in the ‘ooh-arr ooh’arr’s. Then…literally the whole panel starts bobbing up and down to it.

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#45: S04E03
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Bill and Sean
Panelists: Keith Chegwin, Tom Robinson, Neil Hannon, Emmy-Kate Montrose

I’ve talked a bit on here about banner series for Buzzcocks. Series 14 is a legendary one, Series’ 5 and 6 are both fantastic, and Series 20 has some definite pull as well. But..upon a recent rewatch, it SHOCKED me how good Series 4 was. Like, there’s only one weak show in the bunch, episode 5, and even that one has Jah Wobble’s drum noises (“BUMANUMANUMANUMA SLAG!”). But…pretty much every show in this series is either really good or a direct result of an episode that was really good. It’s just good shit.

And this one is no different. The show stacked two NMTB veterans (Tom Robinson and Neil Hannon), and brought in an Atomic Kitten member and…Keith Chegwin. Who was having the time of his life. Really, everything sprung naturally from all of that.

I’ll say as a brief criticism that Neil Hannon didn’t say as much as he did last time. Perhaps this was because he was on a panel with Keith, who was saying so much and getting so much air that maybe he didn’t have any breathing room. I’m a fan of Neil’s music, and I’ll say that he had a more fun show when he was paired with Lauren Laverne in S1, but…he’s great in Intros here with Sean.

Really, what we need to talk about this one is Tom Robinson’s pirate fixation, which starts in the opener and stretches through the rest of the show, and Keith Chegwin’s competitiveness, nearly getting in a fight with Tom and Phill after they tried to riff his intro-guessing. Those two moments make up the bulk of the great moments in this.

Not only that, but Cheggers’ looseness led to some fun moments, like his wanking input during the opening round, and everyone reacting to…Keith Chegwin, famed presenter, talking about wanking. That may be why this works so well, this episode: you’ve seen Chegwin in one light, but seeing him joke about wanking and shouting at Tom Robinson completely eclipses the legend. It’s like seeing Richard Madeley joke about Judy giving him oral sex under the desk.

Still, the regulars, especially Sean, had a ton of fun with this one. And seeing as it was S4, it was all really strong and very funny.

Best Moment: Phill, summing it all up: “LET’S LEAVE…AND COME BACK. We turned up in the studio, there was some load of old wank about pirates, and then Cheggers started talking about walloping…what a night!”
To which Sean responds with “d’you call it walloping?”
Then, later, pre-intros, Sean goes “Phill…we’re gonna WALLOP you in this round…”

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#44: S20E04
Host: Simon Amstell
Captains: Phill and Bill
Panelists: Midge Ure, Russell Howard, Nick Hoult, Romeo Stodart

There’s a specific type of Never Mind the Buzzcocks episode that I’ve often enjoyed covering called an ‘Aftermath Episode’. Where a lot of the action of said episode revolves around the events of a previous one. For instance: S04E02, which didn’t make the countdown, is a fun episode because it’s just Mark bashing Chris Moyles for not enjoying himself the week before. S10E06 is great because Mark keeps having PTSD flashbacks to Pete Burns being there the week before. S22E06 is great because Simon’s trying to keep his job after Russell Brand was on amid controversy.

This one takes the cake. Because it follows one of the most iconic shows in Buzzcocks history, the Preston show…and it’s entirely trying to make sure that nobody else walks off.

This show does go back to my theory that Mark Lamarr could have done well with these 2006-era bookings, as he’d have fun with Midge Ure like he did a ton of times. Here, Midge is sort of drilled by Simon a lot, and it’s not exactly as cozy as his time batting away Mark slams. Solely because Simon’s a more intrusive host who makes it a point to call people out; Mark would at least wait until they played into his hand.

But yeah, Midge did enjoy himself enough that he’d repeatedly threaten to walk off. Simon keeps bringing up the fact that Bob Geldof gets all the credit, and the knighthood, for Live Aid, and Midge eventually just does a little finger gesture meaning ‘I will walk off in a second’. But he definitely settled in, somewhere around the point where he couldn’t get his own daughter’s band’s lines right.

Even aside from that, the air of chaos was present. Phill’s ID Parade was great, as it was very obviously #1, as she kept making herself known. Romeo completely missed his own next line, to which Simon responded “this happens at every show, but never so bad…”. Russell Howard was giving off some fun lines all night, and Nick Hoult was getting the most attention from Simon for being on Skins…which Simon himself co-wrote a show for.

But really, the triumph of this show was taking a Mark-era legend like Midge and making his style work with the new show. And for taking an episode like E3 and not completely divebombing afterwards. This is a pretty strong follow-up to a show that’s clearly a Top 10 on anyone’s list.

Best Moment: As Midge contemplates walking off, Phill: “You see this is the seat that Preston left, this is the seat that Lemmy left the show on, admittedly during the retakes. We’re just gonna have to call [Midge’s] the Ejector seat!”
Simon: “We should get some sort of a seatbelt…”

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#43: S16E09
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Bill
Panelists: Kenzie, Lucy Porter, Chinyere, DJ Spoony

i’d love to show that to someone without context, that above. Mark Lamarr just walking over and licking Lucy Porter’s face, then walking back like nothing’s happened.

Again, even near the end of his NMTB tenure, Mark could still give some good material. This licking, for instance, was in response to an anecdote from Lucy about a tramp licking her one time. So…naturally, Mark wouldn’t let that go at all over the next 30 minutes. Pretty much everyone else was harping on that, with even Bill singing to himself “that’s why the lady…smells of tramp…”

Now, repeatedly mentioning something embarrassing to Lucy Porter is easy. She’s a professional comedian, she takes it in stride and laughs it off all night. But what if you had something embarrassing onhand about someone a lot tougher. Say…someone from the Blazin’ Squad.

Yeah, then you’d have to hope it’s someone like Kenzie, who’ll literally buckle forward in laughter right when he knows something’s coming. And on this show, something was nearly always coming. From the running gags about the 9,000 members of the blazing squad, supplied by Mark (which, to be honest, he was cracking up right with Kenzie at), to the eventual realization that Kenzie’s dating Jodie Marsh. Which he’s very sensitive about. And which DJ Spoony was ABSOLUTELY AMAZED BY.

And…the joke eventually becomes about Jodie’s tendency to stick a thumb up her partner’s ass. Which…Kenzie doesn’t deny. And so, rest of the night, every Kenzie joke involved something being shoved up a rectum. Which…I mean, slightly better than his next time on (where he defended writing a song about, to quote Russell Howard, “doing anal in a truck”), but still hard to come back from.

Yet, to his credit, Kenzie was cracking up, at the risk of near pain, all night. At one point, you can hear him weakly mutter “please…leave me alone”. Which isn’t anything like Preston going ‘that’s out of order’. Like…he’s laughing so hard that if someone else gives him the mick, he might die. That is a new one.

Aside from that nonsense, this show was one of the last few appearances of Athelston, and for once he’s not the center of attention in this lineup, as one of the members appears to nod off in the middle of Mark’s intros. Plus, Mark agreed to give Kenzie a point every time he said it wasn’t Athelston.

This one’s so glorious because of the pile-up of running gags just hitting again and again, and for poor Kenzie being absolutely battered to the point of laughter exhaustion. I felt a little bad for the guy, but not from the brunt of the insults- no, I was worried he’d piss himself under the desk.

Just a really funny show, and possibly the last true knockout of the Mark era.

Best Moment: Phill and Chinyere are doing an intro for House of the Rising Sun for Kenzie. It’s…very clear that he doesn’t know it. So Mark just starts singing the lyrics along with it, passionately, further and further. At the point where he’s about to repeat the chorus, he just looks at the camera and goes “he doesn’t know…”. Such a great Mark moment.

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#42: S28E02
Host: Rhod Gilbert
Captains: Phill and Noel
Panelists: Seann Walsh, Stacey Solomon, Harry Koisser, Ella Eyre

Now, let’s get something absolutely straight here.

A lot of people…don’t like the Rhod Gilbert shows. They think the show was dying out, that there was no cohesion between Rhod and Noel, and production was trying too hard to make events happen rather than make a solid panel show. And I can see those criticisms, but like…there are a few episodes in this series that I laughed too damned hard at. Hell, I’ll mention that one that just missed the cut, Episode 7, featured the visual of Phill and Noel both doing Sarah Millican impressions while reading adult fiction. So much insanely funny stuff in these, even if Rhod’s method of game-running became tedious after a while.

Here…things were still new, fresh, and interesting. And you had onhand two people who’d definitely make things interesting: Seann Walsh, who’d yet to see a Buzzcocks show he didn’t make hysterical, and Stacey Solomon, who was projected to completely bungle the Intros round, as per usual. And also, you had loopy Harry Koisser from Peace playing a guitar from behind his back and doesn’t have a house. Shenanigans were bound to ensue.

Most importantly, this show would feature the first appearance of Rhod’s ball-bongos. Which would only get funnier as the series went on. Also, Seann Walsh’s school friend ended up as one of the options in ID Parade, which was wonderful. This one also introduced the innovation of giving the ID Parade guest a wireless lov mic so Rhod can talk to them afterwards, and in tonight’s case try to hire them both for contracting jobs. There was also a runner about the nonexistence of the concept of time, which is the most Seann Walsh thing ever, and there were just some great moments coming from all three regulars.

This show’s big moment may have been Stacey Solomon’s pathetic showing at Intros, realizing she’s bad at hearing songs, and then short-sighted…so literally Phill and Ella doing Waterloo Sunset to a bewildered Stacey was nearly excruciating, but also entertaining. Not since Tony Wright had someone been so consistently bad at Intros, and she was making a name for herself, not even getting a clue about the sunset and bringing up the movie IT, which at least played into Noel’s wardrobe.

Like with Tony, when she eventually did get an intro it was a momentous, hysterical occasion with much dancing. And also, Stacey’s generally a very fun panel presence despite being horrible at Intros. Phill doesn’t get too annoyed by it either.

A very solid, very eventful Rhod show, and…it’s not the last of those on this list. 

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 3.34.45 PMBest Moment: Noel running out in a dress with Pennywise on it. Rhod points out that the nose is in a very odd place, though:

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 6.02.50 PM.png#41: S02E08
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Sean
Panelists: Noddy Holder, Boy George, Jonathan Ross, Louise Wener

Coming off of one of the most sadistically engineered shows in NMTB, Episode 8 of Series 2 gave us a standard for every subsequent Christmas Show, literally just by starting with Noddy Holder going “IIIIIIIIT’S CHRIIIISTMAAAAAAAS!”

This was the show’s first attempt at a Christmas show, and they pulled out all the stops, getting two high-profile panelists in 80s icon Boy George and Christmas Legend Noddy Holder from Slade. Additionally, they had on Jonathan Ross for his first of like 12 appearances in the first 4 series.

Here, Ross is at his lawful best, as he doesn’t have a panel that he can entirely drown out. He does have some goofy moments, especially in Intros, where he has one given to him so many times that after 4 he just starts doing it WITH Phill and Louise (‘OOMBA OOMBA OOMBA OOMBA’). Also, let it be known that it’s Ross who uses the phrase ‘I IMPLORE YOU, I BESEECH YOU’ before Mark uses it on him during Never Rewind, this time to scare off an ID Parade member.

Hell, even BOY GEORGE is at his lawful best. He’s not making many gay jokes, Mark isn’t taking the mick that much, and he’s honestly the quietest he’s been on this show. True, he does have a few cheeky moments, like saying his religious denomination is the Church of the Poisoned Mind (Mark: “HE’S PLUGGING OLD RECORDS!”), and insinuating that he’s the only one who would know what a drummer is like in ID Parade (Sean: “Could you all just take off your trousers for George?”)

But…really, this one’s about Noddy. Because not only is he game with all the CHRIIIISTMAAAS jokes, but he just seems chuffed to be on. He’s joking with Mark about their outdated hairstyles, doing fun intros with Sean, making great jokes throughout, and even indulging the panel and making fun of Dave Hill’s hairstyle, doing a little sign of the cross (prompting Phill to go “Normally Noddy used to go ‘Iiit’s Christmas!’ But he looks around at Dave and goes ‘IIIIIIT’S CHRISTMAAAASSS!”)

With eight extra minutes, enough breathing room to keep ID Parade live, an incredibly silly Next Lines, and tons of joshing from Mark and Jonathan, this was a generally jovial, insanely successful CHRISTMAAAAS special, one that’d be insanely hard to outdo (and yet…two have)

Best Moment: Sean and Noddy’s first intro sounds a bit too much like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Sean, to that tune: “AAAEHAAAEAAAA….IT’S CHRISTMAAAS…”

 

The next ten will be up soon. To preview this batch…expect two annoying teenagers, some hair wax, four from the Guest Host era, and two shows featuring Buzzcocks’ most prolific guest panelist.

The 60 Greatest Never Mind the Buzzcocks Episodes Ever (#s 60 to 51)

So…it’s come to this.

I had teased for a year and a half that this list was on the way, but due to work, school, and Whose Line, I never got to writing it. I actually drafted this list in July 2017, and most of that list has gone unedited, though I swapped out a few in this section of the list for ones I’d grown to love in a recent re-watch.

So…this isn’t the end-all, beat-all of ranks. I’m already gonna sadden one or two people by saying that there’s not going to be a huge Jonathan Ross presence on this list, nor is there going to be a huge Paul Foot presence. Both aren’t really my cup of tea.

I’ll also add this preface for any members of the Simon Amstell fandom who’ll be arguing that there boy doesn’t have enough episodes on this list: Mark Lamarr ran the show for 17 seasons. Simon ran it for four, and only two of those were wholly great. There’s going to be a TON of Lamarr shows on this list, and while there definitely will be some Amstell presence, the point is that Lamarr cared more about his presence in the music world to only pretend to be an asshole to many panelists. He spent an entire show pissing off Gail Porter, then like a year later they allegedly went shopping a few times. He probably bought her a couple nice wigs as well. If Simon pissed someone off on the show, he wouldn’t really show mercy in real life.

But that’s a rant for another day.

Anyway, here are 10 of my Top 60 Buzzcocks Episodes Ever. Every show that aired on television is fair game, from series 1 to 28 (so no Never Rewind). Let’s begin with a National Fucking Treasure….

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#60: S22E02
Host: Simon Amstell
Captains: Phill, Stephen Fry
Panelists: Matt Shultz, Josie Long, Dominic Cooper and Frankie Sandford

I’m going to add slightly to my Simon rant from earlier. Simon Amstell wasn’t the type of person who’d preside over the show with an iron fist. He’d rely on Bill and Phill to keep order as well, especially after Series 21 where he’d get more tired of the show and focus on belittling specific people like Antony Costa and Lee Ryan.

To that end, Series 22 may be one of the weakest, because Simon is deferring even more to the captains so that the Guest Captain can do more heavy lifting. There’s not a ton of Simon interference in this show, even though he does tailor this one, rightfully so, to Stephen Fry by adding in many QI-esque elements, like a buzzer and many existential conversations.

But what makes this one work is how game Stephen Fry is to the proceedings. This is most evident in the Intros round, where he’s paired with a very crossfaded Matt Shultz from Cage the Elephant, and goes about a pair of particularly messy intros while still keeping the spirit of the show alive. And I say this was surprising because you’d think someone like Stephen Fry would see himself as bigger than NMTB, but he knows it’s just a laugh. He even throws in a few very outlandish comments that wouldn’t fly today, and a blissfully-out-of-place jab at the Hippity Hoppity Brigade.

Additionally, Stephen’s presence manages to bring out the best in Phill Jupitus, who’d been seeming to be tiring of the program himself the series before. Phill is even more giggly and joking around than usual, solely because he has his usual QI dartboard in the room, like shouting out an I’m Too Sexy reference (without Fairbrass even being in the room) and raising a pipe in the air.

There are occasional lulls, and the moments with Frankie forgetting which movie she saw Dominic Cooper in are amusing but slightly weak, but this is definitely the height of a noticeably weak series of Buzzcocks. And it couldn’t have been done without Stephen Fry.

Best Moment: Stephen using the phrase ‘recto-vaginal insertion’ during a conversation about a pretzel, to which Simon responds “I thought you were gonna bring this show up to a STANDARD…”

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#59: S13E02
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill, Bill Bailey
Panelists: HarMar Superstar, Raul Malo, Liz McClarnon, Mark Richardson

An odd pick, probably, but this is one of those shows where the main three were just on their game all night. Series 13 was also the exact time where Bill Bailey really clicked as a team captain, after two series of just getting abuse from Mark over his usual ‘weasels’ type humor.

Literally from round one, everybody was just on. Phill making Mavericks jokes to Raul. Mark making Atomic Kitten jokes to Liz. Phill calling Ron Jeremy ‘HarMar’s dad’, and HarMar agreeing. And then once Bill was handed clips of David Cassidy, he absolutely took off, doing some of the single greatest riffing I’ve seen on the program. Mark even went to Raul’s seat, yelling “I WANT TO WATCH HIM FROM HERE!”

The panel woke up soon after that, with HarMar being insanely game in intros, Mark Richardson completely forgetting a song from a band he toured with for a prolonged period of time, and Mark pulling out a crystal ball and continuing to use it throughout the show. But around ID Parade, Phill pulled out an anecdote involving a gay man calling him ‘Queen of the Bears’, and for some reason the show kept hitting on that for the rest of its duration.

This was just a show that benefitted from everyone being on, and just had this goofy undercurrent for its entire runtime. There are so many shots of just Raul Malo trying not to laugh and/or dying laughing, even after he screws up his own lyrics (“the senoritas…I can pay-” “SO THAT’S WHAT IT’S ABOUT!”) This one’s just one of my sentimental favorites, and it’s a dynamic that the show would build on while heading towards its unstoppable Series 14.

Best Moment:
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Bill: “…there’s been a bit of a communication cock-up, he said ‘I’ll have a large black tea on the plane…”

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#58: S11E07
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: Sebastian Bach, Dave Fulton, Neil Innes, Emma B.

Sometimes a show can be elevated by a single panel. And with no offense meant towards Emma B and Unofficial 7th Python Neil Innes hanging with Phill…the combo of Bill Bailey, Dave Fulton and Sebastian Bach was enough to crack me up this whole episode. These three need their own Three Stooges-esque movie, STAT!

It was the greatest combination: you had Bill trying to move the show along though still loving odd jokes, you had Dave as the most dry and reality based of the three, and you had wild and wacky Sebastian yelling and screaming on top of the desk and having the most fun of anyone.

Literally, this team’s stuff was gold all night: any image of the three head-banging with their hair flying everywhere (Mark: “people at home writing ‘oooh, conditioner…’), the moment where Bill puts some of Sebastian’s hair on his head to try and remember what hair feels like, most of their Intros round, a running gag about each of them as the Three Wise Men, Sebastian missing his own lyrics in Next Lines, and pretty much all of Bill and Sebastian’s Panama intro, where Sebastian tried to give it to Dave by using the clue ‘IMELDA MARCOS’

Even better, the panel’s insanity grated on Mark as the show went on, culminating in Mark promising Phill’s team to not end Next Lines until they’ve won.

I’ll say that the intensity of this panel will be matched by another one, on that exact side, later in the countdown, but these three elevated an already-great show.

Best Moment: Sebastian confusing the Philippines with Panama
Dave: “Once again the geography question has reared its ugly head and stumped the American.”

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#57: S12E07
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: Rich Hall, Christian O’Connell, Nick Bracegirdle and Guy McKnight

I originally had another episode in this slot, ironically another Rich Hall show, this one featuring Dave Hill from Slade…but at the very last second, I swapped in this one. Because slowly it’s become one of my most underrated favorites of the series. It’s also just a piece of evidence that putting Rich Hall on your panel makes everything a little funnier (“You’re time starts…NOW!” “The end is near!” “NO!”)

Really, all the elements are here for a good show: a sharp panel, with Christian O’Connell and Rich Hall giving funny stuff; Rich giving one of my favorite ID Parade quotes ever with “#4 looks like an Elvis Impersonator…had Elvis lived”; pretty much the entire round on the Deep Purple video, cutting to a bored looking audience (Rich: “there’s a kid on the right. That’s their manager!”); and even a mid-Intros argument where Nick swears he gave an answer before Christian did (to which Mark replies “not in the finished show you didn’t!”)

But the centerpiece of this show is one of the most successful setups and payoffs in Buzzcocks history: having Mark needle Guy McKnight the entire show for not talking and only speaking when Phill nudges him…and then having Guy correct his Next Line of his own song, and revealing that the real lyric is “I want to fuck your mother”. Not even Anton Chekhov could have written a payoff quite like that. Even Rich used that phrase to try and get out of Next Line later on.

It’s not one that a lot of people remember, but it’s a solid, wholly hysterical show that has some really funny moments at its core.

Best Moment: Top of the show, Mark asks Guy to say hello to his mother at home, prompting a half-hearted “…Barbara…”. Then, post ‘I want to fuck your mother’-gate, Phill, stifling laughter, looks at the camera and goes “HELLO, BARBARA!”

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#56: S25E07
Host: James Blunt
Captains: Phill & Noel Fielding
Panelists: Sarah Millican, Matthew Crosby, Sean Paul, Harry Judd

A few times during the Guest Host era, the booking people managed to surprise me, by rolling out a personality I was ready to hate and making them insanely likable and thick-skinned, and pulling off a really good show. James Blunt is definitely one of two instances of this phenomena. I’m not a huge fan of his music, but he certainly ran a very tight show, and was capable of making jokes…and BEING the joke occasionally as well.

First of all…whoever decided to have Sean Paul and Sarah Millican on the same team deserves a gold star, as even Noel said “I’m gonna be translating for these two tonight”. Both led to some nice moments, as Sarah had her usual like 20 good lines, and Sean had a great runner in Next Lines where he kept parroting back the correct pronunciations and wordage of his own stuff (and Noel, again during this era, was owning it: “That’s like the football scores…’East Fife, 4, Dem Shoogy Shoogy, 3…”)

James had great autocue reads all night, even though he was still the butt of many jokes from the rest of his panel. Plus, after a while they got more specific, pertaining to his history of military service (“have you ever done it in a tank?”) to his history with sleeping with, allegedly, “20% of the Pussycat Dolls”. Noel and Phill did not let James let that one go for the rest of the night.

In a word, this show was chaotic, and a lot could go wildly wrong at any time, but it was still contained in a way that felt natural. And James Blunt kept a smile on the entire time, even while being lambasted by Noel, who was on fire all night. Really couldn’t have asked for more.

Best Moment: After James ushers an ID Parade of soldier’s wives offstage, saying they were for his dressing room later
Sarah: “Will you be sorting one of them out? Just 20% of that lot?”
Phill: “I looked in his eyes then, and d’you know what I saw? ‘TONIGHT…40%!”

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#55- S08E05
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Sean Hughes
Panelists: Dane Bowers, Glenn Tilbrook, Darius Danesh, Vic Henley

…speaking of universally-despised singers with really thick skin…

The timing of this one was impeccable. This one aired right as the Popstars bubble was just beginning to pop, and a few shows after Mark had done a Darius impression in the middle of the show (and he’d do it again in this show). The Darius jokes were happening anyway, and I’m honestly surprised he agreed to come on, and be honest about leaving Popstars.

…And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure who gave him more shit about hit throughout the night: Sean or Mark?

Just from that screencap alone…Sean wasn’t gonna do Intros with guy and NOT make fun of him. It’s kind of a law, you HAVE to. Here’s Darius trying to do the intro, and Sean’s doing the full on Darius snapping and wailing, to which Darius said “THAT’S IT!” (and Sean replied “I’M 35!”). And that was most of the show: yes, a quiz is trying to be played lawfully, but you can’t have Darius on and NOT take the mick. And again, he was really kind about the whole thing, and didn’t seem to take the insults too hard, even Sean’s very last one (see below).

Weirdest thing is…the rest of the panel was just really strong. Phill had Dane Bowers and Glenn Tilbrook to work with, and they’re pros at this show. Sean also had Vic Henley, who…always seems to end up on this show whenever there’s a pop icon that needs to be made fun of (see much later on in the countdown). And Darius was very lawful in playing the game, even as he was dodging insults from all corners.

I’ll note this pretty quickly: first time I watched this show I didn’t get it. I’m from New York, I didn’t really get the Popstars appeal. And then I understood what happened, saw the original clip, saw everything in context…and then all the slams were even funnier, and it was even funnier that he was game. And even if this isn’t as high as some other people would put it, I still do respect what this show did, and how Darius took it. A certain member of Blue would take inspiration from that later down the line.

Best Moment: Next lines: “I’m walking away from all the troubles in my life.”
Darius: “…I’m walking away…”
Sean, in the most mocking voice possible: “…from POPSTARS!”

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#54: S04E06
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Sean
Panelists: Arthur Smith, Mel Giedroyc, Mark Chadwick, Jimmy Constable

Like Jonathan Ross, one of the great early panelists in NMTB’s history that only managed to make one appearance on the episodes list was Arthur Smith? Why? I dunno, both his episode with Martin Fry and his episode with Dave Mustaine were…good, but not list-worthy. This one, where he was just finding his footing as a panelist and getting the hang of the game, while also dealing with Jimmy Constable.

Ironically, in an entry right after a show where Sean Hughes mercilessly attacks someone, here Arthur spent most of the show mercilessly attacking Sean, and it made the show even more cohesive and funny. Literally everyone possible was ‘better looking than Sean’, even Sarah Brightman. And Sean was able to take it, because Arthur’s too funny to let go.

And then Intros happened. And it got even better. Firstly because Mel Giedroyc was actually really loose and fun as Phill’s intro partner, which you really wouldn’t think if you’ve seen her play off of Sue Perkins, but then…Jimmy and Sean insisted on using a comb to make the intro to Stand by Me authentic. And an entire argument erupted about whether that comb noise was actually in the song. Arthur got more jokes in, Jimmy got frustrated, Mel and Phill got to do another intro essentially, and everything just went into bedlam because of a damned comb from Mark’s pocket.

And the thing is, the looseness of the comb incident carried through the rest of the show, even after a quieter first half, ugly jokes notwithstanding. Mark ended up calling Arthur out over some noises in Next Lines, proving that even the best can be out done by Lamarr. And it all just ended in a really fun mood, which is nice.

I’m not saying that Arthur carried this show, but if it wasn’t for his grumpiness and looseness, we’d be in a lot of trouble.

Best Moment: Arthur, post-combgate: “The point is, Mark, they got it right…it’s just you being horrible because Sean’s upset that everyone now realizes he’s ugly.”

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#53: S19E05
Host: Simon Amstell
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: John Barrowman, Robin Ince, Daniel Bedingfield, Kelli Young

The Simon Amstell era of Buzzcocks got off to a rocky start, with two ‘good but not great’ shows, a fun but wild show (sure to be documented later), and one of the most soul-crushing shows in Buzzcocks history, featuring Amy Winehouse’s drunken last stand. What the show needed was not only a pick-me-up, but a sign that the show could get back to the heights of series 14 and 16.

Well, with the help of one of the most charismatic guests in Buzzcocks history, they did just that.

Look, man…you put John Barrowman in anything and it just saves the morale instantly. Put him in Doctor Who, in The Flash, in…a fucking SyFy original shark movie. I don’t care. He saves anything, because he’s always giving 100%, and he’s always having a fantastic time. So…Buzzcocks must have been easy for him. He’s got Daniel Bedingfield to look at and Simon Amstell to flirt with. What more could he want??

Literally from moment one, when both Simon and John got into a discussion on the Sugababes’ privates, we knew exactly what we were in for (to quote Phill, “There’s nothing quite like the riveting TV stylings of two homosexuals discussing fannies, is there??”). Simon made it clear that Barrowman would be his primary target, even if on the other side of the stage you had Daniel Bedingfield bouncing off the wall after ingesting too many chocolates (at least according to Phill years later). Though, at the very least, a runner about Bedingfield recording an album while naked certainly helped.

The Simon-John stuff, including a full on gay-off (“I haven’t even told my mum yet…”), got to the point where even Robin Ince, having a banner night himself, got frustrated at the amount of gayness going on across from him, culminating in a rant that included the line  “I DON’T EVEN THINK YOU *ARE* GAY, BARROWMAN!”. Which, to his credit, Barrowman found amusing as all hell.

Chaos aside, it was a tight show, one of the tighter ones of Simon’s first year, though he did placate Phill by having the audience root for Bill’s team rather than his (“Fuck ’em. No.”) But with the panel strength, the amount of jokes being fired from all cylinders, and the strength of John Barrowman (again, culminating in Simon’s bitter stinger of “…Gays…they take our MEN…”), it finally felt like Buzzcocks would be alright with Simon at the helm.

Best Moment: Simon gives Barrowman a simple Sound of Music next line…which he responds with a vulgar version of the line (“High on a hill lived a great big dildo, [gargling noises]”), so…they have to end the show on THAT note.
Simon: “…Never again. Strictly straights and lesbians from now on…They’re no bother…”

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#52: S05E07
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Sean
Panelists: Bill Bailey, Howard Jones, Tony Wright, Grant Nicholas

After the mild success of the Never Rewind video, the studio decided to…NOT give them another tape to do, but instead give the crew a 45-minute special during series 5, right when things were getting really good for the show. They seemed to treat it like it was going on tape as well, with two seasoned NMTB regulars (Tony Wright and Bill Bailey), and two people with varying levels of music credits (Howard Jones and Grant Nicholas).

It…quite obviously worked. With 15 extra minutes, there was enough breathing room to see a lot more of Mark throwing Klingon insults at Bill, Tony completely struggling in Intros, Howard Jones not knowing any of his songs, and a new, super sized Album Covers round, which was a fun failure that led to some very funny physical moments (and Mark going “I know you want the point, but it’d be fun to pass it to Tony, wouldn’t it?”)

However, arguably BECAUSE of the extra time, these moments were able to play bigger than before. Tony’s eventual triumph in Intros has more room to be a full on explosion of the panel, with a rousing ‘the final countdown’ heard all ’round. Bill and Mark’s sparring has enough to last the whole show. And the show’s big kicker, Mark being a contestant in an ID Parade for fellow 50s throwbacks The Jets, with literally everyone pissing him off by picking him.

It was, if anything, a supersized triumph of everything the show had done to that point. It was also essentially Bill’s audition to be Sean’s replacement down the line, as his Intros with Sean were pretty great (including a really good Bruce Springsteen/Sweetums impression). Why there weren’t more 45-minute shows I have no idea (though the S19 Christmas Show would get 5 or so extra minutes), but this was definitely the right time to have one.

Best Moment: Immediately following his ID Parade appearance, Mark announces “Phill’s team has 5 points, Sean’s team has 3. They would have had 5, but they were BEIN’ SILLY!”

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#51: S14E10
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: Rich Hall, Amy Winehouse, Fearne Cotton, Mike Peters

Sadly, both entries featuring Rich Hall wound up down here, so this is his last appearance on the countdown…which is very sad. The guy is an undisputed comedic genius, and someone who never really got his due as a mainstream comedy writer. Thankfully, he’s been on basically every panel show in the UK and has made himself known as a bizarre, grumpy humorist. Which helps.

I don’t think they would have known in 2004, but pairing Rich with Amy Winehouse was…odd. True, Amy is very sober here, and very giggly, but…you don’t usually think of a team up between the girl who sang ‘Rehab’ and the guy who did the David Byrne’s Fashion Report bit on SNL. Having them on a team with Phill was a nice mood, as all three were making great comedy decisions all night, with no offense meant toward Fearne Cotton and Mike Peters.

Literally the first round, Phill’s team had a whole ‘fill in the blank’ round about a clip from David Bowie’s China Girl video where David does something to scare his love interest into spitting a straw out of her mouth. It just turned into the weirdest, wackiest quick-fire improv round I’ve seen (and I’ve covered Whose Line), with so many great answers, ranging from bizarre (Bill: ‘David, there’s no horse in horseradish!’ “WHAT?”) to probable (Phill: “David? Behind you, Iggy Pop!”) to…literal (Rich: “SPIT OUT THE STRAW!”)

Then, in Intros (with Phill and Amy making a nice pair), the unthinkable happens: Rich messes up an answer, saying ‘Blue Skies’ instead of ‘Mr. Blue Sky’…and gives Mark shit for not giving him the point. This goes on for…the REST OF THE SHOW. The funny part is, it’s half-played up, but I do legitimately think Rich was miffed about not getting credited for it. Literally, Rich is just adding ‘Mr’ to things just to spite Mark (“Yeah, it’s MISTER FREE BIRD!”)

Yes, this is a case where Rich carries the force of comedy on his back, but unlike the Guy McKnight show, here he’s got a panel who’s capable of supplanting him. Amy is capable of pushing back and making jokes herself, even at her own religious upbringing (to which he later adds “Amy, you’re jewish, haggle with him”). Plus, Fearne Cotton was a nice unsung hero for this era of the show, in that she was never the comedic focus of a panel, but she always had funny stuff here and there (and a bigger example of this is much later on).

Plus, so many nice runners. The ‘Bowie banged Iggy Pop’ joke goes on almost all night, there’s a nice recurring gag with Rich about heroin users, and Amy and Rich have gags go on until the end. It’s just a very concise show that doesn’t let up with callback gags. And again, it’s a Series 14 show, which means the fact that it’s on here without utilizing Athelston is…surprising but welcome.

Best Moment:  post-Mister-gate
Mark: “Rich…they HAVE quiz shows in America, right? This isn’t a new thing for you?”
Rich: “Yeah, but on those we get a fuckin’ car…”

 

Expect the next ten of these to go up…hopefully soon. If I can tease anything, I’ll say that a Buzzcocks hero appears twice, Athelston appears once, and that bloke I talked about at the top of the post gets his entry in.