Bottom Emissions: Smells

I’ve been hankering after doing some more long form writing, and thought the best way to do this would be to revisit something I’m already rather familiar with. This could have been The Young Ones, or Seinfeld, but lots has been written about both shows, and it seems to me that less has been said about Bottom.

And so, here begins an irregular series of posts wherein I re-watch the series, slowly, episode by episode, and note my thoughts as we go.

Bottom is a sitcom created by Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, that aired on BBC Two in the early 1990s. It marked a return to their writing partnership after quite some time, and was inspired by their preparations for their run of Waiting For Godot – a clear influence that can been seen throughout.

I always forget that Smells is the first episode. In my mind, I always think that Gas aired first. But then I remember being in school the next day and talking to my friend James, raving to him about how great the first show was, and him saying, rather to my surprise that ‘it was a bit rude’.

Right from the opening title sequence, I was sold. That bleak music, the world going on around and in spite of our hapless main characters, and the sheer drabness of it all leant itself to that title.

Bottom.

These two are there. Rock bottom, with nowhere else to go, and no-one else to be with.

Ed Bye did a masterful job shooting those titles, maybe even on the fly guerrilla style. That mock up window was found, on the building site of the Coca-Cola building, which eventually ended up looking like this.

On to our first shot, and it’s unusual for the show, in that it’s hand-held, following Richie and Eddie into the flat. There’s a lovely bit of blocking here, where the shot changes, Rik flicks on the light, and delivers his punchline perfectly.

We’re off.

What’s nice about watching a show you’re so familiar with is letting your attention drift elsewhere. Like to the board games atop the cabinet.

Or noticing that Rik almost corpses after he says ‘clenching my buttocks’.

And it always amazes me how a man as good looking and attractive as Rik Mayall manages to play such grotesque and deeply unattractive characters. It’s nothing short of brilliant.

The theme of the show unfolds over this long, opening scene, and it’s well-stated, and funny throughout. This is a skewering of toxic masculinity and male entitlement years before anyone else was really talking about it.

There’s an odd cut around the four minute mark. I don’t have the Script book yet (it’s in the post), so I don’t know what’s been excised, and it doesn’t appear to be in Fluff either.

It strikes me too that the costumes are great (as well as the sets, but we’ll get to those).

They always wear the same clothes, which is a great idea (see The Young Ones, Open All Hours, Last Of The Summer Wine too), and something you can only really get away with in sitcom (or sci-fi maybe).

And as for the sets, they’re gorgeous. All the grime, all the grot – it’s perfect. But it’s the litte things too that really sell it – like this limp, long-forgotten bit of Christmas decoration in the corner.

Or the tissue covered, falling apart box of Risk next to some squeezy mustard.

Take a moment to enjoy The Hammersmith Bugle too. That’s a picture of Sooty on someone’s head on the front page.

And the ‘Don’t Duck A Pukka Chukka’ on the sports page at the back.

Or the bins that sell the grotty sex shop even more than the erotic paraphernalia.

Until my script book arrives, I don’t know if this moment was scripted, thought up on set, or improvised live by Rik, but it gets a well deserved huge laugh, and I think is the moment my friend James found most rude. Judging from the look on Rik’s face as he does it, I’m inclinded to think he did it on the spot.

The brilliance of the pliers scene speaks for itself.

It was pre-recorded apparently, but listen to the audience reaction.

Then Eddie mentions Norman, who we never hear about again, I think.

On to the pub, and the scene I thought might feel all wrong these days. But first, have a look at the boxing motifs scattered about the place.

That poster is beautiful.

Harriet Thorpe is great in a limited role (the women are all rather under-written here), but at least they have some lines, and some agency – albeit not enough. What strikes me most about the misogyny here is how Richie and Eddie are clearly the butt of the jokes. Their lines are outdated, outmoded, and played to humiliate themselves. And listen to the laughter – it’s mostly from the women in the audience. What are your thoughts about this?

Ulitmately, Richie and Eddie are the victims of their own vile scheming. Eddie overdoses on the pheromones, and makes a pass at Richie, before the obligatory freeze frame mid-cartoon violence.

And then that joyous closing credits sequence.

A few stray thoughts as we reach the end. This episode has four sets, which seems expansive for Bottom, a show I always think of as stuck in the flat, or on the roof, or atop a Ferris Wheel.

I also want to watch another one, right away, which is easily done, but back then I had to wait a whole week, which ultimately made the next show even better.

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