The Comic Strip Presents is a TV series that has been running, irregularly, since 1982. Arguably its finest episode to date is Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown from 1993 (with close competition from 1990's GLC).
The plot sees several TV detectives from the 1970s brought back out of retirement to solve a case in the 1990s - somebody has been killing off the '90s TV detectives, but in a '70s style.
The main characters are all (affectionate) parodies of real '70s TV detectives, plus one (not so affectionate) '90s detective:
- Jason Bentley, played by Peter Richardson, a take on Jason King
- Shouting George, played by Jim Broadbent, a parody of Jack Regan from The Sweeney
- The Bullshitters Bonehead and Foyle (Keith Allen and Peter Richardson (again)) are versions of The Professionals Bodie and Doyle returning from an earlier Comic Strip story, The Bullshitters
- Dave Spanker, played by Phil Cornwell, is a send-up of Jimmy Nail's Spender
Unwillingly forced to work together to prevent the demise of TV detectives as a genre, since all the actors are too scared to play them any more for fear of the killer, they each have a go at solving the murder in their different idioms before the killer is finally unmasked and the Bullshitters finally get to have the car chase they were so desperate for.
A lot of the comedy comes from the blurring between the actors and their characters, as TV detectives hunt the killer of actors who play TV detectives. It gets pretty meta and the fourth wall takes a beating, even before we get to the song-and-dance numbers.
There's also plenty of laughs from the wordplay, and the interactions of the different detectives and their clashing styles: Spanker doesn't like George's shouting or the Bullshitters' obsession with guns; the Bullshitters think Jason's approach of going around country houses looking for a mad old colonel to arrest is "f'ing mad"; and nobody likes Spanker's '90s-style methods of detecting.
If there is one major criticism to be levelled at Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, it is that it isn't long enough. This causes structural problems with the plotting, namely that Spanker is revealed to be the killer with time to neither properly foreshadow this twist nor establish any alternative suspects. With five main characters, this could have easily supported a longer run time.
Also, the jokes about the central locking of cars (still a novelty in the early '90s) have dated badly.
But these don't really detract from a very funny half-hour, made by a team on the top of their game.
Gamma Longcat rates this TV programme at 5 out of 5.