Channel 4 has been going through quite the purple patch over the last few years when it comes to comedy. There’s Derry Girls, of course, but also Rufus Jones’ hilarious and touching Home, the fantastic new Mitchell & Webb vehicle Back (returning for a second series last week), Stath Lets Flats, No Offence… and last but by no means least, Year of the Rabbit. Now, although this column may so far seem like a paid advertorial for Channel 4, I am now, having lured Channel 4 executives in with my tasty compliments, going to slap them square around their faces with a sloppy wet rebuke.
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Year of the Rabbit was axed last week, you see. The latest project from the wonderful Matt Berry, and written by comedy writing royalty Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (Veep, Black Books), our titular hero, Eli Rabbit, is a Victorian detective going about his grisly business in a twisted version of Dickensian east London. Well received when it was released, a second series was commissioned fairly rapidly – and then things went quiet.
Until last week, that is, when Channel 4 U-turned, announcing Rabbit would not be having another year after all. Coronavirus, it turns out, is the deadliest thing for television rabbits since Watership Down. A spokeswoman for Channel 4 added: “We’re hugely proud of this hilarious and fearless comedy series, but as result of the impact of COVID on our schedules we have made the difficult decision not to enter into a second series with a heavy heart.” They could have made the decision to enter into a second series with a light heart, but apparently this wasn’t possible.
Not destined to be one of the COVID casualties that makes it to the front pages (let’s face it, scores of human deaths struggle for column inches these days if Topshop’s closing down), Year of the Rabbit is nevertheless quite the loss to the comedy world. Not only was it well cast – with Berry of course as the main act – but it looked great too, immersing us in the Rabbit world with sumptuous sets, clever costumes and eccentric performances. So, in other words, expensive.
There may be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel however. The show was co-funded by Channel 4 and an American cable channel called IFC, which I’ve definitely heard of before and haven’t just looked up on Wikipedia. Production company Objective Media Group (which abbreviates to ‘OMG’…, knowing media executives, this is entirely on purpose, and they’re very pleased with themselves) have said: “IFC are very committed to the show, but we will need to find another partner — and we’re working on that.”
This wouldn’t be the first time a TV series has been led to the chair and then received a network presidential pardon at the 11th hour. A famous yet equally obscure example is ‘Neighbours which started out on a completely different channel in Australia, was axed, and then was bought by Network 10, going on to become the TV show we all didn’t know was still on. More recent and notable examples include the equally Victorian Ripper Street – killed by the BBC and resurrected on Amazon; the not at all Victorian Brooklyn Nine-Nine; the even less Victorian Futurama; Lucifer, which had cold water thrown on it by Fox, yet rose again from its hellish depths on Netflix; and Arrested Development, with less acceptable results.
I believe someone has said before on this very website that TV shows should quit while they’re ahead, and leave people wanting more. But the difference here is Year of the Rabbit was just getting started. Comedies rarely catch on in their first showings – they require several repeats and then a subsequent series or four to gain traction and become treasures. This show was sure to gain traction and admirers, and sadly that opportunity seems to have disappeared.
But there is hope – and with all the sex, violence, heaving bosoms, grubby frock coats, filthy urchins and grisly murders, wouldn’t it be right at home on one of the streamers? Over to you, lads.