Six Classic Bottom Episodes #1 – ‘Gas’

Hello all, recently two of my very best mates borrowed and revisited Bottom from me which has re-kindled my love of it (that and it was Christmas recently) . It made me consider, well, remember; it wasn’t that hard of a choice, my favourite episodes.

There were a couple things that missed out. For one, you’ll notice there are no episodes from season 3. This is mostly because season 3 is one of the worst things ever produced on television.

Bottom is an underrated show, it’s mostly remembered for crass humour and extremely physical, violent performances from its two leads, as well as a truly terrible film adaptation and so-so stage shows which started off well but got lazier as they progressed. It is not as fondly remembered as the duo’s Ben Elton collaboration The Young Ones (but is more well-received than Filthy, Rich & Catflap, an even more underrated show) or Rik Mayall’s own political satire The New Statesman but that’s not to say it’s not popular, the sell out tours many years later are testament to that. But people often forget how well written and damn funny Bottom could be when it didn’t resort to fights and fart gags (amusing as they are) or getting bogged down in trying to incorporate other, less well drawn, characters.

It was always a hit or miss show, it certainly lacks the consistency of The Young Ones, which is probably why its never quite considered on its par, particularly as it dared to go for the always risky British sitcom series 3, which in this case backfires badly. But through the first two seasons there are no bad episodes (except maybe the fairly disappointing first transmitted episode) but they all have at least several laughs even if they aren’t always as satisfying full episodes. I propose however that if these 6 episodes were the only season of Bottom, it would pretty much be the perfect TV series, as it would show the central pair’s relationship (which can be a myriad of things, but mostly husband/wife akin to The Young Ones’ family dynamic) in its entirety without every becoming tiresome.

The only season 3 episode I considered entering as a token was its first one, ‘Hole’, which remains the only one that is focused enough to remain pretty funny all the way through. But it still misses out because, good as that episode is, most of its jokes have been already done much better in earlier episodes while some lines were signs of the highly uninspired season that was to come – plus, they die at the end of it, if this had been a final one-off episode the show would probably be remembered a lot more fondly. Otherwise we have 3 episodes each from the first two seasons, proving that it is very difficult to choose between the two.

The only other episode that narrowly missed the cut was ’s Up’ from season 1 (proving the first season just about edges it) just because I arbitrarily decided six was a good number to countdown from. ‘s Up’ is an excellent episode in which the boys are left in charge of the downstairs corner-shop as a favour to their landlord – the brilliant Roger Sloman – and has some wonderful moments such as the realisation that the child’s animated video the “Furry Honey-pot Adventure” Eddie mistakenly bought as softcore porn “probably isn’t going to get very sexy is it?” or Ritchie’s cowardly “thug!” accusation to one of Eddie’s pals in the shop or Eddie’s preference of pickled onion sandwiches to Sunday fish fingers.

But these are the best, in order of appearance:

‘Gas’ – Season 1, Episode 2 – 24 September 1991 

I say I’ve ordered this by appearance, but to be honest I’d be quite tempted to just go ahead and say this is the best episode. ‘Gas’ is one of the few episodes to feature other (in this case one-off) characters for just enough time to keep the farce interesting, and enough for the guys to still do what they do best; bounce off each other. Bottom is generally at its strongest when it is focused on Eddie and Ritchie exploring their relationship and pathetic status as losers, which usually they take away in favour of a crude double entendre or a fight. But more on that later, what this episode creates from the get-go in a poker game with Ritchie’s poor attempts at cheating, and Eddie’s much more successful ones – “five pairs” – which establishes that Eddie is pretty much always in control of the situation.

And the situation here is a pretty fantastic one, the two are stealing next door’s gas and the inspector has arrived to read the meter. What follows is an incredible six (real time) minutes of trying to keep the Gas Man, who’s due to finish his shift in ten minutes (stage time) occupied so that he can’t check next door’s gas until the next day. This includes explaining how they keep the apartment so warm when they don’t use gas (Eddie doesn’t even know what it is) – “We make love!” – forcing him to have the customary British cup of tea, telling a long story about some trousers, and then putting the kettle on… the floor because they drink their tea cold – “better drink it before it gets hot.” Eddie quips. All this before Ritchie declaring his undying love for the Gas Man, until finally they resort to beating him up with a frying pan. What works about the violence here is that it is only resorted to as a last gasp in a scene that had been building with hilarious tension for the last six minutes.

The lads think they’ve killed him – “bollocks you killed him he was dead before he hit the ground!” “well why did you keep hitting him with a frying pan then?” “…for fun” – and the following seven minutes sees them trying to work out how to dispose of the body. What’s fantastic about ‘Gas’ as an episode is its structure. Even though its largely all in one setting (or at least all within the same building) it manages to successfully maintain a three act structure which start off as nothing, builds and builds and builds, blows up, and starts again. So Act I sees the Gas Man’s arrival and their desperate attempts to buy time, culminating in his “death”. Then there is a brief pause, and Act II has them consider framing it as an accident, eating him, resuscitating him (by kiss of life, bicycle pump and finally electric shock), eating him again, selling his meat to the local kebab (something we’ve all wondered from some dodgy kebabs), hiding him under a rug, and finally, bus-surfing. Each suggestion gets more ridiculous and calculated, including Eddie’s false work diary, until the moment the Gas Man is suddenly revived. The Gas Man leaves (with amnesia) and with him out of the picture, Act II is done.

When Act III, the longest, starts one has almost forgotten that the reason for all of this is still to be resolved; removing the evidence of the stolen gas supply. The lad’s neighbour Mr. Rottweiller, is a hilariously cartoon-like character who for some reason works in the twisted world of Bottom. Brian Glover who plays him looks like a disgruntled Popeye who’s finally had enough of saving Olive Oyl and fighting Bluto and has settled down with “a real woman” whom he genuinely seems affectionate for (in a scary large man way). When Rottweiller denies the guys, they take matters into their own hands, and this is where things get ridiculous. After a failed attempt through the window which does nothing more than confirm the duo’s pervy nature – “See I told you, you do do it that way” – they break in through what is revealed to be their bedroom, with Ritchie cleaning up the mess they’ve made and Eddie doing “all the really dangerous stuff”. This technique of adding layers upon layers of farce doesn’t quit here though as Ritchie deals with an impossibly noisy chest of draws, before letting the perverted virgin in him get the better of him and climb into the couple’s bed to get a better look at the aforementioned “real woman”. In pretty much any other TV show the idea of Rik Mayall sneaking into someone’s bed as they sleep seems creepy, out of line and ridiculous, yet the situation still somehow manages to remain funny here. It’s mostly because Mayall does such a good job of making Ritchie the pathetic loser he so often pretends not to be, but clearly really is. His awful attempts to sneak a better look at the sleeping woman is like something from a silent comedy routine; indeed there is almost no dialogue for almost five minutes in this scene and yet Mayall’s expressive face and features keep this highly amusing scene alive and somehow not horrifying.

Again, for the third time in the episode, and this time by far the most accented, the tension and farce builds to a ridiculous point, with Eddie smashing the conveniently placed china cabinet (why would Rottweiller have that anyway?) and leaking gas into the kitchen and calling Ritchie for help, who has meanwhile got himself stuck in the bed between the sleeping couple. Ritchie’s struggling leads to the bed collapsing, and the couple “doing it some more” while he escapes only to find Eddie has blown up the kitchen – “I thought I’d burn it off!” “What your face?”. From herein time pretty much disappears in any sort of believable sense. In the next minute, the guys try to escape only to find the earlier Gas Man at the front door (presumably there at the middle of the night due to his amnesia), Rottweiller awoken by the doorbell but not the explosion in his kitchen – not to mention already being finished “doing it some more” – and our heroes escaping through the same hole in the wall they entered, after one last picture of the sleeping woman “for the album”. Given the pace of the rest of the episode, the ending is a bit of a rush, but given the entire episode (and show)’s ridiculous nature, it somehow gets away with it. Plus it’s all academic anyway as the Gas Man confirms Ritchie and Eddie’s actions to Rottweiller who quickly seeks revenge; ending the episode.

‘Gas’ being only the second transmitted episode in Bottom’s existence, was a bit of a landmark. Those who must have been slightly let down by the series opener must have then come to this episode and thought “I have no idea what is going on, but I laughed a lot”. “It’s the Gas Man!” became an instantly quotable catchphrase, and this episode announced the comedy duo’s return to television gold.  What would follow was rarely as strong as this brilliantly executed farce, but it did prove that they still had it, and that this was going to be a show worth sticking with (for a while at least.)

Next up: ‘Contest’.

– Adam Turner-Heffer

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