The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin: Season 1 REVIEW – Stand And Be Silly

Based very, very, very loosely upon a true story.

The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin

Don’t be fooled by the name on the marquee. This is the highwayman cosplay adventures of Noel Fielding, who drifts through the show like the one man at a Renaissance Faire who’s not quite taking it seriously and is having a much better time for it.

The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin’s often at its strongest when it’s fully engaging with that ‘Completely Made-Up’ part in the title. By this I don’t mean when it trots out ghosts or witches, but rather with the whole nature of storytelling and myth-making, which does lend itself to a cartoony figure like Fielding in full flow. The idea all the wacky adventures have made their way through a few rounds of Chinese whispers helps to smooth off some of the rougher edges.

Sad to say it doesn’t go all in on exploiting that tension, but then it doesn’t want to. The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin knows exactly what it is, a light costume sitcom with Fielding’s fashionista whimsy deliberately front and centre. It’s a succession of friendly little jokes, set in a fictional past made silly by being a bit like our own time.

So while it doesn’t go all in on knowing, wink-at-the-audience metatextuality, it does still have a decent line in sheer self-awareness. And this provides a toffeelike elasticity to the show’s internal reality, where it’s not just ghosts managing to slot in nicely, but a complete dismissal of real-world physics, and even the occasional continuity error, so long as it’s servicing the joke.

And by and large, the jokes are silly, pantomimey stuff that it’s not possible to damage with something as mean as a continuity error. It’s lowest-common-denominator, to be sure, but as I keep saying it knows perfectly well that’s the level it’s aiming for. Its interest in Fielding’s gentler, more stylish version of highway robbery starts and ends with it raising a chuckle, and that’s as it should be.

The show’s relatively sober about using the name ‘Dick’ as whoops ooh-er sounds-a-bit-rude gag – don’t get me wrong, it does happen, but it doesn’t overuse this readily accessible tool. The gold standard for use of potentially rude names has to be Ghosts and its ‘Fanny rule’ (fnarr! Fnarr!), where the line must still work independent of the name being oopsy-daisy hello-vicar rude – The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin pushes that line slightly, but doesn’t overdo it.

(For example, Dick’s celebrity status gives rise to people excitedly talking about ‘Dick sightings’ – how’s a fellow meant to resist, really?)

Where The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin really shines, which perhaps explains why it’s a bit lax elsewhere, is in the cameos and guest stars. You get brilliant comedy presences like Greg Davies or Diane Morgan or Rich Fulcher popping in at a rate of knots – and, like real stars, they tend to leave you wanting more.

As I say, the real heavy-hitters like these are cameos and guest stars – but end up relatively sparse within the central cast. In fact, of the main cast it’s usually the bigger figures being shunted to the side. Mark Heap only appears sporadically, Tamsin Greig doesn’t turn up until halfway through. But if there was ever a presentation in which you could forgive the lead for not wanting to be outshone, it is Noel Fielding as a dandy highwayman.

This particularly shows in his gang, the only people in it with anything like the screentime. Having two iterations of ‘the thick one’ in your main quartet really hammers home that they’re just there as supporting artists. And Ellie White is very much present as the token woman, so much so that the show actually has its fun saying this out loud, another example of the self-awareness paying dividends.

Despite those cheekbones, Fielding himself is no leading man, and he would probably be among the first to call his performance fluffy and frothy. That is the strength of it, when the other highwaymen panic while he’s musing “My boots have buckles, how mad is that?”. But this doesn’t lend itself to the weightier moments that shouting “your money or your life” for a living tends to engender. Luckily, the show doesn’t get too bogged down in these, treating them as little more than another accessory or hat-feather.

As this is for all intents and purposes Vince Noir from The Mighty Boosh come again, it’s hard to resist the thought that Fielding needs the counterbalance of a jazz maverick like Julian Barratt, the other half of the Boosh. Hugh Bonneville kind of plays that role, but the issue is that unlike Barratt, you can’t see him naturally being in the same room as Fielding, and for a great deal of the running time he isn’t.

(And Tamsin Greig’s even-bigger baddy seems more like the guest stars have started to pile up.)

Like pretty well all the cameos, Bonneville could only be better if we got more of him, his blood pressure spiking like a 60-year-old colonel in the face of Fielding getting distracted by a waistcoat with sparkly bits. But would this be to the detriment of the whole? Spending too much time with any character might well creep into a kind of depth that would sit very poorly in this broader structure. This isn’t a treatise on the human condition after all.

So like Fielding’s treatment of Turpin, The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin has firmly chosen the path of flash over substance, and is completely comfortable in that choice. For all its invocation of modernity, it is a firmly traditional comedy model of people being a bit silly, and going on weekly adventures that give them lots of opportunity to be silly, peppered with Fielding’s shtick. If that sounds good to you, here it is.

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The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin
This is the lightest of light comedy, but at least that makes it relatively free of fat.