It was a natural successor to Nighty Night but how will the 2016 comedy’s British sensibility translate Stateside?
Looking back, the experience of watching Julia Davis’s Camping in 2016 was a little like my experience of actual camping. Having settled in for a hearty best-of-British break, suddenly the roof blew off and I realised I was stuck in a swamp of horror and couldn’t get home. Here’s the story: Robin (Steve Pemberton) is celebrating his 50th birthday with a camping trip, organised by his overbearing wife, Fiona (Vicki Pepperdine, later to join Davis in the brutally magnificent podcast Dear Joan and Jericha) and their son Archie, who unfortunately has an “elongated anus”.
Their friends join them, among them Tom (Rufus Jones) and his horny new girlfriend, Fay (Davis), whose endless shagging exposes the others’ sexless lives. And then there’s the owner of the campsite, whose elderly mother is unseen yet everywhere, her stained pants flapping on the line like very distressing kites. She is incapacitated – “She can only suck now.”
While Davis’s marvellous Nighty Night continued across two series (with a third still a possibility), Camping very much ends. It has an ending, one that I won’t spoil for the poor millions yet to see it, but one that made me scream, alone in my pyjamas. The darkness here is so black it’s blue. The news that has developed it for a US audience (with Jennifer Garner as Pepperdine’s character and also starring and Juliette Lewis) is a bit boggling; will they be allowed, inclined, to show such bleakness? This gloaming grimness feels particularly British.
Here, in the glorious English countryside, everyone hates each other. Camping is Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May reflected in a puddle of blood. I absolutely loved it. I love her, Julia Davis, whose portrayals of monstrous women I always find wildly liberating. I’m not alone, of course: Kylie Minogue watched Nighty Night while she was going through breast cancer treatment. George Michael was such a big fan that when he woke from a coma after a bout of pneumonia in 2012, he found himself speaking in the accent of the comedy’s lead character, Jill. Which reminds me of the cleansing light so many see when dying; the presence of Jill at a moment of deathliness suggests Julia Davis’s brilliance is that she manages to find the basest frequency of our character and give it voice. Also, all the poo jokes.
Camping premieres in the US on 14 October, HBO