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Jam (2000)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Jam (2000)
For Channel 4, tx. 23/3 - 27/4/2000
6 x 30 min episodes plus remix, colour
Director Chris Morris
Production Company TalkBack
Producers Chris Morris
Written by Christopher Morris, Peter Baynham, Jane Bussmann, David Quantick

Cast: Amelia Bullmore, David Cann, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, Roz McCutcheon, Victoria Heath-Smith

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Late night sketch show focusing on dark and twisted subjects.

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A direct descendant of Chris Morris's late-night, music-heavy sketch show for BBC Radio 1, Blue Jam, this television version lost half of its name and much of its mystique in the transfer. Nonetheless, a wider audience found its unorthodox treatment of difficult subject matters a fresh and exciting departure for a comedian previously known for his bombast.

The three radio series of Blue Jam (1997-99) saw the writer and performer directing a cast for the first time as well as producing and editing the programmes; a clear turning point in Morris's creative control. Initial development coincided with his first work as television director, on the un-transmitted pilot of sketch show Big Train (BBC2, 1998-2002). Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon and Mark Heap were the stars of both projects, with the addition of David Cann for Blue Jam.

Jam was deliberately perverse in its satirical approach to difficult issues, and often risked giving offence - even, sometimes, to dedicated Morris fans. Taboo illnesses were fair game, as was the grief of bereaved mothers, a springboard for a sequence of sketches involving miniature coffins and a plumber hired to integrate a dead child with a boiler system. A general sense of despair served up stories of suicide, loss of control, destructive relationships and alienation (particularly compelling in Morris's own monologues), but more often the understated sketches acted as studies of social manners or sought to exaggerate an essential truth, such as the competitive parents who use alcohol, drugs and pornography to blight others' chances of getting ahead of their son in the schools admissions process.

The need for heavily stylised visual manipulation to match Adrian Sutton's unsettling sound-bed was a challenge never satisfactorily resolved. Where Blue Jam had been playful and ready to tease laughter from the most pregnant of pauses, relying greatly on the listener's own imagination, this sense of fun and ambiguity suffered in the transition to the screen. Sketches that might have been, at root, quite traditional could appear po-faced, self-consciously odd and needlessly drawn-out.

The television series emerged in two forms: the standard six-episode Jam and the concurrent 'remix' series, Jaaaaam (C4, 2000), which contained the same basic material but was distorted further through additional visual effects and sound treatments. 'Rothko', an extended Blue Jam monologue, later surfaced as a short film: My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (d. Morris, 2002).

Ian Greaves

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Morris, Christopher (1963- )