It’s quite something that what was undoubtedly the oddest, most extreme and certainly the most sinister “comedy” series of the year 2000 would still be all of those same things when revisited over a decade and a half later, but this was the conclusion that I invariably came to last week when I re-watched Chris Morris’ legendarily fucked-up Channel Four series Jam. Nothing’s come even close to dethroning it in the intervening years.
Based on audio material that had initially been worked out for a late night radio show called Blue Jam that was broadcast from 1997 through 1999 on BBC1, Jam often had the actors who’d done the original radio work lipsync those same bits for the camera, giving the show an organically disturbing element that was difficult to pinpoint. Indeed, from the very first seconds of Jam, it’s patently obvious that the viewer is about to witness something that’s not only meant to fuck with their heads, but that’s going to accomplish this goal quite successfully. I first caught an episode of Jam in a London hotel room (I was there doing publicity for the second series of my own Channel Four show) and I was utterly flabbergasted by not only what I was seeing before my astonished eyes, I was also gobsmacked (as the Brits are fond of saying) that something like this, something this post-post-post modern, this forward-thinking, this incredibly bleak, moody and just plain fucked-up had made it to television in the first place, having been green-lighted by the very same people who foolishly allowed little me to have a TV show around the same time.
Someone I knew at C4 mailed me VHS tapes of Jam back in New York, and I became an evangelist for it, forcing joints into mouths and making all of my friends watch it. Some of them even thanked me. (One person I’ve not heard from since…)
But enough of these… words, it’s not like one can “explain” Jam, so let’s take a break now and roll tape. Here’s the first episode of Jam. I know you’re busy, we all are, but for your sake—I’m not doing this for me—watch at least the incredibly brilliant opening sequence and the first sketch, where a worried couple at their wits end (Amelia Bullmore and Mark Heap) lay something quite dark and heavy about their son on his godfather (Kevin Eldon) and ask for a rather big favor.
Breathtaking, is it not?
Jam was primarily written by Chris Morris and Peter Baynham (who co-wrote Borat) with contributions from Father Ted creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews; Jane Bussmann, David Quantick and the cast. The main performers were Morris himself (he’s the one delivering the sick/surreal monologues at the start of each one), Mark Heap, Kevin Eldon, Amelia Bullmore, David Cann and the always brilliant Julia Davis (Nighty Night).
All six episodes of this infamous horror-comedy are on YouTube. As licensing the music (Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Aphex Twin and many others) for release outside of the UK is prohibitively expensive, unlike Morris’ later series Nathan Barley—which has also aged very, very well—you’re not likely to be see Jam via Seeso or Netflix anytime soon.
Below are some of my favorite sketches from Jam, but hopefully if these clips pique your interest you’ll watch each complete episode. Every episode of Blue Jam, the BBC 1 radio broadcast that preceded Jam can be found at the Internet Archive. There’s also a Blue Jam compilation CD.
Kevin Eldon’s got a ‘Shrunken Car’
A wary plumber fixes a baby
‘Thick People’ with an absolutely genius performance by Julia Davis