Chickens. Image shows from L to R: Cecil (Simon Bird), George (Joe Thomas), Bert (Jonny Sweet). Copyright: Big Talk Productions.

Chickens

Sky One and Channel 4 sitcom about men avoiding going to war. 7 episodes (pilot + 1 series), 2011 - 2013. Stars Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, Jonny Sweet, Sarah Daykin and others.

Press Clippings

The last in what has been a fine series, audacious in transferring The Inbetweeners' themes of male inadequacy and humiliation into a first world war setting. Tonight, the soldiers return to Rittle-On-Sea on leave, providing a welcome relief for the boys, whose man-love is almost a match for the women. George, however, finds himself regretting the advice he gives to a private who wants to become a conscientious objector, displaying no conscience at all when his tenuous "engagement" to Winky comes under threat.

David Stubbs, The Guardian, 26th September 2013

Chickens may be vulnerable to the suggestion that it's merely The Inbetweeners transferred to the first world war, but that scarcely matters as it continues to deliver the laughs. The set-up of humiliated young men and the gulf between themselves and the unimpressed opposite sex works just fine here. Tonight, a girl appears out of the blue asking to be Cecil's girlfriend, to his natural suspicion. Meanwhile, a toilet paper/poetry related incident sees Bert ejected from the cottage, only for him to land in a rather more luxurious abode.

David Stubbs, The Guardian, 5th September 2013

Barry Humphries: I've finally had my first screen kiss

Comedy veteran Barry Humphries was happy to sign up for his sitcom debut - as it meant he got his first ever screen kiss.

Anne Richardson, The Sun, 29th August 2013

Radio Times review

There's a touch of Carry On to Bert, the sniggering womaniser played with much zeal by Jonny Sweet. Yet his gags often feel the freshest in this First World War comedy because Simon Bird and Joe Thomas are playing characters almost identical to those they're famous for in The Inbetweeners: a goody-goody and an ill-starred romantic.

In this second episode, Bert makes eyes at a widow, Cecil has his knickers in a twist about plumbing and schoolmaster George's pacifism lands him detention. Look out for Barry Humphries (better known as his alter ego Dame Edna Everage) as a conniving headmaster.

Claire Webb, Radio Times, 29th August 2013

It's so slight it's in danger of drifting away on the lightest breeze. But in a year when the best TV has generally ranged between solemn and devastating, it feels good to have something as blithe, breezy and just plain daft as Chickens to provide some light relief. This is one of those TV experiences which manages to be enjoyable without leaving any real mark on your memory whatsoever. To see it is to forget it.

Tonight, the chickens' water has gone brown. But they aren't practical types and, with Rittle-on-Sea's menfolk off at the front, there is every prospect of this hardship continuing. Elsewhere George is going to have to relax his principles and cane a miscreant schoolboy if he wants to stay engaged. But might he get a taste for it? Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet share an enviable comic chemistry; this more than anything is the key to Chickens transient charms.

Phil Harrison, Time Out, 29th August 2013

Is everyone who took part in the First World War dead? Good, let's desecrate their sufferings and sacrifices with a rubbish sitcom.

I was really looking forward to Chickens, Sky1's take on British conscientious objectors during the Great War. It sounded a bold, brave and original concept that promised to push the world of Blackadder Goes Forth to a further level of dark, dangerous, edgy and disturbing satire.

How could it fail to do otherwise, with protagonists who would have permanently existed in the shadow of public contempt, scorn and opprobrium?

How? By draining the situation of all drama and jeopardy, and reducing it to the level of a silly-ass costume comedy, that's how. For a show such as Chickens to work, it has to be grounded in some sort of emotional truth. But this has none. It just staggers from one contrived and supposedly surreal set-up to the next, completely missing the point that the First World War was itself a massive and bloody absurdity.

Chickens is written by its three stars - Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet - who therefore have nobody to blame but themselves for the paper-thin characters they're obliged to inhabit. Flat feet, moral repugnance and total imbecility preclude the trio from serving king and country, and consequently they are the only men in a village of women. Imagine a kind of Carry On Conshie, but without the film series' wit.

The show is shot through with anachronisms, not least its jazz-era theme tune, which aspire to be postmodern but actually betray a slovenly unwillingness genuinely to explore the period chosen as its setting.

There is also an awful lot of swearing, which invariably signals a paucity of decent jokes. Have I mentioned that Chickens isn't particularly funny, either?

Harry Venning, The Stage, 27th August 2013

Much was made in promoting the first episode of new Sky1 sitcom Chickens of the fact that Channel 4 had had first refusal on the series and, well, refused it. C4 must reject tons of comedies, but few of those mark the writing debut of the stars of not one, but three successful shows. Joe Thomas and Simon Bird, both of The Inbetweeners and then, respectively, Fresh Meat and Friday Night Dinner, seem quite chirpy about the initial setback, putting it down to their ubiquity in the Channel 4's comedy stable. That could be one reason, but another is that Chickens is just a little bit weak.

Here the pair have joined forces with old Cambridge uni pal, actor and stand-up Jonny Sweet. As well as writing, they all star in this First World War sitcom, which imagines the fates of three young men who escape conscription to stay at home in a village populated only by decidedly contemptuous women. Thomas is hen-pecked George, a conscientious objector whose fiancée forces him to help her draft flirty missives to her soldier penpals, while Bird plays pompous Cecil, supposedly rejected on physical grounds ("flat feet"). Sweet is nice-but-dim Bert, who keeps forgetting who the war is against and seems to have got out of it thanks to straight-forward cowardice. In this ineffectual trio of bickering frenemies there are strains of The Inbetweeners, but with some Mumford and Sons vintage styling. The tweed and twiddly moustaches suggests they were inspired by the recent vogue for all things chap-ish that peaked a while back and now looks dated rather than retro.

All three are as likeable as you'd expect based on their previous turns and they have a natural, punchy dynamic. Bird and Thomas do a great line in resignation to humiliation and Sweet is the right side of Pimms o'clock caricature. I liked the anachronistic touches - while Cecil is press-ganged by the local women into darning socks for the front, Bert embroiders a handkerchief with "Cecil, Bert and George - Takin' it easy 1914". The hanky ends up in a predictable set piece though, and what's missing, perhaps - especially since the trio say Sky offered them free rein - are a few darker or more surreal notes in all the frivolity. Barry Humphries is slated to appear in the next episode and I'm nursing the hope that, given time, Chickens might develop a bit more gutsily.

Rhiannon Harries, The Independent, 24th August 2013

The only real way to judge the first episode of any new sitcom is by the number of laughs per minute. I managed four in the 24 minutes (including ad break) of Chickens (Sky 1); which is substantially above average, given that some time has to be spent establishing the characters and the sit in the sitcom. Chickens began life as a pilot for Channel 4. Not having seen the pilot, I've no idea why it got turned down, but I'd be willing to bet Sky took a punt on commissioning a series on the proviso that writers Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet made it as much like The Inbetweeners as possible.

Chickens is set in the fictional town of Rittle-on-Sea in August 1914, just after the outbreak of the first world war. Much of the pre-publicity for the show has focused on the risky nature of its situation and the way it hopes to invert sexual stereotypes by placing three non-combatant men as a minority in a village run by women. Save that for a dinner party conversation, because Bird and Thomas are basically playing their Inbetweeners characters.

Bird is Cecil, who has been turned down by the army for having flat feet, but could just as well be Inbetweener Will. Both are brighter and better-intentioned than everyone else around, but end up misunderstood and picked on. Thomas is conscientious objector George, but could just as well be Simon, the Inbetweener who takes himself terribly seriously and isn't as bright as he thinks he is. Sweet wasn't in The Inbetweeners but his character, Bert the Bounder, could well have been. None of which is a problem as far as I'm concerned. I loved The Inbetweeners and I enjoyed this. And with luck it will get even better when the characters have settled in and Barry Humphries makes an appearance.

Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, 23rd August 2013

I watched Chickens without prejudice, without knowing, as I do now, that Channel 4 declined to take the series after screening a pilot a couple of years ago (Sky stepped in). I watched as a fan of The Inbetweeners and its stars, Simon Bird and Joe Thomas, who joined fellow Cambridge Footlights man Jonny Sweet for this new sitcom. I wanted to like it, but, Christ, it was tough.

The trio put on posh accents, but, incongruously, their own familiar voices to play chaps who stay behind during the First World War (Bird's character has flat feet, Thomas's is a pacifist, and the other one is too thick to know there's a war on). They try to go about their business while being ridiculed and vilified by the women of their village. That's it. It is at best, I say with regret, a Footlights sketch on a bad week.

Simon Usborne, The Independent, 23rd August 2013

I'm sad to say that Chickens was a turkey

Was it worth Sky taking the punt, have C4 done the TV equivalent of not signing The Beatles? Sadly - and this from a big Inbetweeners fan - the answer looks like no on both counts.

Keith Watson, Metro, 23rd August 2013