A great man once said friends are the family we get to choose. He was begging his landlady to forgive him for accidentally pretending he was dating his flatmate at the time. That particular moment didn’t go well. Fortunately, he was dreaming, and that small fact aside the wisdom of Tim Bisley’s words that day still ring true. Friends are the family we choose, and gaming groups are the family we pretend to be other people with.
Nights At The Round Table, the new webseries from Redshirt Films, is set on gaming night for a group torn asunder. Mille (Jennifer Jordan) needs four players for her games to work and she only has two; Max (Arron Dennis) and Harmony (Amelia Tyler). Max is a supermarket shelf stacker with delusions of competency; Harmony is a rampaging monster with a fondness for psychological destruction whilst Millie is the nicest human being on the planet. Until, of course, she reaches for the little hammers…
Thrown, completely against his will, into all this is Sam (James Rotchell). Sam and Max were best friends in school but drifted apart: Max to the wonderful world of shelves, Sam to the wonderful world of having his heart broken, stamped on, burnt and fed to him. Oh and being a barrister. Now, back in town, Sam is invited to the group for game night. But who will be their fourth? Why is Max so proud that he cooks his own cooking? And what leads to the opening NERF-gun execution sequence set many weeks after the main plot?
Writer and director Jamie McKeller is best known for his work on the excellent I Am Tim and there’s the same rapid-fire visual wit here. McKeller throws everything at the screen the way Sam Raimi does when he’s invested, switching film stock, tone, breaking the fourth wall and throwing in nods to everything from Scott Pilgrim to Miller’s Crossing and of course Spaced. There’s the same joke-every-five-seconds pace to it, and they range from good to great. The pay-off for the character introduction scenes is my favourite.
The cast clearly get the joke and each one of them raises the script every time they speak. Amelia Tyler’s cheerfully unpleasant Harmony is great fun, as is Jennifer Jordan’s quiet, polite, nice Millie. Both get a chance to really cut loose around the halfway mark of this episode and Jordan’s delivery, along with Tyler’s wide-eyed lunacy really drive the point home.
On the boy’s side of the table, Arron Dennis turns Max into a Bisleyian tower of barely contained ego. He’s clearly in control of his life (but does he launder his own laundry as well as cook his own cooking?), clearly the smartest person in the room and clearly utterly delusional. Just like Tyler and Jordan, Dennis is one half of a great double act, with James Rotchell rounding the cast out as Sam. Rotchell is the control, the “normal” person but never, ever the straight man. Many of the best jokes are his and his constantly polite, slightly confused response to the group’s lunacy is really rather sweet. Although I give him less than two more episodes before he’s as crazy as they are.
Four people sitting round a table, waiting to play a game. The best comedy often comes from the simplest premise and this is no exception. Funny, fast and too clever for its characters’ own good, Nights At The Round Table is brilliant. It’s Friends for the Savage Worlds generation or Spaced with iphones. Enjoy.