Review for 15 Storeys High : Complete BBC Series 1 & 2
I forgot one of my mental notes again. This note dates from 2003, back when I reviewed the first season of 15 Storeys High on DVD, and decided to get the second season as well. The problem came with the release. Season 1 was released by Carlton, on an admittedly poor disc, the kind of disc that would give me pause when it came to buying more. A widescreen show was presented in letterbox, and there were no extra features, just the episodes. As far as I can tell, Season 2 never got an individual release. I don’t know what it was that reminded me a couple of weeks ago; the exact flavour of ennui that I was experiencing seemed to match the mood of 15 Storeys High, and I was suddenly in the mood to watch it again. But instead of watching that Carlton disc again, I decided to see if Season 2 had been released in the intervening 17 years. It hadn’t, but there had been a complete series release, this time from the BBC via 2 Entertain, which presented both seasons on 2 discs, in anamorphic widescreen, and there were extra features as well. I wish I’d known this fourteen years ago back when it was first released.
Vince is a lifeguard who lives on the fifteenth storey of a tower block, and in the first episode he gets a new roommate Errol. The series follows their rather surreal if mundane lives, interspersed with several vignettes around the other apartments. You get twelve episodes of both series on these two discs from 2 Entertain. Note that Ice Queen and Pool Kids are transposed in the running order of season 1 compared to the Carlton disc.
Errol moves in to find Vince a little strange. Vince prefers to avoid human contact, so that means the flat’s sofa must go. A quick advert in Loot does the trick, but then Vince realises that his reward card is in the sofa, and it has 17000 points on it.
Errol is a compulsive wallpaper peeler, which leads to a necessary redecoration of the bathroom. Unfortunately Vince gets his DIY tips from Razzle’s readers’ wives. Coincidentally, he’s teaching a Razzle model how to swim, much to the consternation of her jealous husband.
A new East European hypermarket opens up locally, and Vince discovers a new power drink, Blue Rat. Meanwhile Errol gets a job in Billingsgate market, as a “Walk-Wipe”.
Errol is certain he will win a car. Vince is smitten with the unapproachable woman upstairs.
Vince suffers the wrath of a group of ten year olds when he tries to express his authority at the pool. Errol takes Vince’s advice and avoids all the neighbours, which will lead him into unprecedented trouble.
Vince is busy with bubble wrap and Errol is lost in his new trainers, until a policeman turns up.
Vince the Shirker.
Error has a hard time saying no, which is a problem in his retail job. Vince only has one job to do, get his co-worker Darren to a surprise birthday party. Apparently Vince also only has one testicle.
Car Boot & Pigeon s***.
Because of pigeon mess, the local kids have taken to smoking their joints in the lifts. Errol got high in the lift off second hand smoke and decided to work out with just one arm. Vince got high and decided to hold a car boot sale.
Vince is going on holiday, and he’s left Errol with a long list of rules, and a booby trapped flat. But when Vince can’t even leave the country, he has to come up with a decent story to explain why.
Vince gets home drunk... with a plough! It turns out he took a detour through a church yard, and unsurprisingly, an irate vicar is soon knocking on the door.
Vince is up for a promotion at the pool, but the management don’t think he’s responsible enough, so give him a plastic baby to take care of. Errol could only find nicotine patches when he gets a cut, so now he’s hooked on cigarettes.
All of a sudden, women are taking an interest in Errol. Vince is depressed, maybe because of this, maybe because of a trivia question about Yogi Bear. Errol goes to the desperate measure of contacting Vince’s dad.
15 Storeys High is set in a rundown tower block, so you can expect dirt and grime, with plenty of greys. The programme looks like it’s shot on digital video, with a very realistic feel when it comes to the natural lighting and the fly on the wall camera angles. In that respect it’s very effectively filmed giving the programme an almost documentary style, hardly expected in a comedy. This 2 Entertain re-release upgrades the video to 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, a big improvement over the Carlton release. Having said all that, it doesn’t look great when scaled up on an HD panel, with stair-stepping quite apparent, and the softness of the image not doing the show any favours. The lack of detail is disappointing.
You get a DD 2.0 Stereo English track with optional English subtitles. There’s no problem with subtitles falling off the screen given that we have an anamorphic transfer this time. The audio is fine, the dialogue is clear, and there are no issues with glitches or dropouts. Given the setting and the naturalistic and candid feel to the show, there’s not a lot that the audio can do in terms of stereo placement or effects, but the episodes all sound good enough.
The discs present their content with animated menus, and this time there are extra features.
Disc 1 has two commentaries to go with the first season.
Sean Lock is joined by producer Phil Bowker and director Mark Nunneley on The Sofa.
Blue Rat gets a commentary from Sean Lock and actor/writer Martin Trenaman
Disc 2 has commentaries and a featurette.
Vince the Shirker gets a commentary from Sean Lock, Mark Nunneley, and Mark Lamarr, who as Mark Jones co-wrote the series with Sean Lock.
The Plough has a commentary with Sean Lock, Mark Nunneley and Phil Bowker.
Writing 15 Storeys High is a 20:13 featurette, an interesting candid chat between Sean Lock and Mark Lamarr.
I’m not who I was seventeen years ago! Back then, I was still surfing on the wave of Cool Britannia, and there was a nihilistic chic to a show set in a tower block, looking at the quirks and foibles of high rise low rent living, people living at the edge of society. These days, my views of tower blocks are coloured by one particular and recent tragedy, and the Grenfell fire revealed lives more prosaic and tragic than any portrayed in 15 Storeys High. 15 Storeys High featured characters that society had forgotten, but whose lives were shown to have meaning and value in their own, bizarre ways. Reality has shown us that these lives are indeed forgotten by society, but really are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It’s hard to enjoy 15 Storeys High the way I once did.
Having said that though, I do still enjoy 15 Storeys High even if it is now tinged with a sense of melancholy, and after a while the dark humour, the absurdities of life, and bizarre situations work their magic again, and I’m laughing out loud. As mentioned in the extras, Sean Lock wanted to write a sitcom that dispensed with the story, and got straight to the gags. As such, these are caricatures rather than characters, even the central pairing of Vince and Errol, whose narrative, if such a word applies, takes up most of the episode runtimes.
The stories for Vince and Errol are really quite simple, some event will occur, or some personality quirk will manifest, and we’ll follow the consequences of that through the episode, and it will all be intercut with little vignettes, glimpses of lives in other flats in the tower block. They can be quite bizarre and daft at times, unexpected and out there characters, living their strange little lives in this vertical Little Britain.
Season 1 is perhaps the more random of the two, as there is more of a narrative flow to the episodes in Season 2, but in terms of holding to the original premise, in terms of the quality of the comedy, and the wackiness of the characters, there’s very little difference between the two series. They really are on a par.
15 Storeys High is really an oxymoron of a show. It looks dark and downbeat, and as mentioned, these are characters living on the verges of society, isolated and alone in their insular little worlds, and what they pursue to keep themselves amused, their lives worthwhile can be seen as a little sad. But 15 Storeys High manages to find a delightful humour in these situations, an energy and a passion for life that makes this dull, dreary looking show a charming bright spot and a must see series. This 2 Entertain release is by far the way to watch the show, even if the transfer isn’t up to modern HD standards. Just make sure to avoid the Carlton release of Season 1.