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Nathan Barley is, in the words of his creator Charlie Brooker, "a worthless moneyed shit who genuinely deserves to die." First appearing in the TV Go Home book in descriptions of a fictional series named Cunt, this fictional series was adapted for a real Channel 4 series. And renamed, for obvious reasons.
During six episodes we follow the flagging career of Dan Ashcroft, a bitter and troubled individual disgusted at his current occupation of being the resident guru for a tacky fashion magazine which charts the works of various "artists" whom he (and by extension the audience) considers mediocre and only famous because of shock value and poor tastes.
It is a very dark retrospection set in a fictional London location (though remarkably similar to Shoreditch or Hoxton, as anyone who has been there will confirm): a grim reflection on popular culture in general, and was so poorly received upon first airing that Channel 4 changed the timeslot and aired the final two episodes back to back, seemingly in an attempt to get rid of it, but as is so often the case it has gained a cult following since release onto the home video.
- Author Avatar: Dan Ashcroft for Charlie Brooker. Similar dishevelled appearance, misanthropy and occupation.
- Berserk Button: Dan being called a preacherman by a crowd of chanting idiots. He doesn't like the nickname in general, but most of the time is too apathetic to do anything about it.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Claire and Nathan, after their Will They or Won't They? moment they won't.
- Black Comedy: When a show features the line "I'm Nathan Barley and I like throwing people out of windows" which is then spoken by a character who is being meat-puppeted by another character, there is no other definition.
- Butt Monkey: Dan Ashcroft, Pingu, and perhaps Toby (Nathan's flatmate).
- Cloudcuckoolander: Ned Smanks is easily the most spaced out of the lot. He believes that hens are well dense (as in lacking intelligence) and likes the game Cock Muff Bumhole because "it's good because it looks like it's good because it's rude?!"
- Dead Baby Comedy: both satirized via trashbat.co.ck and Sugar Ape magazine and played straight elsewhere.
- De Fictionalisation: http://www.trashbat.co.ck
- Easter Egg: The DVD features a hidden subtitle track on episode 4, which insults the viewer for being the sort of person who fiddles with the subtitle button on their remote control.
- Everyone Meets Everyone: The first episode shows that while Dan and Claire know each other and live together, and Nathan reads Sugar Ape he doesn't meet Dan and the rest of the staff until they randomly bump into each other in a newsagents, and later in a cafè.
- Expy: Not so much a character as a style; the final sequence in the last episode is a clear stylistic lift from another Chris Morris show, Jam.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: The series features numerous brief shots of Sugar Ape photographs and posters, and it's usually worth pausing to read their captions. Also, during the sixth episode, there is a brief shot of a police sign appealing for witnesses to a crime to step forward. The Unreadably Fast Text at the bottom of the sign contains a joke on a subject that anticipates Morris' later project Four Lions, and also insults the viewer for being sad enough to pause the DVD to check whether the shot contains a Freeze Frame Bonus:
"A man with a handgun robbed the Red Dolphin Kebab Bar. We are 90% certain he was an anti terrorist police officer because they've gone all mental you should see them just trying to tie their shoelaces without shooting the fuck out of everything but just in case it wasn't please call the number below but if it was we are sorry. What are you reading this for your obsessional deviant DVD bandit sodsplit."
- Hypocrite: Dan and Claire; Dan for scorning the hipsters he was surrounded with while simultaneously being equally pretentious and superficial, and Claire for her efforts to be regarded as a socially conscious, politically aware filmmaker when her key interest was in fact furthering her own media career. Not to mention her criticisms of the model starring in Barley's Bad Uncle video:
Claire: "Her only problem is that she had the whole of Selfridge's by the time she was five!"
Nathan: "...and you have a problem with people being given stuff for free?"
Claire: "Yes, I do actually!"
Nathan "What, like free cameras and edit gear...?"
Claire "That's not the same thing!"
Nathan "Isn't it...?"
- Idle Rich: Barley himself.
- Idiot Ball: And Dan wins the race by a nose!
- Karma Houdini: Nathan himself, on a surprising number of occasions.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Doug Rocket as a fictional stand-in for Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, although a few celebrities were actually harmed, including Vernon Kay.
- "No Respect" Guy: "Preacherman" Ashcroft. He always manages to fall at the last hurdle.
- Not So Different: Dan isn't as different from or superior to Nathan as he likes to think he is.
- Only Sane Man: How Dan "I Am Not The Preacher Man" Ashcroft seemed to regard himself.
- Phrase Catcher: If the male Ashcroft is in the room and near any kind of idiots, expect him to be called Preacherman or some variation thereof.
- Sadist Show: If there's a moment where any character, no matter how small, can be kicked like a dog, it'll happen. Repeatedly.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Takes a definite swing towards the cynical end, especially by the final episode.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Almost the entire premise of the show.
- Take That: Charlie Brooker created the series as an extended jab at all the Nathan type characters in his life. Fortunately, quality writing allowed the show to avoid becoming a tiresome Author Tract.
- Take That, Audience!: The police sign. See Freeze-Frame Bonus and Easter Egg.
- Ted Baxter: At the Sugar Ape offices Dan thinks everyone he knows is an idiot, obsessed with childish pursuits such as comics, toys and fashion. Convinced that he deserves to write for a more mature and sophisticated audience, he goes to The Weekend On Sunday magazine for a job interview. He's confident that he can get the job and move on, but when he is asked about wine, cars and restaurants he is forced to admit that he knows absolutely nothing about any of these more grown-up interests.
- Too Dumb to Live: Seemingly most of the cast, but special mention must go to the Sugar Ape staff member who rides a mobility scooter (top speed: 10mph) along a crowded main road, oblivious to the traffic jam he is causing.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Sent up in-universe several times, such as with a YBA whose body of work consists of photos of celebrities urinating.
- Truth in Television: If you live in England you will likely know someone like Nathan and the people he hangs out with.
- Unreadably Fast Text: The police sign. See Freeze-Frame Bonus.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Take your pick.
- Upperclass Twit: Nathan has access to a lot of his parent's money and very little common sense or intelligence.