Buried in the vaults of BBC lies this Christmas gem, penned by professional funny people Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade and nimbly directed by Ayoade. It’s an inspired alternative to your traditional holiday fare and essential viewing for the Venn diagram intersection of 1970s rock opera, life of Jesus, and IT Crowd enthusiasts. AD/BC: A Rock Opera is a parody to be sure but one that brings ample holiday laughs and a gentle, if mischievous, nod to the reason for the season.
The usual Berry/Ayoade players, including Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, feature with Berry taking the lead as fictional composer Tim Wynde. Its a cast that guarantees glorious moments of quirk and deadpan, and they deliver generously. Cloaked in burgundy velvet, Wynde turns to the audience and muses over his opus, an unconventional retelling of the nativity story that focuses on ‘one of [its] more intriguing yet underexplored figures’ – the innkeeper, played by himself.
The camera pans right and, like a glittering disco ball, Wynde’s production comes to life. It’s all Jesus Christ, Superstar from there. A hodgepodge of plywood façades, chain link fences, exposed flood lights and some potted plants substitute for an economically depressed Bethlehem. To make matters worse for its weary citizens, who look like they’ve rummaged through a leftover costume trunk from a touring production of Superstar, there aren’t any Christmas sales to give their failing businesses a boost.
The humble innkeeper is just one of the people ‘filled with a holy funk’, and he blames the big player in town, Tony Iscariot (Barratt). The well coiffed owner of Iscariot Hotels wants to buy him out and comfort his unhappy wife (Julia Davis). But the innkeeper decides to give his little place one more go after ‘the man in the sky’ (Matt Lucas) tells him that a special guest is coming. Some divine inspiration convinces him that the famous stand-up comic Herod is on his way, so when ol’ cowboy Joe (Ayoade) strolls along, he and his pregnant wife are relegated to the stable.
This compact production doesn’t waste its 30 minute running time, and Berry and Ayoade fill their project with details that give it the look and feel of a lost classic (which it is). The short film doesn’t just have the superficial glow of nostalgia though. It may lack the strong religious punch of your other viewing options, but beneath the big hair still lies a warm Christmas message of redemption and peace. I promise it goes down nicely with your holiday meal.
Prod: Steve Coogan
Dir: Richard Ayoade
Writer: Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry
Cast: Matt Berry, Julian Barratt, Richard Ayoade, Matt Lucas, Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, Karl Theobald, Tom Hillenbrand, Lucy Montgomery, Lydia Fox, Sophia Winkleman, Graham Linehan, Rich Fulcher, Lawrence Fox
Time: 28 min
Country: United Kingdom
Network: BBC Three