The Witchfinder review: The latest comedy on BBC Two, The Witchfinder is a humorous travelogue that follows Gideon Bannister (Tim Key), an ambitious but unskilled witch hunter who carries alleged witch Thomasine Gooch to trial in the hopes of reviving his ailing career. There’s a lot about it that feels safe: Cooper and Key are both quite funny in their past endeavors, so you’d expect them to work well with each other here too. It conceived by Neil and Rob Gibbons, the authors of This Time with Alan Partridge, and features Daniel Rigby, Jessica Hynes, and Reece Shearsmith among the rest of the group.
However, it isn’t nearly as amusing as it is now. Obviously, as with any comedy review, the usual caution applies: you could disagree and think it’s hilarious. That’s reasonable! Nothing here is lacking in terms of fundamental competency. The Witchfinder is well-made and built; the clothing and make-up are excellent, and the components are all there. If you appreciate its sense of humor, you’re unlikely to find anything else offensive; everything is well-made aside from the jokes.
The Witchfinder review: Where Does The Comedy Stand?
In general, all of The Witchfinder’s jokes – limited as they are – follow a similar fundamental formula. Gooch quickly punctures Bannister’s highfalutin, pompous, a bit too pleased-with-himself statement with an off-kilter comment. Not exactly sarcasm but a type of funny criticism he didn’t think of. They clash, and their discourse descends into two overlapping rants as they speak over each other. It works once in a while. It even works several times. But it doesn’t function as much as The Witchfinder requires because it keeps returning to the same well.
Perhaps the speed is part of the issue. That kind of back-and-forth dialogue could require a quicker tempo: a true staccato, rather than The Witchfinder’s more leisurely tone. The joke has been repeated several times with a distinct tone. Even still, while writing this Witchfinder review, it was difficult not to feel disappointed. Particularly if you were expecting more from the two protagonists.
The Witchfinder review occasionally alluded to notions about the anxiety and patriarchy that fueled the witch hunts. There’s this fantastic scene when Thomasine softly states she “used to enjoy swimming” after noting that any woman who ventures into a lake is suspected of being a witch. However, it is abruptly cut off and returns to the same hilarity as before. The Witchfinder feels lifeless, with each effort at a comedy falling flat — there’s no magic to be discovered here, humor or otherwise.