I love going into reviews blind and honest, so when the chance came up to review a show I’d never heard of by people I’ve never met in a genre I know very little about, I leapt on it.
So. The Chronicles Of Professor Elemental is a low budget steampunk-themed webseries about a deliciously mad crime solving professor, with occasional musical interludes and insanely tight writing. I mean it. There isn’t an unnecessary word, half-assed joke or clunky exposition in there.
Characterisation runs so deep and quickly that a professor who should seem camp to the point of ridiculous comes off as perfectly feasible to the point of feeling almost nonfictional, “real” if you will. There’s genuine laugh out loud moments of absurdity, genre-free physical comedy and word games that would make Leslie Nielsen proud.
Despite steampunk being a bit of a cultural niche, Professor Elemental very much isn’t a niche show, in as much that purists would probably claim it wasn’t steampunk. Their loss. The show borrows steampunk properties and has a jolly good play with them (crikey this enthusiastic overly-British lexicon is infectious) but doesn’t rely on them for comedy or for driving the story forward.
It’s this sense that the show is aware of its own genre and its potential trappings that really let the viewer get lost in the world straight away, rather than having to shift their paradigm to fit something a little more Victorian. With smart phones, mobility scooters and sexy cars, Professor Elemental belongs to a timeless period, one very much not Victorian.
Thanks to occasional songs, intelligent gorillas and outright surrealism, the series could be accused of being a little too like The Mighty Boosh or similar. However everything in Professor Elemental makes sense. It’s wit expressing itself through surrealism, not just weird-for-the-sake-of-weird.
The songs are fantastic. While they don’t produce as many hysterical comedy moments as the rest of the script, they are just as tightly written. There’s no awkward shuffling to make rhyme schemes work, no unnecessary repetition of segments or humming and mumbling, and they end just as their potential starts to wane, and not a moment to soon or to late. Frankly they make a lot of other musical comedies look lazy.
It is all very enjoyable, but because I’m me and I’m awake, I do have a few reservations, tiny and fickle as they are.
The 15-ish minute format doesn’t quite feel right. The series could do with either breaking itself up into smaller pieces, perhaps bookended with a few more cliffhangers, or by smashing all that wit and music together into one single full length feature.
While tightly written, the dialogue is at times a little loosely performed. The odd joke or two goes missing due to a slightly stunted delivery or an overly mumbled keyword, and at times there are certain airs of pantomime or children’s television to the composition and comedy. Think 90s classic Marlene Marlowe Investigates, only with the straightman/funnyman roles reversed.
I’m not sure however if this is such a bad thing. There are moments when the viewer is very much aware they’re watching a show, as if the production takes precedence over the plot, but much in the style of an off-off-off-Broadway independent theatre all this does is show the quality and effort put into the production.
Any issues with the series are swallowed so much in the overall sense of fun that they could be seen as almost intentional, and they do little more than highlight what a fun project this must be to work on, and what a fun and entertaining show it is to watch.
Starting to feel a little queasy being so nice to something, so I’m off to punch a kitten.