From the name, you might assume that Channel 4’s new comedy Year of the Rabbit has something to do with the Chinese zodiac. But no! You’d be wrong! Year of the Rabbit is actually a spoof police drama starring Matt Berry as a perpetually-pissed East End cop called Inspector Rabbit, who charges around Victorian Whitechapel with a shiny truncheon, a missing eyebrow (the dog bit it off), a Thirteenth Doctor-style blue coat and two other unlikely cops called Mabel and Strauss.
It’s a strange kind of comedy – but it is also brilliant.
Described as “a hardened booze-hound who’s seen it all,” Detective Inspector Rabbit is Officially Not Pleased when his boss Chief Inspector Wisbech (Alun Armstrong) assigns him a posh university graduate called Wilbur Strauss (Freddie Fox) as his new partner.
If this sounds clichéd, that’s because Year of the Rabbit is full of knowing nods to those classic cop show tropes. But this duo quickly becomes a trio, because the chief of police’s foul-mouthed and fearless adoptive daughter Mabel Wisbech (the excellent Susan Wokoma) is determined to become the country’s first female police officer.
Together, they fight crime on the grimy streets of East London, meeting street gangs and body-snatchers and crooked politicians as well as Bulgarian royalty, spiritualists, music hall actresses and Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man.
They also bump into the “mysterious Lydia” played (with evident joy) by Keeley Hawes, and Princess Juliana of Bulgaria, played (with extreme hamminess) by Sally Phillips. That’s not to mention the cameos from Hawes’ Line of Duty co-star Craig Parkinson, Berry’s old pal Taika Waititi, or Strictly Come Dancing champ Jill Halfpenny – who help to form the show’s über-plot about a shadowy criminal organisation, which threads all the way through the six half-hour episodes.
Written by Kevin Cecil and Andrew Riley (of Black Books and Veep fame), this show is a loving 21st century tribute (or send-up) with a Victorian twist. Berry himself has compared the Year of the Rabbit to classic 70s cop drama The Sweeney, which seems entirely appropriate – and it’s almost a shame he didn’t get to stick with the show’s original working title, Ye Sweeney.
But a word of warning, if you’re the sort of person who gets worked up about historical inaccuracies: this show might send you into a Victorian-style fainting fit, because the language is modern and the swear words are filthy and the whole thing is anachronistic as hell. Matt Berry has a super-shiny metallic truncheon that shimmers different colours and no one even mentions it. The whole show also looks like it was made for a handful of shillings and a basic working knowledge of Victorian history, which gives it even more charm.
At this point, it is worth reiterating: this show is so, so funny. It’s tempting to just write down all the best one-liners and jokes so you know how good they are, but it would be impossible to do justice to the actors’ deadpan delivery. Never has extreme physical violence and brutal murder been so hilarious.
Year of the Rabbit begins on Monday 10th June at 10pm on Channel 4