Welcome. In Jam.
Jam comprises of just six episodes, and was broadcast in 2000 for Channel 4. Written and directed by Chris Morris and co-written by Peter Baynham. Morris up to this point had already succeeded in garnering a large amount of notoriety within radio and television with the likes of On the Hour, The Day Today and Brass eye.
Jam by design is meant to deliberately subvert its audience, shedding light on the stark realities of everyday life. These sketches often start with a simple premise, pertaining to a moral question, that become manipulated and embellished to the point of transforming it into something more reminiscent to a surrealist nightmare. That aims to impregnate its audience with an immersive hallucinogenic experience that resembles something akin to a bad trip. Whilst some sketches are direct in way they present their message, most are indirect and are composed in such a way to allude to a broader metaphoric arc. Often the subject matter involves the satirising the human psyche as well as the society we inhabit. As a result it provides commentary on the implications of a reality devoid of the moral and ethical trappings that ground us.
A proportion of the content was lifted from the late night BBC show also headed by Morris called Blue Jam which was broadcast from 1997 through to 1999. Morris describes its inception as ‘singular, and it came from a mood, quite a desolate mood. I had this misty, autumnal, boggy mood anyway, so I just went with that,’ this ‘mood’ is clearly continued from the transition into television. With the dark satirical monologues that open each show, now aided with the visual element only acts to exasperate the surrealist trip as the viewer is taken to the most depraved corners of the human psyche, whilst coinciding with self-analysis as you try to stifle laughs from Morris’s maniacal wit and wordplay. There is an unsettling induced inebriation to the way the sketches are shot; often out of sync, with actors lip-syncing their lines or the manipulation of time with sped up shots mixed with those that are slowed to a crawl. This only intensifies the surrealism and lends to something more reminiscent of a dreamscape.
Another element used across the series much like Blue Jam is the addition of music backing the sketches, usually unfolding over the entirety of the sketch and blending with the next, these are predominantly looped ambient pieces, that add a level of lethargy. With artists such as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and various other ambient groups from the 90’s supplementing the soundtrack. Jam also marked the first time a show on Channel 4 had broadcast a series without advertisement breaks so as not to divert from the overall atmosphere of the show, again highlighting Morris’s uncompromising stance in respect to art. At times the cinematography resembles more a documentarian style that lends to interviews of the subjects and characters of each sketch. This is a motif that carries itself across the breadth of the show, particularly highlighted with the ‘Thick People’ sketch from the first episode, which contains an opening from actor David Cann who represents a business owner, speaking directly to the camera ‘we specialise in providing thick people, for jobs that they’re particularly good at. Arguments. Thick people are very good at winning arguments because they’re too thick to realise they have lost.’
Morris does not only seeks out to skew the moral compass of the viewer, he outright aims to obliterate it. By shedding these culturally ingrained values, he is arguably able to produce something truly original in its design and execution. Obviously the individual’s subjectivity in reference to the idea of ‘what is considered comedy’ does play a part in the overall interpretation of the experience. To some audiences it may seem juvenile or at times overtly crass due to the forcible delivery of the content. But this is what Jam is supposed to be, by its very nature it is meant to elicit disgust and thrust the viewer into an uncomfortable situation of introspective analysis. Stripping back to the bare bones of reality itself without pandering to political correctness for the sake of compromising artistic integrity. To some it remains a standout in British comedy whose predecessors somewhat pale in comparison, and seem startlingly mediocre when aligned with the unhinged and uncompromising offering that is Jam
What Jam does best is target the human itself, psycho analysing society to its core. Confronting what it is that inhibits us as a race and also the natural pitfalls and contradictions we find ourselves in. Which by design of its inflective nature is bound to contain uncomfortable truths. The success of such subject matter fundamentally falls to the satirist edge and comedic wit of Morris’s writing and the use of subtlety and restraint in the delivery. It could be argued that this is a strain of commentary that is sorely missed in the current televised landscape. It’s a testament to Morris’s ability that he was able to infiltrate and present some of the most critically acclaimed and cult collections of satirical and comical work of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Whilst Jam could be perceived to lack the mainstream recognition in comparison to the likes of Morris’s other television output of Brass Eye and The Day Today. Jam represents something completely unique in its own right and remains something that sixteen years later has yet to be equalled by its bare and often grotesque portrayal of the darker sides of humanity.