You might recognise Natasia Demetriou from her star turn as imperious vampire Nadja in the hit mockumentary series What We Do in the Shadows, or from her brother Jamie’s Channel 4 sitcom Stath Lets Flats, in which she plays the titular estate agent’s meek, vacantly grinning sister. You might also recognise Ellie White from Stath (she is stony-faced postwoman Katia), or as an impeccably plummy Princess Beatrice in royal spoof The Windsors.
You probably won’t recognise Demetriou and White from their sketch double act. Alhough the pair have been performing together for many years, their idiosyncratic brand of chaotic yet minutely observed character comedy has never had a proper TV platform. Until now: Ellie and Natasia (BBC Three) extends their 2019 pilot of the same name into six 15-minute episodes.
Will it make sketch superstars of the pair? Unlikely. For one thing, the sketch-show-as-cultural phenomenon seemed to die out with Little Britain, in Britain at least. For another, Ellie and Natasia is weird enough to qualify as something you don’t see on TV every day: actual alternative comedy.
Not “alternative” in the slightly flabby sense; these are sketches with clear premises and punchlines, tight structures and jokes that make sense. But Ellie and Natasia is patently not designed to appeal to everyone. If it were, it wouldn’t work. That’s because the show’s USP is its hyper-specificity: White and Demetriou’s characters are festooned with details and dialogue that feel outrageously spot-on. It’s not exactly in-jokey, but most sketches rely on a sense of recognition that will either come screaming out of the screen towards you, or won’t.
Sometimes this comes in the form of the perfect cultural reference point: a surreal riff on Saturday Kitchen’s ridiculous applause breaks ends with a teaser for Rag’n’Bone Man; a recurring sketch about a grotty beauty business run by an overconfident Greek-Cypriot woman and her terrified cousin (who are both, crucially, dressed like it’s still 2004) mentions a party where the DJ plays “only CeeLo Green”. Sometimes it’s the vernacular itself that is so gratifyingly accurate: every misogynistic syllable that comes out of the mouths of culinary duo the Brothers Pomodoro (they can only make tomato sauce) is depressingly buyable.
There is a lot of scalpel-sharp social satire here, but it is delivered with unusual nonchalance. One of the highlights is a series of stylishly filmed, quick-fire Q&As – the sort that could be an advert for anything – with a selection of insufferable millennial cliches: a girl with a pixie haircut; the mockney indie singer with a famous dad; the acolyte of the singer Newton Faulkner whose ideal day involves “diabolo on the green outside the Houses of Parliament”. Every answer they give is flawlessly evocative of a certain stereotype.
The pair are similarly meticulous when it comes to their own vibe. Ellie and Natasia has a distinctive verbal flavour that recalls the greats: like French and Saunders, the pair have a silly shared language that can only be the product of spending far too much time together. Both double acts also have a similar taste for the grotesque that walks a fine line between pleasingly outrageous and a bit unpleasant. I almost cried with laughter at the sketch in which a blood-spurting Demetriou insists on opening her friends’ beer bottles with her teeth. And the parody of pop stars who dress and act like creepily suggestive toddlers manages to be hilariously uncomfortable rather than disturbing. (On the subject of great musical sendups, there is also an episode-stealing appearance by Jamie Demetriou as DJ Big Boy, performing the most bathetic song about “pussy” ever crooned.)
It’s not wall-to-wall laughs. There are a couple of weak, overly long skits (the endless bedsheet idea is just tedious), and one cake-based premise that feels stale. But these are minor gripes, because Ellie and Natasia achieves one of the most elusive goals in comedy: it rings true. To have characters say things you can absolutely imagine people like these saying, exaggerated by a small and very precise amount for comic effect, is a rare joy. With Ellie and Natasia, White and Demetriou have proved they really get it – hopefully, enough people watching at home will, too.