In the first series, the episodes ("modules") satirise and pay homage to late 1970s and early 1980s educational films and school programmes such as ITV's "Experiment" series and BBC's "For Schools and Colleges", which were re-run for many years after they were made. A different scientific subject is covered in each episode.
The modules were, in order of transmission:
- Calcium (pilot, double episode)
The humour is derived from a combination of patent nonsense and faithful references and homages. For instance, fictional items that have a passing resemblance to everyday objects are shown and discussed. Such items include the "boîte diabolique", a box at the top of a piano scale which housed the "forbidden notes"; and "Garry gum", a performance-enhancing chewing gum which has the unfortunate side-effect of inducing diarrhoea, necessitating the consumption of "anti-Garry gum". Each episode begins with a "countdown clock", similar to the one used on ITV Schools programmes from 1979 to 1987. The music that accompanies the countdown is in the same spirit as the original, but is played on a solo guitar, and at the beginning of the "Brain" module, the guitarist can be heard tuning.
The module subjects are distorted beyond recognition; for instance, germs are described as coming from Germany, and whisky is said to be made by combining water with nitrogen. The maths module features a distorted and inaccurate version of the ancient 'seven cats' puzzle by Ahmes. Additionally, subjects are mixed: for example, a chemistry experiment about eggs (In the episode Water) turns into a French language lesson. Each episode follows a general format, beginning with an introduction to the subject, followed by a series of silly experiments performed by the hapless (and normally mute) scientists, played by Popper, Serafinowicz and Edgar Wright, among others.
The colour and overall look of the film was purposely altered to replicate 1980s' television for schools, and passably authentic incidental music written by Serafinowicz and Popper under the pseudonym "Gelg" was overdubbed to complete the parody of the original programmes.
A running gag throughout the series is the fastidious labelling of all items in Dymo tape, such as hairdryers, magnets, a bottle of maths, or a jar of nuts (which contained both types of nut: the foodstuff and fastener). Another recurring joke is the use of fictional apparatus and materials used in the experiments—items such as the "Besselheim plate" pokes fun at real lab equipment, often named after their designers (e.g. Petri dish, Erlenmeyer flask). Pencils are always used to point at key elements of the experiments, as the 'scientists' do not speak: this is sometimes taken to ridiculous levels—pointing out pencils using a pencil; pointing at chocolates and then at a person to show they are a gift. Also, the series repeatedly instructs viewers to keep a notebook, described as a "copy book," and to inscribe random and essentially worthless details of the lessons taking place with the spoken instruction to "write this down in your copy book."
The series was commissioned based on a 20-minute pilot episode (twice the length of an episode in the first series, but otherwise identical); this is included on the DVD release of Series 1 as an "advanced double-length module".
The DVD extras also include a music video for the song "Little Mouse" (as featured in the module on music), a selection of mock-Ceefax pages, and a creator's commentary. The joke is taken even further by presenting the DVD subtitles in exactly the same format as those broadcast via teletext.
At the end of each episode, reference is made to the "next module"—although these episodes were never actually made. The episodes that are promised, but never seen are:Champagne
On the DVD Ceefax pages there were also two unseen modules:Blood
The second series is composed of six 30-minute episodes and is presented in the pop-science vein of programmes such as Tomorrow's World. The series was directed by Tim Kirkby, and Ash Atalla (producer of The Office) worked as executive producer. Running from 31 January to 7 March 2005 on BBC Two at 10 pm, Series 2 comprised the following episodes:
- Music 2000
- "Live" Inventor of the Year Final
The DVD commentary confirms that this was not the intended order, explaining why some running gags appear to build inconsistently.
According to the audio commentary, the programme is set around 1979-80. To reinforce the show's retro look, each episode's opening continuity announcement (typically narrated by Serafinowicz, who exaggerated the sound of his breathing and mouth movements to simulate the effect of the microphones used at that time) played over the 3-dimensional BBC Two ident from 1979–1986. Unlike the first series, which is 16:9 widescreen, the second series is presented in 4:3 to emulate the television format used in the late '70s or early '80s. Additionally, location footage was shot on 16mm film, of the type used for location filming at the time. Episode 1 features a Top of the Pops-style introduction complete with the real TOTP theme music from the early 1980s, Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott.
Features such as the song contest in the "Music 2000" episode also ground the series in the 1980s. Contestants showcase the futuristic songs they believe we could expect to hear in the far-off year 2000. Runners-up "Machadaynu", performed by Tony Rudd (played by Kevin Eldon) and Anthony Carmichael's "The Rapping Song" are beaten in the contest by Toni Baxter's track, "Sexual Interface".
Unlike the first series, Series 2 contains dialogue between the four presenters and their guests, leaving behind both the narrated style of the first series and the anonymity given to the scientists. Serafinowicz plays Peter Packard, whilst Popper plays Jack Morgan, a character originally seen in series one as a musician performing the song "Little Mouse". There are also two additional presenters, Pam Bachelor and Pealy Maghti, played by Olivia Colman and Josie D'Arby respectively.
Several running gags from the first series are reprised in Series 2, such as references to Imhotep, bassoons, and the use of portmanteaux, in phrases such as "Thanks, ants. Thants," or as in the Music episode, "Thanks Tchaikovsky. Thaikovsky." In the final episode, this word-play culminates with Packard addressing two security guards, both named Hank, with the phrase "Thanks, Hanks. Thanks." Another running joke centres on characters such as Synthesiser Patel in the "Music" episode and Computer Jones in the "Computers" episode, who like an item to such a degree that they've changed their names.
Whereas the modules in Series 1 were distinct, there is a measure of continuity throughout the episodes of Series 2. Each week, inventors (played by a number of British comic actors) showcase their new products, culminating in the live final programme where a winning invention is chosen, supposedly by "HRH, Sir Prince Charles". To achieve this fake presentation, archive footage of Prince Charles was blended with Look Around You footage, whilst Serafinowicz dubs the Prince's real voice with his own lip-synced impression of it.
DVD extras include a quiz, mock pages from Ceefax, an alternative "Birds of Britain" feature, the Scary Picture, which features a comically large succession of screens making sure the viewer actually wants to view it, then suddenly showing it at the same time as hearing a male scream, which is shown without the scream in 2 episodes of Series 2, and the Test Card (a music video). Watching this to the end, including the credits, triggers an Easter egg featuring Jack Morgan's more realistic reaction to his plastic surgery, in which the Look Around You team are shocked at the modifications to Jack's face when Dr. Fu reveals him to them. When handed a mirror, Jack turns to Dr. Fu and starts shouting expletives at him, but then calms down after stating that it was the initial reaction to the surgery.
Each episode featured several additional characters, many of whom were played by well-known British comedians.Kevin Eldon: "Tony Rudd", school teacher and "Music 2000" contestant who performs the song "Machadaynu".
Kate Drew: "Toni Baxter", "Music 2000" contestant who performs the song "Sexual Interface" (the vocals were actually performed by Sarah Alexander).
Christopher Obi: "Antony Carmichael, profiterole chef and "Music 2000" contestant who performs the song "The Rapping Song".
Harry Enfield: "The Ghost of Tchaikovsky", judge of "Music 2000".
Sanjeev Kohli: "Synthesizer Patel", synth enthusiast and programmer of the "Easitone 'Play-In-A-Day' 50".
Michael Fenton Stevens: "Sir Alan Rees", the chairman of ROPRA (The "Royal Pop and Rock Association").
Mark Heap: "Leonard Hatred", inventor of "Psilence" liquid-skin ear spray.
Benedict Wong: "Dr Franklin Fu", plastic surgeon and co-worker of the medical robot Medibot. Wong also performs the voice of Medibot.
Matt Lucas: the voice of "Dr Phillip Lavender", sufferer of "geodermic granititis" (also known as "cobbles") and inventor of its cure, the "anti-cobbling cream".
Simon Pegg: man with bad teeth in the advertisement for "Jenny" toothpaste. In the list of invented toothpastes that follows the ad, one is called "Pegg," while another, for men, is called "Lenny."
Paul Humpoletz: "Prof. Keith Craven", Professor at the "National Sleep Research Centre" at "St. St. Johns".
Geoffrey McGivern: teacher in Prof. Keith Craven's recorded dream.
Peter Baynham: volunteer at the National Sleep Research Centre who answers telephones whilst sleeping (uncredited).
Sarah Alexander: "Ros Lamb, the Southport Sparrow", World 400,000-metre champion and world record Shepherd's Bush-to-Aberdeen sprinter, thanks to the ingestion of "di-tutetamine brohohibe", a type of rocket fuel for humans that allows her to run at 3,500 mph. (Alexander is Serafinowicz's wife.)
Graham Linehan: Ron Lamb, Ros' coach and husband (uncredited). (Linehan is Serafinowicz's brother-in-law).
Lewis McLeod: "Mario Abdullah-Levy", BBC Scotland reporter.
Edgar Wright: "Eddie Yorque", Look Around You's chief technician (uncredited).
Alex Woodhall - "Paul Alan", owner of the horse "Championess". The horse is the inventor of the "horse race predicting computer".
Andrew Burt: "Sebastian Jackson" and two of his clones, "Provastian Jackson" and "Ninastian Jackson", designers of special footballs including "invisiball", "footcube", "meat-ball", "piggy ball" and "the world's roundest ball".
Paul Birchard: "Scot Nolan", American inventor of the golf and tennis crossover game, "gonnis". Adding to the running list of portmanteau words, Nolan says he's working on another crossover game combining fencing and darts.
Adam Buxton: Bunny Gnowles, gonnis umpire and boyfriend of Nolan.
Paul Elliot: "Tony Parker, the Human Dustbin".
Ross Lee: "Andy Gough", Slimmer of the Year and the face of "Slimby" diet milkshake.
Paul Putner: "Clive Pounds", manager of "Big 'C'—The Casserole People", an automated fast food outlet. Clive Pounds is the brother of Len Pounds (also played by Putner) from the Series 1 episode "Sulphur".
Richard Leaf: astronaut in the black and white film "Scenes From the World of Tomorrow".
Nicola Cunningham: wife of the astronaut in "Scenes From the World of Tomorrow".
John Owens: "Teddy Clarke", inventor of the "Vegetable Orchestra System".
Simon Pegg: King Henry.
David Walliams: the voice of "Bournemouth", Britain's most technologically advanced computer.
Paul Jerricho: "Computer Jones", inventor of Bournemouth.
Alex Lowe: "Lee Grithiffths", owner of "Grithiffths Game Megamart".
Belinda Stewart-Wilson: "Patricia " (surname is silent), inventor of the first computer for women, "Petticoat 5".
In this episode Edgar Wright also returns as "Eddie Yorque", Look Around You's chief technician.
As this episode revolves around the Invention of the Year award, the inventors from previous episodes return—Leonard Hatred, Dr Phillip Lavender, Teddy Clarke, Paul Alan with Championess and Computer Jones. The episode also sees the return of Synthesizer Patel and Eddie Yorque and includes several further characters:David Mitchell: "Pat Taylor", inventor of the sex-change machine, "Sexmachange".
Ryan Cartwright: "Sam Macnamara", associate of Pat Taylor and veteran 'volunteer' of 50–60 sex-changes.
Cavan Clerkin: "Adam Sandwich", the British counting backwards champion.
Nick Frost: carrier of "HOT JON" placard, whose explanation of its meaning is rendered inaudible due to technical problems.
James Serafinowicz: "Cobalt", the blue man.
A running joke in Series 2 is that all guests, when introduced, enter through a series of large blast doors (similar to those from Get Smart). However, these were filmed against a bluescreen, which gave an inferior effect and the creators stated, on the DVD commentary, that they did not like the joke but felt they were "stuck with it".
Leonard Hatred's funny walk was not scripted—it was improvised by Heap. His encounter with Championess in the 2nd series finale was also improvised.
The "Computers" episode featured clips of fake 1980s' computer games created by members of b3ta. Games included "Diarrhea Dan".
When aired on BBC America in 2006, episodes were edited to fit within a 30-minute time slot with adverts. This triggered a continuity error with the series: Leonard Hatred's initial segment was cut from the first episode, causing him to appear without explanation in the series finale.
The series began running on Adult Swim on 18 January 2009.
Robert Popper reprised the role of his Look Around You character, Jack Morgan, for an appearance in the music video of the Frankie & The Heartstrings song "Hunger" (2011). Jack is seen hosting a Blue Peter-type programme, and introduces the song.
The series was praised for its attention to detail. The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening called it "one of the funniest shows I've ever seen".
On 13 January 2012 Look Around You had its 10th anniversary celebrated by a showing of all episodes of the first series at the BFI Southbank in London. Peter Serafinowicz also released a new short clip entitled "Intermission".