Saturday, October 13, 2007


Whenever it was last month, I tuned in to watch the first episode of the new series of Casualty. The reason for catching it was because the BBC had been bigging it up as having been retooled to make it faster paced and more gritty.

It wasn’t, of course. Instead it was a bit rubbish. They’d splashed some cash on the pyros for the coach explosion but it wasn’t enough. Worse the episode followed a new doctor, not sure if he was up to the task, on his first day on the job. Which is exactly what ER did fourteen years ago and, it goes without saying, did it a whole lot better.

The past few weeks the Beeb have been filling the gaps between programmes with the most god awful annoying promos, relentlessly pushing Thursday night as the new night for comedy. All that “Thursday! Thursday! Thursday!” crap has had me bellowing “Fuck the fuck off!” from behind the computer monitors.

Contrary son’bitch that I am, if someone starts waving and shouting, telling me just how utterly ace something is, I’m bound to give them the finger and stroll in the other direction. Pushing something so relentlessly gives off an air of desperation more than anything.

Last week I was out so it made no matter. This week I was home. While running a bath, I caught the opening ten minutes or so of the “comedy” hour and the last five minutes, spending the rest of the time, more enjoyably, solving the crossword while in the tub.

You really don’t want to get me started on French and Saunders. I’ve never particularly found them all that funny. The humour has always appeared lazy and obvious. The only thing that made me laugh was that the recent "victory lap" A Bucket o’ French & Saunders was, according to Radio Times, supposed to run for six episodes but only five were broadcast before it was replaced with the new series of Have I Got News For You.

While Dawn French seems to be under the misapprehension that if fat is funny, being morbidly obese must be fucking hilarious, Jennifer Saunders seems to be more interested in creating characters she can wholly disappear into, forgetting to take any jokes with her along the way.

So when it came to The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle... I'm sorry but aren’t these bare-all daytime TV freak shows with titles like “My girlfriend is my sister’s nephew’s niece” or “Our daughter does Dobermans” beyond parody? To successfully make fun of this strand of pornographic voyeurism surely you’ve got to go far, far beyond the extreme to get the point across.

From what I saw, Vivienne Vyle didn’t do that. Instead, away from the talk show segments, it came down to a vile-by-nature host that was an absolute cunt to her production staff... which was already done to absolute perfection back in the 1990s in The Larry Sanders Show.

I’m not saying that because these kind of shows have already been done before, people should leave them well alone and go plough a different furrow. Just simply, anyone following in someone else’s footsteps really needs to raise their game. Otherwise you get the likes of Broken News from 2005, a show that was positively redundant compared to The Day Today, which wrote the book on news and current affairs parody.

Towelled down, I caught the end of The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Compare a sitcom to a light meal and I suppose that makes a sketch show a smorgasbord. If you’re lucky most of the cold collations will agree with you. In most cases, for me, they'll tend to contain olives, anchovies and nuts, which I actively dislike or can’t eat.

Running the digital department at the animation studio, the five words that made my blood run cold were: “We’ll fix it in post” – coming from a director who hadn’t made up his mind about how some element of the commercial should work. I’d try to convince them to figure it out there and then, rather than wait until we were in a facilities house costing ten times as much as back in the studio.

The danger with sketch show sketches is that, if they’re not very good, the programme makers seem to be under the misapprehension that building a set and having everyone in costume will make up for a deficiency in the actual funny. Which means jokes that a stand-up would discard for not being up to snuff are suddenly perfectly acceptable in a show that indulges the performers’ proclivity for rummaging around in the dressing-up box.

Now though, it seems that being buried under mounds of prosthetics is de rigueur. Except latex still doesn’t make it any better. (Steady!) Neither does relying on irritating catchphrases. Or piss-poor parodies of films and other television shows that rely on the familiar or bleeding obvious. Still, I always live in hope that if we give these performers the attention they so obviously crave they’ll do the decent thing and fuck off out of sight once the series is over.

Anyway, on their second outings both The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle and The Peter Serafinowicz Show underperformed, losing pretty much one third of their first week’s audience. That said, the BBC are still right in promoting Thursday as comedy night. Later in the evening, Five kicked off their double bill of Californication and 30 Rock. Now, they were funny.


At 1:28 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

does someone need some sugar? x

At 11:24 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

They lost a third of their audience in a week? Wow.

When that sort of thing happens (as it did with Torchwood last year) it sends such a clear message. People give the shows a chance, they want them to work, but the product is just no good.

I'm with you on French & Saunders. Why anyone would expect them to be funny after 20 years of evidence to the contrary is beyond me.

The Serafinowicz thing was okay, but it's a reminder of just how tough it is to make a sketch show work. To find a premise for a dozen set-pieces a week is one thing, to find that many decent punchlines is quite another.

I haven't noticed one watchable comedy on British TV this year.

At 11:32 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Maybe I’m too anal-retentive for words, but I prefer the sketch shows that are “themed” ones, like The Day Today or Brass Eye. Or Green Wing which took a traditional sitcom, beat it around the face and neck with sketches, and produced something completely bonkers-brilliant.

The only British sitcom I’ve really enjoyed of late is Not Going Out which has a whole lot of funny.

At 1:05 pm, Blogger Clair said...

So much comedy is Emperor's New Clothes - and especially with French and Saunders, where nobody really wants to admit that these women were never much cop in the first place.

30 Rock really does.


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