Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mock The Weak

Whether you love it or hate it, The Office has to be respected for managing to get the mockumentary style pitch perfect. One thing BBC2’s new comedy The Cup ably proved, long before the first episode was over, was that if you don’t get it right the whole enterprise can fall spectacularly flat on its arse.

If it wasn’t for Mock the Week and the repeats of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the BBC’s ascertain that Thursday night was comedy night, or however it is they try and big this scheduled block up is, could be given a slapping by the Trades Description Act. Because the panel shows tend to be consistently funny, it puts the onus on whatever new sitcom is lumped in between, and few seem to rise to the challenge.

So to be fair, I gave The Cup a second chance on iPlayer, which meant that I allowed another half hour of my life to get pissed down the drain. There were, I suppose, one or two brief chuckles, although the Wipers gag seemed especially forced. But after all was said and done, the one nagging question that remained was, what was the point of putting it in a mockumentary format?

The Office gave its audience a familiar sitcom setting then used the format to make perfectly nuanced observations of the petty bickering and management idiocy that infuses every workplace. It also allowed the characters to show a complete lack of self-awareness during the moments they attempted to analyse their character traits.

Because its safe to assume that The Cup is aiming to be a broader comedy, where the adults act like children and the kids are wise beyond their years, the sitcom comes closer in format to Operation Good Guys, a comedy from the late 1990s in which cameras followed a bumbling police unit that cranked up the laughs but was just as hit or miss because, if memory serves, all three series were improvised.

But if it is aiming for broader strokes, especially with scenes like the football dad haranguing the team coach so much that the old guy keels over on the touchline with a stroke, why be a mockumentary? By the end of the first episode of The Cup the format seemed to be thoroughly ill-advised because it constrained the possibilities for comedy rather than giving it free range.

Without it much could have been made of the tensions between characters to whom the under-11s football team was obviously nothing but an intrusion into their happy existence. Instead they seemed to accept their lot in life, whether it was the hen-pecked undertaker underwriting the team, football dad’s wife lumped with all the laundry and adverse to the early Saturday morning starts, or the son who preferred cooking to kicking the ball about.

It makes you wonder whether it might not have been better filming it documentary style with all the vim and vigour of Armando Iannucci’s mercilessly barbed The Thick Of It, in which the characters paid the crew no heed. But then I suppose it all became clear when the end credits rolled. After the writing credit for Absolutely’s Moray Hunter and Jack Docherty came the announcement: Based on an original series by Marty Putz, Wendy Hopkins and Howard Busgang.

That series was The Tournament, a Canadian sitcom that centred around the Farqueson's Funeral Home Warriors hockey team in the small town of Briarside, which ran for a couple of seasons. Whether it was a success or why it deserves a UK makeover remains unclear. At a time when British drama isn’t that sparky I would have thought buying up the rights to Intelligence might have been a better bet.


At 11:47 pm, Blogger qrter said...

"Because the panel shows tend to be consistently funny, it puts the onus on whatever new sitcom is lumped in between, and few seem to rise to the challenge."

Although I still enjoy Never Mind The Buzzcocks, I've gone off Mock The Week. It used to actually be about satire, in some way, now it seems to be a show about who can make the nastiest, blokiest jokes.

My dear old mum even recently commented she always feels a bit sorry for the sole Token Female Comedian they have on now and then.

At 10:50 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

I think it was the producers of Have I Got News For You who said they kept trying to book female guests but most turned them down. Of course on that show they can widen their net to nab newsreaders, politicians and women working for NGOs. Buzzcocks pulls in female actresses and musicians. But for Mock The Week they need comedians and it may come down to the fact that there are more men available.

The quickest wit was always Linda Smith, who was a regular on Radio 4, but alas she’s no longer with us. So who does that leave? Jenny Eclair turns up on the Grumpy Old... programmes and is quite frightening, as is Arabella Weir. There’s Jo Brand, who can certainly hold her own on QI. Apart from Lucy Porter there’s the delightful Hattie Hayridge, but their comedy style hasn’t got that quick wit to turn around jokes on the spot. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another other female comedians.

It was interesting that the recent episode of Mock The Week was preceeded by the continuity announcer warning the viewers about some of Frankie Boyle’s material. Judging from the reaction shots between David Mitchell and Dara O’Briain I’m guessing it was his piece about becoming a vet and fucking the animals when he got bored.

And then Mind the Buzzcocks had Kristen Schaal from The Flight of the Conchords, which meant Noel Fielding turned out to be rather creepy as he spent the whole episode getting all moon-eyed over her.

Still, they were much better than The Cup. Years back, a number of the animators I worked for wanted to move into shorts and even features to get away from the mind-numbing routine of churning out commercials. They had sequences boarded and were all ready to go but the scripts were frankly appalling, which was really unfortunate.

There way of thinking was that the animation would make up for it, as if that was what people came to see. I think it was Brad Bird who said that animation isn’t a genre, just another way of working. So really anything that didn’t end in a packshot still needed a good script to engage the audience as live action films do.

The Cup seems to have been made on the understanding that the mockumentary format will forgive all sins and be funny simply because. But it doesn’t work that way. It still needs a good central premise otherwise it’ll fall on its arse. That’s the problem.

At 8:35 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Well, I think I emphasised the non-female aspect a bit too much, although I do think it's a very laddish programme, with only a sprinkling of actual satire. Which is where my real "complaint" lies, I think - it lost its satirical edge for me, became mostly a programme about who can make the crudest joke.

Regarding female comedians, I've always had a nice and sexist theory on that - I think women generally are more bothered about being liked and being likeable. A large part of humour is being unlikeable, or at least appearing so. Humour has a lot of meanness in it, mostly faux meanness, but meanness nonetheless.

Actually, I think its more a societal thing, about the roles men and women fulfill. Women are less inclined to see being funny as something to explore and form into a career of sorts, maybe because it's still less expected.

Ridiculous, ofcourse, so I hope I'm completely wrong.


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