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British Comedy at its best and worst…

British Comedy at its best and worst…

For various work-related reasons, I recently had to sit down and catch up on about five years of British comedy. Something I’d avoided because I hate the current du jour trends for squirm-edy and the obsession with format over laughs.

And the results of the badly dubbed jury are:

The Smoking Room – hurrah, a new sitcom that values characters and good lines over style and format gags. A brilliantly simple concept – work malcontents, bitching in a smoking room – with some fantastic characters that are all part of our workplace, bitching at each other. What The Office would be like without the silly obsession over format and David Brent. Deserves to be a huge hit.

Note for diversity-obsessed people watching – it may be the first UK sitcom to have a leading gay character where the “gayness” is a facet, as opposed to the over-riding obsession it was for Gimme Gimme Gimme. Although points are deducted for making fun of people with Japanese/English accents in episode 4. “Dear BBC…”

The website is a giggle in itself – character biographies written in the style of the characters, which makes such a change from most drearily-generic comedy TV programme websites.

Two Pints of Lager and a packet of Crisps – Friends for Chavs, but moderately amusing all the same. The cast (and the lines) just aren’t quite up to the constant switches between sex jokes, and serious drama about relationships, but it has its good moments. Has a comprehensive if dull and unfunny website.

Coupling – another Friends clone, except it’s more university-dominated and for the mid-30s. Really funny actually, with its characters delivering solioquies on the need for lesbians in porn, and seediness in masturbation. (Watch the Google counts jump on this posting!). Alas, it’s also marred by the odd shift between comedy and relationship drama, but the shift is much subtler than in Two Pints… – and like Two Pints, the website could be funnier.

The Office – well, I can now proudly say I’ve watched two episodes of The Office (albeit with a hand covering my face most of the time). And I still don’t like it. I can admire it, the way it seems to have taken over the comedy world, the superlative website that accompanies it – but it doesn’t make me laugh at all. It makes me squirm, in the way that horribly true-to-life mundanity does. Of course, the fact that I can spot myself in David Brent doesn’t help. Remind me not to make any more “jokes” in the office. (Cue cries of Hurrah from the workplace)

The Mighty Boosh – I’ve never been a fan of surrealism for the sake of surrealism – probably why I was never a huge fan of Vic Reeves/Bob Mortimer. The Mighty Boosh has only just started, but their attempts to create a surrealist sitcom (zoo keepers forced to fight a kangaroo in the first episode) just didn’t work for me. Plus they threw away the chance to have a brilliant sight gag at the end of the first episode.

Look Around You – a one-joke idea (spoofing educational science programmes we all had to sit through as kids) but a good one-joke it is. And it’s just short enough not to get bored or tired. Plus, all closet geeks will rejoice in the programme title sequence featuring a BBC Micro (where did they find one of those ?!) being programmed with a two-line program that we’d all try in stores.

Dead. Ringers. – First off, any comedy that has a voiceover (or soundalike) from the great Tom Baker (with whom I spent an hilarious hour doing a webchat) has my seal of approval. And Dead. Ringers. is probably as close as we’ll get right now to the great Spitting Image. Although, it shows a tiresome obsession with another comedy trend, the one of involving “innocent” members of the public caught unawares. It was funny once, but not now – let’s all move on, shall we? Comprehensive, if slightly geeky website – but it’s hard to see what more you could do with it.

Spine Chillers – not an obvious comedy choice per se but actually six very well-crafted Tales Of The Unexpected meets Black Comedy Playhouse. The one on Goths is fantastically funny (especially if you know or were a teenage Goth) while Love Gods sees the welcome return of (yet again naked) Julie T. Wallace. I was wondering where she’d gotten to.

The Crouches – no doubt the aforementioned diversity watchers were orgasming over this sitcom. Shame no-one else will – it’s a My Family clone but with black people with a “street-wise” edge. Thankfully, one of the UK’s most under-rated comedy actors Don Warrington has a role and he is at his plummy best. The website is rather generic as well.

Wild West – the kind of sitcom that gives sitcoms a bad name. There’s precious little sit for the com to work – the performers do the best they can but the script seems to have gone straight from Simon Nye’s bin to the actors and crew. Which is a shame, because somewhere there’s great comedy to be mined from the premise of being trapped in a small village, and also probably from two lesbians. And I don’t think Rhona was it. The website hides its lack of content under some flashy web things.

1 Comment

  • I think the comments you made about the Office are missing the point of it, really. It's meant to make you squirm. It's supposed to be awkward. Then again, you are entitled to your opinion, obviously. You're right about 2 Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, though. That programme is the shitty-stick end of all television. I hate Ralf Little.

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