Monday, October 01, 2007

For Chip

Time for a list of most overrated comedy phenomena of recent years. 1: Little Britain...
Actually, a comedy phenomenon as such is a rare thing these days. Historically, shows like The Goons and Monty Python have become phenomena - but that was a long time ago, when there were shows that 'everybody' watched/listened to and that became mass-membership cults with a not-so-private language of catchphrases etc. Now it's more a case of breathtakingly bad comedies proving unaccountably popular (anyone seen My Family?) and infinitely better comedy just trundling away in the vast open spaces of multichannel TV. The BBC just about showed Seinfeld, Larry Sanders and, more recently, Arrested Development - and Channel 4 just about showed Scrubs - but they might as well not have bothered. They'll never be phenomena anyway, but thank heavens they're still around, somewhere. On the other hand, The Simpsons is a phenomenon - but no candidate for that overrated list.

18 comments:

  1. Completely with you on the graceless and unpleasant Little Britain. Friends is also a candidate for overrated - I can't even raise a smile at it. Please count the Mighty Boosh on the underrated and infinitely better comedy list (and it's British too).

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  2. I find it hard to briefly express my rage (it's more than that, much more, but 'rage' is the best way to describe it) when I hear Little Britain praised by middle class critics who think it a Hogarthian satire of the modern state. From the comfort of their 4x4s, in leafy suburbia, it might be a laugh a minute, but to those of us who exist on the other side of the shatter-proof glass, Little Britain doesn't so much as capture the very essence of modern Britain as demonstrate what a witless nation we've become. I enjoy puerile and I can appreciate the surreal, but there's just no excuse for bad writing. Matt Lucas seems to prove that if you can get your face on TV long enough, nobody will notice what a talentless hack you really are. Does anybody remember Trevor and Simon from children's TV, or (God help me) Punt and Dennis? Little Britain is the worthy successor to those comedy titans.

    Whenever I think about great comedies, I rarely think of the BBC. Yet at one time, I'd immediatly mention Python or Milligan. I've been rereading the early Reginald Perrin novels, which has been reminding me of the great comedy writing that came out of the BBC. Alan Partridge had its moments. Greatness is too easily applied to entertainers. Ronnie Barker was too popular to be seen as the great comedy writer he really was.But I now usually think of America. The Simpsons (though not the movie), Larry Sanders, Seinfeld, and Arrested Development, certainly, but more often than not, Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is my favourite comedy in the last ten years and has an bleak intelligent misanthropy that Little Britain couldn't begin to imagine.

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  3. Of course - Curb! How did I forget that? Another one the BBC perfunctorily showed in the small hours before sending it off to the multichannel home for good comedies. Alan Partridge I think achieved a kind of greatness - the 2nd series is much underrated.
    Trevor and Simon turned up, amazingly, on some kind of TV countdown epic recently - every bit as bilious and embittered as one wld expect. Punt and Dennis do radio (2 and 4) now. But Dennis was actually rather good in the recent TV comedy Outnumbered, cunningly scheduled by the BBC so that no one wld find it.

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  4. Rising Damp anyone? I think this (together with Porridge) stands up better than Fawlty Towers.

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  5. Porridge always surprises me that it's so much better than I remember it. Never did quite get Rising Damp. I think ITV comedies just never came across quite right. George and Mildred, Robin's Nest, Man About the House...Against that, the BBC had Q, the Pythons, and even Morecambe and Wise, who ITV managed to ruin. Of course, they also had To The Manor Born, which is where I think the rot set it, along with nearly everything written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft.

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  6. Only Fools and Horses - unutterable shite from start to finish.

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  7. And Last of the Summer Wine. It's like somebody's asked Gunther von Hagens to write his own sitcom.

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  8. In the US, the public television channels used to run British comedies every Friday or Saturday night. Those days are gone. It never occurred to me they are gone because the British stopped making good comedies.

    As to Friends, I am proud to say that I never actually watched the show. How anyone could find the *stars* of that show the least bit entertaining is beyond me.

    And I would add that South Park is most definitely a comedic phenomenon that is NOT overrated.

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  9. Another one I forgot - Tom you are dead right about South Park!

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  10. Anything with Marcus Brigstocke in it is bound to be shite. That means 70% of the "comedy" output of R4.

    I can't think of any TV comedy that is remotely clever or amusing that has been produced by the BBC since the seventies. A couple of years ago I junked my set and recommend this course of action to all!

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  11. I'm sorry but Monty Python, that is the TV series, is not as nearly as funny as people remember it. Largely plagiarized from Milligan's work but so inferior to it. It just looks so desperate now, I wouldn't regard any of them as a comic genius - especially not John Cleese! If he was five foot, eight, he wouldn't even have been able to get arrested. Falwty Towers was the same situation each episode and after one short series, it had no where else to go.

    Python, in my book, is the single most overrated comedy concept in the history of british television (however, one or two of the films were quite good).

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  12. Hear, hear Mr Russell!Bang on. But its a generational thing - I find those over 50 regard it as sacrosanct. Morecambe and wise has dated horibly - but not the Two Ronnies, I've noticed.

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  13. Ronnie Barker is exceptional. I've heard stories about him and he was a naturally funny man. I think that's crucial to comedy. I'd go as far to suggest that the Pythons - maybe with the exception of Chapman - aren't naturally funny. Like with music, everyone will say humour is an important part of their lives but that isn't the same as being gifted with humour. Look at Palin the expolorer, he isn't funny, he isn't trying to be funny or even wanting to be funny. He's just being Palin. But imagine Milligan doing it!

    That's why too many sit-coms don't work - it's just actors doing a job. what chance has it got?

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  14. Comedy ages badly. i'm half wanting to rewatch Blackadders 2 - 4 after 15-odd years, but half afeared it'll be dated crap; though i think it may have got round this by locating itself in the past to begin with - rather how the King James Bible translators opted for a prose style that was archaic even at the time.

    Comedy seems to rely more on temporal specificity, cultural allusion, being recognisably 'real' (however surreally so) - which means it can just look bafflingly outdated ten years on.

    i loved what i saw of Alan Patridge (probably the last comedy i saw - i haven't watched telly in 3 years) but wonder how much will make any sense in 20 or 30 years.

    The Sopranos, on the other hand, will probably require minimal translation for future audiences - and the comedy being both (to me) very funny & very understated & naturalistic (e.g. the great episode with Christopher & his uncle taking some ex-Spesnatz drug dealer out to the woods to execute him), will i suspect still be funny in 100 years.

    However, in 100 years society will have utterly disintegrated into Blood Meridian-style anarchy and electricity will be no more. And people won't have a sense of humour then, either.

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  15. The Office - good but overrated.

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  16. Green Wing? Love Soup? Tamsin Greig love-in here.

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  17. And Black Books - Tamsin plus Dylan Moran!

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  18. Here's my view from the antipodes.

    The problem with Little Britain, as with French & Saunders, and other sketch comedy which is written by the one or two performers, is that they have no one to tell them when to stop. In the case of French & Saunders, decent ideas just continually went on and on til they petered out to nothing. With Little Britain, the problem is that while repetition of the same joke can be amusing up to a point, when the initial humour is largely derived from its outrageous tastelessness, its repetition quickly becomes pointless. (I am thinking the incontinent old woman, or the breast feeding toff.)

    There is also no doubt that Little Britain is a significant contributor to the great coarsening of public taste and discourse, and for that reason alone I regret its popularity.

    It seems to me that the greatest sketch comedies, and I would put Not the Nine O'Clock News as right up there, were good because of the huge team of writers, who presumably could critique each other and tell them when something had just gone too far, or for too long. Have a look at Youtube clips of News; it seems to me to have hardly dated at all.

    And as for crude depressing comedy: Australia is showing Californication from Showtime already. (David Duchovny stars as a depressed alcohol and drug fuelled writer in LA who seeks to cure his problems via sex with any woman within his field of vision.) I saw an episode recently, half by accident, and immediately thought that it seemed some kind of male version of the awful and depressing Sex and the City. As it happens, when I checked the New York Times review, it made the same assessment.

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