A year on the goggle box – Part Three: Comedy

Enough of the drama: what of comedy in 2007? This is a lot harder to pin down, and it’s far less easy to make a convincing argument for a show being good: if you don’t find it funny, that’s it. Steve Coogan’s Saxondale rather came into its own, I thought. Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, also in its second series, compared less favourably: unlike Tommy Saxondale, Dee’s Rick Spleen is simply too unlikeable, being consistently mean, self-serving and of poor judgment, while never being able to admit any fault whatsoever – he’s simply too unsympathetic to make the programme rewarding viewing, in contrast to Saxondale, who is a likeable twat. It’s a shame, as Lead Balloon has a superb supporting cast – indeed, Dee is very good – but it leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

Also mining a seam of embarrassment humour is Peep Show. whose fourth series surpassed the third, being built around the nightmare run-up to Mark’s wedding to Sophie. The programme is drifting ever further away from the initial existential stand-off between Jez and Mark, however: as with Shameless, we already know the characters extremely well, but in a half-hour comedy the shift to having Things Happen to them works more effectively than in Shameless’s 45 minutes of drama. Another pleasant surprise on Channel 4 was the second series of The IT Crowd, which was significantly better than the first.

But, for all the traditional perceptions of BBC 2 and Channel 4 as the hot channels for comedy, my favourite of this year’s crop was on BBC 1. Not the Omad Djalili Show – as with Peter Serafinowicz‘s BBC 2 outing, some of the material was superb but too much was so-so – and not the unexpectedly excellent Armstrong and Miller Show… and certainly not dross like The Green Green Grass, Since You’ve Been Gone or whatever it’s called, or My Family, if there was a series of that this year…

No, the best comedy show this year was, I reckon, Outnumbered, shown over only a fortnight in the early autumn. It was another “married couple with three kids” effort, but incredibly sharply written, in part by Andy Hamilton. Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner portrayed a couple who mostly seem harassed and bewildered by the trap of parenthood, and who have significant family and work troubles to face up to as well. The latter provide the backbone of the plot in the series, but the focus of most scenes is the kids, played amazingly effectively for child actors – apparently they were allowed to improvise at least some of the time. The end result is deadly accurate (or, at least, plausible) and bitingly funny. There are moments of high drama, as dreams fade and worst fears are proved correct, but ultimately parenthood is presented as an overwhelmingly positive thing for the protagonists, without the show descending into schmaltz. If you get the opportunity to have a gander at the series, you should take it.

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2 comments

  1. Mostly agree, but having taped (or whatever the modish word is for recording on a Freeview hard drive) all the second series of Lead Balloon and only now getting around to watching it, Mrs Self and I are absolutely loving it. It’s not brilliantly clever or original, but that’s part of its charm. A lot of the plot reverses are predictable, but this seems to give it a traditional and even comforting edge to balance the misanthropic tone of the rest of the show. And as you say the case are all terrific, particularly his writing partner and his daughter. And it’s beautifully shot. I never caught series 1 but will seek it out now.

    Agree that Saxondale came into its own in the second series, far superior to the first. Shame it seems so widely overlooked in comparison to Alan Partridge, but then I doubt Coogan could complain much about always being associated with such a brilliant creation.

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