TV Review – Popadoodledandy, Them Off That Thing, The Function Room, At Home with the Flynns, Mark Steel’s In Town


The Backsides of Milan

Channel 4 is an insular sort of channel, a lost plateau on a lost continent where the world outside is never discussed. As far as they’re concerned, David Mitchell is the guy from Peep Show and has never been on QI and Russell Brand is waiting in a green room somewhere to do the next series of Big Brother’s Little Brother.

Until recently, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer may as well have been dead to them. Although the groundbreaking Big Night Out was first shown on Channel 4, the relationship turned sour when the mad duo decamped to the BBC (what’s that?) and they were Stalinesquely written out of history. But as noted here a few weeks ago, when Reeves and Mortimer alum Angelos Epithemiou got his own show there, Channel 4 have been thawing the ice with their fallen brethren.

The defrosting is almost complete with the forthcoming Vic and Bob’s Lucky Sexy Winners. But first some atonement is in order. Funny Fortnight is the name Channel 4 gave to a raft of new comedies and old classics showing every night. One of the latter was The Weekenders, Vic and Bob’s almost legendary pilot sitcom that was never picked up because it was too expensive to make.

The opposite was Popadoodledandy (C4), a pilot for a music show presented by the two and never shown before. Channel 4 took the brave decision to finally show it at 1.40am, and you can kind of see why as it looks like the cheapest thing ever made. Shot on video in an all white studio, it features a mix of music videos (nothing was cheaper in the 80s and 90s) and live performances from artists who probably paid to appear.

The first band on are the dimly-remembered Cud. Vic mercifully interrupts their song for some tough questions. “Tell me, what National Insurance contributions do you make?” A Thomas Dolby video is shown for no apparent reason, as he was old news even in 1993. “We were lucky enough to bump into Kym Mazelle in the park, drinking cider with her friends.” Acid House diva Kym is asked some expectedly bizarre questions (“Would you wear a special harness if you were carrying meat?”) and is not allowed to sing a note.

A group allowed to sing are Milan, three strumpets with particularly large derrieres who probably thought that this appearance was their big break. Happy now, Channel 4 controllers? Bob is disappointed though. “You ruined that for me,” he says as they all head to the park, having bribed the girls with fags. “You could see your bra.”

The closing act is Denim singing Here Is My Song For Europe, with Lawrence in fishing hat and Bay City Roller trousers, nonetheless upstaged by Vic and Bob who watch the song wearing nothing but dirty underpants. The last words are Bob chastising Vic after the closing song. “You buggered that up didn’t yer.”

Someone buggered that up. Whilst presented as a pop music show, there’s so much of Vic and Bob just doing their stuff that it’s bizarre that Channel 4 didn’t pick up what was a cheap bit of harmless fluff that happened to feature the best comedians around at the time. To think, they preferred the interview stylings of Terry Christian.

Also part of Funny Fortnight were a few new series getting somewhat lost in comparison to old episodes of Spaced and Peep Show. A sketch show called Them From That Thing (C4) further highlighted the channel’s insularity. This sketch show’s USP is that it features lots of well-known names from other things – well-known if you watch a lot of Channel 4 that is.

So it starred Kayvan Novak (Phonejacker, Sirens), Sally Phillips (Smack the Pony), Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners) and Morgana Robinson (The Morgana Show, Very Important People) and featured Krishnan Guru-Murthy (Channel 4 News) as a reporter interviewing Phillips about a new number she’s discovered (“somewhere between six and seven”), Sean Gilder (Shameless) as a hypnotized hypnotherapist and Dan Renton Skinner (the aforementioned Angelos Epithemiou) as a victim of a gangland torture session trying to come up with the best witty line for his torturer.

Them From That Thing most resembles Smack The Pony but at only two episodes it feels like nobody took it too seriously, something that affects a lot of the new programmes premiered in Funny Fortnight. Another new offering was a multi-camera sitcom called The Function Room (C4), with quite a starry cast not given quite enough to do. And this being a sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience, it’s also as broad as the backsides of Milan.

Set in the upstairs room of a pub available for hire, Paul Ritter plays Jim, “the residents’ association Fuhrer. Kidding.” Once he’s introduced Inspector Kevin Eldon in a Meet The Police event, he doesn’t say much else. Eldon in turn introduces Jessica Knappett as the new area beat officer, the last one having disappeared.

She’s a very earnest raw recruit, fully conversant with the bullshit of the modern copper. “I very much anticipate moving forward in partnership with yourselves in order to address community problems with very much community-based solutions,” she says, before not saying much else. We also cut away to the great Simon Day downstairs, essentially playing Billy Bleach without the wig (“of course, you know the etymology of the word police don’t you”), but only twice.

Instead, the main thrust of the episode centres on stroppy Daniel Rigby and his entreaties to catch someone called ‘The Shit Egg Killer’. Someone in the neighbourhood has been throwing small balls of compacted fecal matter through people’s windows, although each one has a sweet treat in the middle. “There was a sherbet lemon in the middle of mine.”

With five minutes to go, Reece Shearsmith turns up as the missing policeman who Knappett replaced. He’s been “lurking in the shadows, leaving no trail” for many months in his pursuit of the Shit Egg Killer (who hasn’t actually killed anyone). He is sure it’s Eldon, but he’s quickly disproved before James Fleet’s camp actor theatrically reveals himself. “No-one in this room is innocent. We’ve all got shit on our hands.”

The Function Room is a wholly adequate comedy, with some good yucks amongst the fecally obsessed filth. But it’s no work of genius, and that might be down to its format. The multi-camera sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience often gets read the last rites yet it never seems to quite die off.

Yet it looks as it always has done, utterly false. Betraying sitcom’s theatrical origins, it’s all too easy for actors to project to the back row and for the set to look exactly like a set. It’s pure nostalgia from watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers or Steptoe and Son, whereas they would not have been lessened if they had been made in a real hotel or junk yard. The old excuse is that it was cheaper to do in the studio, but with digital cameras that no longer applies.

Which brings us onto another multi-camera sitcom, In With The Flynns (BBC1), an old school, mainstream comedy written by Simon Nye, who has done thousands of these things. In With The Flynns is The Royle Family without all that arty nonsense, featuring a warm-hearted Northern family headed by dad Will Mellor and mum Niky Wardley, who still love each other despite having three kids and Mellor’s arsey dad (Warren Clarke) and weirdo brother (Alex Carter) constantly dropping in.

Also unlike the Royle Family, it is required to have a plot. The first episode of the new series starts with Will and Niky coming home to find a burglar trying to rob the family laptop. Mellor grabs him and stuffs him in the kitchen cupboard. With their visitor duly handed over to the police, the rest of the episode touches on vigilantism (“All due respect to Gandhi, he didn’t live in Manchester during a recession”), what can sometimes happen to have-a-go heroes (“There was this bloke who chained up a kid for stealing garden gnomes. Perfectly normal. He got six months!”) and possible child abuse, when it’s revealed that one of their sons was also locked up in the same cupboard (“You liked it! You were being Harry Potter”).

This makes it sound much more serious than it actually is. In With The Flynns couldn’t be more warm and fluffy if it had just came out of a tumble dryer. After all, most of the episode has Clarke wandering around carrying a giant fish. And everyone has a chuckle on the couch at the end.

The BBC is the most nostalgic channel, so whilst Channel 4 screening such a throwback as The Function Room is seen as daring, the BBC will never stop showing old school sitcoms in the same way they’ll never stop showing costume dramas. Like The Function Room, it’s not embarrassingly bad but it’s hardly must-see stuff. Even the Radio Times described it as “not totally awful.”

How really not to do TV is to film a radio show. A special version of the wonderful series Mark Steel’s In Town (BBC red button, oddly) revealed half an hour of one man reading stuff out. Even when he gets other people to say stuff, Mark still reads. It’s not exactly riveting.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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