Saturday, 4 February 2006

If You Don't Tolerate This Another Series Of Space Cadets Will Be Next

(A Disjointed Collection Of Words About The IT Crowd Hammered Out After Two Hours Sleep That Prove Why We’d Never Make It As Proper Writers)

The I.T. Crowd
Fridays, 9.30pm
Channel Four

First episodes of new sitcoms are very often so preoccupied with introducing all the characters, there isn't much room for top-quality jokes. Plucking three examples at random, the first episodes of Spaced, Black Books and Futurama (not to mention the first thirty-odd Simpsons episodes, the first few episodes of Fools And Horses, the first series of Men Behaving Badly, we could whip through half of the BBC Comedy Guide at this point) were all below par compared to episodes that followed, and they're all classics, if only in our misjudged (no, hang on, INCONTROVERTIBLY CORRECT) world view.

This didn't pose much of a problem in The Olden Days, where the only competition was likely to be The Nine O’clock News, Snooker and Rumpole Of The Bailey, so people would give a new show, say, three or four episodes to hit it's stride. Often, this would lead to programmes gradually gaining an audience until they become a national phenomenon. Equally often, a lacklustre programme would reach the end of it’s run with a still respectable number of viewers, even if most of them were still wondering which were supposed to be the funny bits (ever wondered why Comrade Dad has never made it to DVD? Nor us).

Now, there are all manner of other distractions, so programmes have to make an immediate impact if they want to avoid being shunted to a midweek 11.30pm slot . Say you’re working on a Friday night Channel Four comedy show. One way is make an impact is to go all out to:

  • Appeal directly to braying idiots (The Dirty Jackasses Of Steel Wish Live Project, The Leigh Francis Swearing And Mentioning Celebrities Show, Eighteen Stone Of A Disappointing Johnny Vegas Vehicle).
  • Have a Unique Selling Point (the first-person majesty of Peep Show, or Green Wing, which looks like it might be quite good and interesting if you’re watching it in a pub with the sound off, but isn’t).
  • Do a panel game, so no-one can complain if the ratings are rubbish because it only cost 7p to make (8 Out Of 10 Cats, which we’d give up on like *that* if Sean Lock left).
  • Copy off of BBC’s worldwide smash hit (i.e. some people in America have seen it) That Office, but get it all horribly, horribly wrong (Spoons, The Oh God Turn It Off Or Just Kill Me Where I Stand Book Group).
  • Be Peter Kay, and chuck out any old crap because you’ve turned into The Hitler Of Comedy and can do what you want (i.e. Anything since series one of Phoenix Nights, or as it’s disgracefully called on DVD, “Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights”, even though he only co-wrote it and didn’t direct it.)
  • Have another ill-advised stab at re-creating TFI Friday.

One thing that simply doesn’t happen these days is, as David ‘Grumbleweeds Radio Show’ Liddiment pointed out recently, the traditional studio-based sitcom in front of an audience. And going by the amount of whining on various parts of Science’s The Internet about the first couple of episodes of Channel Four’s newie The I.T. Crowd (or, if you’re a continuity announcer, ‘The It Crowd’, of course. And this is actually one of the things people are moaning about), you can’t blame them.

“I CAN HERE PEOPLE LAUGHING INSTED OF JUST HAVING CHARACTER B STARING AT THE OTHER PERSON IN EMBARISSED SILENCE, I DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!' says BRENTFAN9823. "yes whats with the caned laughter its like watching the flintstones or something" concurs BillHicksReference2133. "There's a woman in it! Women shouldn't be allowed in comedy, because I've arbitrarily decided they're not funny ever. I now hate Graham Linehan and Chris Morris, and have microwaved my The Day Today DVD in protest!" sulks TedMaul23847324. "You're all wrong, of course. The I.T. Team is refeshingly great, and is likely to become increasingly great as the series progresses" corrects the dashingly lithe Mark X.

Of course, going by the evidence of the first two episodes, it’s not as good as Father Ted. But since when has ‘coming up with a new show that’s not as good as the Official Eleventh Best Sitcom Of All Time by the end if it’s second episode’ been a crime? Since never, that’s when, you comedy I like not-liking Nazis.

Sure, there were weak bits in the first episode (“Get back in there and do some work to do with computers”, with the last word pronounced in a way that someone who doesn’t know how to pronounce it would pronounce it, which was just rubbish, and the tiresome stock ‘post modern pratfall followed by heavy bleeding’ gag – it’s the Del Boy Falling Through The Bar for the Balls Of Steel Generation, that is), but there were weak bits saved by great bits (the predictable “do you want me to connect your phone” line was rescued by the delivery of the “no, I’m using my phone”, “But… how!?” follow-up), and a great deal of great bits in their own right (The A-Team picture and their names, the lift button, “Chairman WOW!”, the fairground photomontage over the end credits).

Episode two was even better, with Linehan using the Simpsons Comedy Model system of gags coming through so thick and fast that any duff lines are soon forgotten about, because a great one has gone chasing straight after it (“I’ll just put this over here with the rest of the fire”, the ‘emailing the fire brigade’ bit, the home-made Stress Machine – for all the people on Science’s The Internet complaining about Richard Ayoade: you’re wrong, there’s three examples of Ayoade Gold right there. Also: “Fire? I’m late for GOLF!”).

Also, away from the meat of the programme itself, it was incredibly nice to see a programme finish without the need to dump a massive ‘4’ logo and voiceover over half of the screen. Something ‘they’ should do more often – if we want to know what’s next, we do have a special button for that very purpose on your digital TV remotes, you know. Oh, and what a fantastical title sequence – if that fails to put you in a good mood before the opening scene, you’re not human. See, it’s all good.

Science Fact! If this rate of continuous improvement continues, by episode five a Decent Comedy Vortex may well develop, and both Will & Grace and The Friday Night Project will be sucked inside, only to be spewed out the other side as repeats of Soap and Saturday Zoo. So, that’s something else to look forward to.


3 .:

Adam Aitch said...

Some wag on the Digital Spy TV program forum started a thread called 'The (sh)IT Crowd'.

Obviously, Channel 4 wasted no time and snapped them up to work on another Justin Lee Collins fronted comedy vehicle.

Channel 4 also denied Graham Lineham is now currently rethinking the title of his next sitcom set in the world of hip-hop called 'The Rap Set'.

Mark X said...

"Obviously, Channel 4 wasted no time and snapped them up to work on another Justin Lee Collins fronted comedy vehicle."

You might laugh, but this actually is Channel Four's recruiting policy. It's much cheaper than putting adverts in mediaguardian, and has much the same level of success.

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