Brian Donaldson finds the digital channels finally getting it right with the whole comedy thing. Sort of.
Older viewers may recall Christina Applegate as the slightly slutty teenage airhead from annoying 80s US sitcom Married with Children. And should you have not seen the cinematic likes of Anchorman or Employee of the Month in the intervening years, you may still have an embossed image of her in your mind as a bottle-blonde bimbo constantly on the phone or reading out loud from Garfield. So, watching Samantha Who? (E4, Thu 18 Sep, 10pm) ••• will be something of a jolt to the system to see her all grown-up playing a victim of amnesia who wakes from a coma only to find that before her accident she was a fairly detestable, property-developing individual. Coming over all My Name is Earl, she seeks to become a better person which proves harder than she thinks. Despite having been created by Irish chicklit-merchant Cecilia Ahern, this is barely dreadful at all, with fewer boardroom clichés than Ugly Betty and a central performance that wears thicker than Jason Lee’s.
Probably the most original new US comedy on our screens is Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World (E4, Wed 24 Sep, 10.30pm) •••. That is, unless you know of another gay-based stop-motion animated sitcom doing the rounds. Set in the fictional ‘gay ghetto’ of West Lahunga Beach (‘the gayest of gay ghettoes’), it features three couples who more or less despise each other, a gender non-specific baby called Echinacea, a cat called Pussy and Alan Cumming voicing a wheelchair-bound HIV-positive 50-year-old called Chuck Masters. Raucous, silly and quiche-chokingly funny, it’s a South Park for the rainbow set.
There’s nothing especially original about prank-call show Fonejacker (E4, Wed 24 Sep, 10pm) ••••, it just happens to be ball-achingly funny. A shaded and balaclaved mobile menace adopts various personas (faux-innocent schoolboy, dodgy dealer, internet scamster and a man who talks in abbreviations) to annoy innocent individuals in homes, restaurants and offices who are generally trapped by the notion that the customer, while not always right, has to be tolerated right up until breaking point.
BBC3 have produced a litany of comedic poo this year but against every odd in the book, Coming of Age (BBC3, Tue 30 Sep, 10.30pm) ••• does not stink. Scripted by a 19-year-old and filmed before a pandering studio audience, this has all the hallmarks of being a third-rate Two Pints of Lager, yet its filthy charm and tendency towards puerile pyrotechnics make it more than watchable.
There’s plenty juvenilia going on in music industry-based Massive (BBC3, Sun 21 Sep, 9pm) •••; after all, its cast includes Paul Kaye, Ralf Little and Johnny Vegas. But again, it’s of the irritatingly winnable variety, even if too many characters employ that overly familiar confused-appalled sitcom expression whenever anyone says/does anything confusing/appalling.
To find the real comedic failures at the moment we only need to press the appropriate digits for ITV2. No Heroics (ITV2, Thu 18 Sep, 10.30pm) • is a sitcom about a group of four superhero friends battling with the embarrassing details of having dual identities and trying desperately to get their alter egos on the news. So, Alex AKA The Hotness meets a groupie who is only interested in his cape and mask existence while Sarah (Electroclash) chooses not to save a sexist shopkeeper from being robbed and shot in the guts. This might have been a half-decent sketch in That Mitchell and Webb Look, but for it to take up three hours of screentime shows how low things have slumped.
It’s hard not to have some affection for Katy Brand’s Big Fat Ass (ITV2, Tue 23 Sep, 10pm) •• but when an impersonator has to quickly mention the names of the people she’s impersonating, you know that trouble lies ahead. The raft of female pop culture figures mocked is largely predictable (Kate Nash, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss), but most disturbing of all is that Katy Brand dressed as a British soldier proudly showing off mobile phone images of tortured Iraqis is a dead ringer for disgraced Abu Ghraib abuser Lynndie England. Now that’s just not funny.