Brian Donaldson finds that with modern comedy there’s nothing like good old swearing
The folk at ITV were not too keen on letting episodes of Get a Grip (STV, Wed 18 Apr, 10pm, 1 Star) find their way into journalists’ hands before the first episode went on air. The reason given was that the show was so darned topical that Ben Elton and Alexa Chung would be cracking the funnies so close to the wire that the satirical wheel would have to be reinvented. So, the moon landings and the Roswell incident are today’s burning issues are they? Probably the worst thing about this pointless drivel - and there are many contenders for that dubious honour - is that it’s set up as some kind of battle of the ages, where a young one (Popworld presenter Chung) and the ex-Young Ones icon (the almost universally-loathed Elton) comment on the news stories of the day from their particular spot on the generational divide. Why then, is the whole thing written by one person? One person called Ben Elton? Thoroughly bogus and totally horrible.
Making a far better fist of getting older are messrs Whitehouse and Enfield, certainly on the early evidence of Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul (BBC1, Mon 16 Apr, 10.35pm, 3 Stars) which also features the underrated Morwenna Banks and the last ever Perrier prize scooper, Laura Solon. The only nagging doubt about this sketch affair is that they have largely foregone the original, if instantly recognisable, characters both were famous for (Loadsamoney, Stavros, Ted, and that guy who shouted ‘brilliant!’ a lot) and plumped to take a savage swipe at the rich and famous. But what stupendous swipes they are. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs talking dirty tech-speak at a party is fun enough but the silly U2 bedsit tale (check out the Joshua Tree poster) and Nelson Mandela doing alcohol ads are simply joyous.
There’s not a huge amount of joy to be had in Roman’s Empire (BBC2, Thu 12 Apr, 9.30pm, 2 Stars), which is spoiled by a camera guy with obsessive zoom-lens disorder and appears to be the result of an ideas meeting which more or less went like this: ‘I like Scrubs. Let’s do it like that with a touch of Royal Tenenbaums; you know, messed-up family stuff. All in a very British manner.’ And bingo, the Pretty clan was born with three lovely daughters, a daft matriarch, a dodgy daddy and stir crazy son-in-laws. I’m not sure whether the antics in Derren Brown: Trick or Treat (Channel 4, Fri 13 Apr, 10pm, 4 Stars) are outlandishly funny or cause for a petition to the court of human rights. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to have Dezza crouched by your bed, whispering something about going for a quiet walk with the certainty that something nice or nasty will await you at the other end. Then you fall back to sleep in a photo booth you’ve stumbled into and wake up 1500 miles away from your London home in a steamy North African marketplace. Cruel. But corking.
Still, the comedy treat of the fortnight is, probably unsurprisingly, the new fourth season of Peep Show (Channel 4, Fri 13 Apr, 10.30pm, 4 Stars). Has there ever been a comedy show that has utilised the swear word with such pinpoint accuracy and hilarious effect? The constant internal rants and occasional verbal outpourings of uptight Mark (David Mitchell) and shallow Jez (Robert Webb) are littered with such deliciously placed profanities that they almost make art and poetry out of cursing. Not that the show is simply about well-structured Anglo-Saxonisms, it’s also about loyalty, greed, guilt, love, hate and betrayal. And, in the opening episode, a very bad goatee.