Remote Control - TV round-up


Brian Donaldson finds some comedians doing a few unexpected things. Though making us laugh doesn’t seem to be high on their agenda

Last issue we were concerned about a British businessman who had to chomp on the bits of a donkey that no one should have to chomp on, just to keep his Chinese hosts happy. In an earlier episode of Paul Merton in China (Five, Mon 11 Jun, 9pm 3 Stars), this fate had also befallen the man who has perhaps surprisingly done a Palin and removed himself from the world of comedy to spend six weeks in a foreign land. In this final episode, he goes on a particularly weird form of speed dating China-style when parents seek partners for their twentysomething children and the vertiginous Merton nearly passes out when surveying the scene from the window of his 82nd floor hotel room.

Lenny Henry has been somewhat less ambitious for his telly travels. Lenny’s Britain (BBC1, Mon 11 Jun, 9pm 1 Star) has the former Tiswas star touring the nation to discover just what it is that makes people laugh in the different regions. At some point in the series he’ll be packing tea cakes at the Tunnock’s factory and sliding down a pole with Glasgow firefighters, but for the opener he is on safer territory by looking at the importance of family on his home patch of the Midlands. When you consider the reams of footage that must be dumped on the cutting room floor for a project like this, you can only be awestruck at just how bad the rejected material must have been. For Henry has succeeded in making one of the most pointless bits of TV in this or any other year. Quite how helping a bride with her favours or watching a lonely old man eat his stew in front of an electric fire is telling us something about the state of the comedic nation is anyone’s guess. But all the while, our Len cackles with unrestrained joy as some old duffer makes a mildly half-witty statement, leaving us to conclude that the producers have insisted he laughs as much as possible to remind us that this is a hefty analysis of the mechanics of comedy and not just an excuse for a celebrity to run about town with a camera crew, the superego matching him stride for stride.

If Richard Herring has en ego, he isn’t afraid to laugh squarely in its face as he proves in You Can Choose Your Friends (STV, Thu 7 Jun, 9pm 3 Stars). If you or I were the writer and key actor in an ITV comedy drama, chances are we wouldn’t write a scene for ourselves in which we stumble badly out of a bath with our hairy bum on show for a few seconds longer than decency should allow. But you and I are not Richard Herring. With a cast including ITV sitcom veterans Anton Lesser and Julia McKenzie as well as seriously strong actorly talent such as Claire Skinner and Rebecca Front, this is a fine example of the channel’s intention to crank up the quality of their comedy output. Almost pleasingly, not a lot happens in it, other than various members of the Snell clan clawing metaphorically away at each other’s open wounds (only literal in a couple of cases) during a largely embarrassing family gathering.

Embarrassing is one of the words that springs to mind as the crushingly poor Touch Me, I’m Karen Taylor (BBC3, Mon 11 Jun, 10.30pm 2 Stars) reaches its fourth or fifth laugh-free sketch. The targets seem right (those all-night phone-in quiz shows for dummies and drunk women journeying to the land of Lesbos to make their men jealous) but the script is awful.

Perhaps in the context of that, Ronni Ancona and Co(BBC1, Fri 8 Jun, 10.35pm 3 Stars) seems positively vibrant, though considering Alistair McGowan’s right hand lady lost half her audience after episode one, I may have been blinded to the show’s true worth. Still, she writes and performs a classroom scene better than Karen Taylor and her array of celeb impersonations are, as you’d expect, spot-on. And I dare you not to at least smirk at her take on the soft focus hair ad preening of Andie MacDowell.

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