Gigglebox Weekly #67
This week Ian Wolf watches a tooth being extracted and a semi-naked man holding lots of balloons.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook
Sky’s been on a bit of a role in terms of comedy commissions. While most of the notable ones have been on Sky1 and Sky Atlantic, other channels have been making their own shows, with this one coming from Sky Arts 1.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook is based on a collection of short stories made by the Soviet novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, most famous for his book The Master and Margarita. The story’s told via extracts from an old doctor in 1930s Moscow (played by Mad Men star Jon Hamm), about his experiences working in tiny village hospital in the middle of nowhere just after his graduation in 1917 (his younger self being played by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame).
The opening story see the young doctor arrive at his new practice and dealing with his much more experience staff: Anna (Vicki Pepperdine), a midwife who is obsessed with the doctor’s late predecessor Leopold Leopoldovich; fellow midwife Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero) and the boring feldsher (Adam Godley). As the story goes on, the young doctor finds himself mysteriously in conflict with his older self, who keeps telling him what to do.
This opening episode was highly enjoyable. I’ve read some of Bulgakov’s work before (i.e. Heart of a Dog) so I know a bit about his life and the book’s in some ways based on his own experiences as a doctor in the Russian countryside. It does make you wonder exactly how much of it’s based on stuff which occurred to him as there’s quite a lot of gore. One of the most horrific yet funny scenes involves the young doctor trying to extract a tooth from a patient, which first leads him to drag the patient around the floor, before doing something I don’t think it would be wise to mention now.
It’s not just the slapstick which is good, but the characters too, especially the staff the doctor has to work with. The feldsher for example makes a study of how many things you can possibly fit into the young doctor’s luggage (he counts socks individually).
Many people will be watching A Young Doctor’s Notebook just to see the high-profile leads, but there’s much more to this programme than just the cast.
Part of the 4Funnies season, this latest pilot appears to have a few things that could well make it into a series. For starters it’s rather heart-warming, it’s amusing, but the main reason Channel 4 will probably turn it a full series is because Ricky Gervais is executive producer (that’s pretty much how PhoneShop got commissioned).
Created by stand-up David Earl, the title character, Brian Gittins, is a taxi driver working in a small, slightly oddball town. It’s not every place that regularly has someone wearing only their underpants walking around hold a large bunch of balloons. The story follows his working life, in his taxi which keeps having constant faults, whether it is the horn activating whenever he turns the steering wheel, or the alarm going off when he walks about ten feet away from the vehicle.
The main plot concerns Brian’s attempts, with help from his student daughter Lucy (Camille Ucan), to try and ask out his controller Cheryl (Ashley McGuire) out on a date. However, the funniest moments are when Brian is making his journeys with his passengers. For example there’s the sequence when Brian has to deliver a woman in labour to a hospital, but because of the taxi’s faults it keeps turning on the radio, leading to a chorus of “Rabbit” by Chas and Dave.
This pilot seems to have a little bit of everything. A bit of slapstick, a bit of romance, a bit of realism thrown in. Gittins has all the makings of a decent sitcom.