Gigglebox Weekly #4
Gigglebox is back! This week Ian Wolf looks at sitcoms, satire, and sex.
This mockumentary is now half-way through its run, so we can now get a good idea of what it’s truly like. My overall conclusion is thus – it’s good, but not great.
There’s a big problem with any mockumentary which can be summed up in two words: The Office. As soon as any new series comes up it’s almost naturally compared with it, and because The Office was so prolific any similar show is cast in its shadow. People instantly say it is not original. In the case of Twenty Twelve, it’s not just critics saying it, but the Australians claiming it’s copying their sitcom The Games.
There are some problems with the show anyway, though. Just little things, but (for example) how come one of the main characters was not included in last week’s episode? Some of the jokes are rather unsurprising, too, especially during the Ian Fletcher routine which felt so, so predictable.
There were some high points however. The highlight of last night’s episode was Amelia Bullmore trying desperately to do a video blog which she kept messing up – though that’s probably because, as a former media student, I know what it’s like. I constantly kept fluffing my lines like Bullmore did, so I know that things like this do happen. It all ties into that fear of public speaking that most of us have, and it’s a really clever observational piece.
Sex and the Sitcom
From a mockumentary to a documentary; Sex and the Sitcom looked at the history of the sexual revolution through the lens of British sitcoms. The history is really rather tragic.
Because the most successful British characters in sitcoms are failures – like Hancock, Mainwaring, Steptoe, Fawlty and so on – you knew that there was no way that they were going to find someone to love, and those characters who were married never had it off.
Amongst the pieces of information was how ‘the pill’ revolutionised sitcoms. Before the invention of the pill, sitcoms were male dominated, but post-pill women had more freedom, and therefore could have more time on screen. It’s a bit of a loose analysis but still interesting. Also mentioned was that during the 1970s ITV was more adventurous in covering sex and the permissive society than the BBC, with programmes like On the Buses being much more rowdy. To quote David Quantick (who was featured on the documentary), you could only have sex on ITV, ‘If you had chips.’
In terms of the 1990s, perhaps the most annoying thing was the fact that the Americans were much better at covering sex in sitcoms than the British, with things such as “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld – probably the greatest single episode in American sitcom history – being shown, while in the UK one of the most complained about sitcom episodes was Christmas special of Men Behaving Badly when Caroline Quentin gets a tissue stuck to her face.
In conclusion, the series claimed that the biggest enemy against sex in sitcom is the jokes are simply not funny enough, which may explain why neither Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps nor Coming of Age were mentioned in the programme.
Russell Howard’s Good News
This week’s edition of Good News had something for everyone. If you like Russell Howard, you will no doubt find this particular episode up to his usual standard. If you don’t like Howard you’ll get the joy of seeing him being beaten up by an old lady: if only more pensioners practiced martial arts then the world would be a happier place.
The thing with this series is that it’s not the most satirical show in the world. It touches on some big topics covered in the news, but it’s always in a light-hearted manner. Most of the time it’s trivial human interest stories which he mocks, including clips from online and around the world.
Indeed there is quite a lot of garbage out there which is ripe for mocking, from newspaper stories devoted to a house that looks like Adolf Hitler to the TV coverage given to a man who showers with a squirrel.
Interestingly, quite a bit of this week’s edition was disturbing and a little frightening. The budget lady-boy airline sketch might have mentally scarred many, as would have the excerpt from Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ (I’ve been trying my hardest not to listen to that stupid song. To be honest, I put it on mute rather than listen to it in case it really is as horrible as people claim it to be.)
The best thing about Good News, though, is fittingly the good news story at the end, in this case about an Indian cook who gave up his job to feed the homeless. It really is good to see some news is treated with the respect and airtime it should be given, and Howard does capture that well.
And it’s certainly arguable that the laid-back and fun approach of Russell Howard’s Good News is one of the best forms of satire, along with the harder hitting, informed, Mark Thomas style of satirical comedy and activism. That’s possibly why 10 O’Clock Live does nothing for me. It just sits in the middle – trying to be hard-hitting but failing to do so – and loses viewers because of it.