The much-publicised sitcom Gates began on Sky Living last night, the first ever home-grown sitcom for the channel. I was a bit split when I saw the trailer for the first time: on the one hand, it looked like quite a promising setting – no one, to my knowledge, has ever set a comedy in a school playground so this could be unique and refreshing. On the other hand, it seemed to be full of lame, childish ‘jokes’ which just aren’t suited to grown adults. The latter hand, tragically, had the upper one and what started as quite an auspicious show quickly descended into one which infuriated and embarrassed me.
A PROMISING START
Like I said, this started off quite promisingly as we were immediately presented with various characters who had an array of admittedly great gags – mostly visual – as their introductions and a much slimmed-down Ella Kenion (The Green Green Grass‘ Mrs. Cakeworthy) made her mark with a convincing Aussie accent. Also, Sue Johnston was a saving grace, with her playing one of the most believable of all the characters, Miss Hunter. When she walked into the classroom full of pupils and started talking, I instantly recognised this person: I had a teacher exactly like her in primary school and it would have been nice to see other characters in Gates to whom many of the audience could relate to just like I did with this one. However, there wasn’t…and that’s where the praise ends for this show, I’m afraid, because after being conned by the opening scenes, I quickly realised that this “comedy” is unrealistic and just downright ridiculous.
A CHANCE WASTED
You see, bar Miss Hunter, Gates seems merely to be full of characters who you don’t find in playgrounds…which is quite unfortunate seeing as this is exactly what the programme is about and where it is set. This was a great opportunity! The team of writers could have grasped the chance to depict real life on a playground with the comedy coming from the audiences identifying with real people in real situations (like in The Royle Family or the sublime Early Doors, for example), instead of it coming from absurdly far-fetched characters in situations which I’m sure even the writers of My Hero would have passed on.
I once read a review of a sitcom (I can’t remember what the show was and I can’t remember who wrote it, unfortunately) which was described, in the review, as “being set on Planet Sitcom”, which is a place where many comedies seem to be set nowadays, on which nothing which happens in the show actually would happen in real-life – it’s so totally far-removed from the everyday life of the viewer. The term “Planet Sitcom” sums up Gates – the script for this opening episode was so ridiculous that at one point I got so irritated that I just shouted at the TV through gritted teeth, “BUT IT JUST WOULDN’T HAPPEN!” I mean, the scripts and storylines on My Family weren’t always wholly believable but the writers got away with it because the characters they had created were believable and there was at least some way for the audience to identify and sympathise with the characters and their roles within the family. Most importantly, though, a My Family script was nearly always funny, something which that of Gates lacked. When Helen (Gavin & Stacey‘s Joanna Page) was prepping her husband Mark (Miranda‘s Tom Ellis) with her “Go, go go” speech in anticipation for his first experience of dropping his kids off in the playground and then subsequently over the phone talked him through the process of picking them up from the yard, I cringed a little – it was simply all too “Planet Sitcom”.
JOANNA CAN DO BETTER
The most disappointing thing about this first episode of Gates, though, was Joanna Page’s character. After her defining role in Gavin & Stacey and her more recent portrayal of a struggling single mum in BBC drama The Syndicate, we know she is brilliant at playing down-to-earth people. Why, oh why, then did someone see fit to cast her in not only this show but this role? Page’s performance was great, it’s just that her script and character weren’t. I know she can do better than this.
There’s more Gates at the same time on Sky Living next Tuesday. I’ll try to endure another episode for the purposes of reviewing, or even in the hope that it will simply improve.
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