Steve Delaney’s much-loved comic creation, Count Arthur Strong, made his sitcom debut on Monday as the series of the same name, co-written by Graham Linehan and Delaney himself, began.
I wrote an article about Count Arthur Strong last week and included information on the characters, as well as the ‘sit’ within the ‘com’. I watched trailers, clips of Steve Delaney’s previous Edinburgh shows and read interviews with Delaney and Linehan, in which it was mentioned that Arthur can boast fans such as Billy Connolly and Sir Paul McCartney. And yet, for some infuriating reason, I just couldn’t get excited about the show.
In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t overhype it in my head, as I would have been even more disappointed than I actually was after watching it. Don’t get me wrong, Count Arthur Strong wasn’t terrible (we haven’t got another The Wright Way on our hands here) but I didn’t find it as funny as I was led to believe I would.
Linehan and Delaney seemed to rely on viewers already being familiar with the character of Arthur. I’m sure that a lot of people will have come to the show having already seen one of his hugely successful Edinburgh shows or listened to the award-winning Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! on Radio 4 but some, like myself, will not have seen much of Arthur – if any at all. As a result of the writers’ assumption that we all know and love Arthur, the character was left quite under-developed. Where was the delusional character who I had read about – the one who believes that he had once been, and continues to be, highly famous and extremely well-regarded in showbiz circles? In fact, only Michael Baker (played wonderfully by Rory Kinnear) was developed well: the other characters – Katya, Eggy and Sinem, for example – seemed to have been simply dropped into the episode and, while I understood their roles, their individual personalities weren’t given a chance to shine through.
KEEPING WITH TRADITION
Of course, Count Arthur Strong is just one of many throwbacks to the ‘traditional’ laughter-laden family sitcom. Some do it well (Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda are the examples which immediately spring to mind) while some don’t – the aforementioned The Wright Way is always my scapegoat for traditional trash. Like many, I think that back-to-basics sitcoms are fantastic! O’Carroll and Hart’s creations are, in my opinion, two of the best examples of sitcom in recent years. I must admit that, despite giving it a poor review, I even enjoyed the final episode of ITV’s Vicious, and warmed to its unashamedly traditional characters and situations. The problem is, I’m just not sure Count Arthur Strong suits such a sitcom. I’m not suggesting he be used in a real-time series or ‘mockumentary’, but there’s something that doesn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid.
Then again, is it Linehan who is unsuitable for such a show – not Arthur? His sitcoms have always brilliantly blended the traditional with the contemporary. Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd – his three most notable creations – were all traditional in that they all had laughter tracks and featured stock characters. Take Ted, for example: you had the eponymous leader of, and voice of reason within, the Craggy Island clan; you had Dougal, the idiotic one; Jack, the rude, cantankerous one; and Mrs Doyle, the annoying one who means well. To reiterate, though, they all felt contemporary – especially The IT Crowd, the subject matter of which simply would have been neither relevant nor relatable a mere decade before. It is these types of shows which Linehan is best known and loved for. Count Arthur Strong, on the other hand, feels very safe in comparison – and I don’t just mean that it’s less profane. It just has nothing ‘new’ about it and appears to be trying to emulate its traditional contemporaries. It’s like slipping on a comfortable, once fashionable pair of shoes, only to discover that everyone else is now wearing them and yours are slightly scuffed.
I really hope that I am proved wrong about Count Arthur Strong and that it grows on me and becomes a hit. Actually, it looks like it’s already half way there – if this is one of the rare occasions that the reaction from the Twittersphere can be trusted. One user wrote, ‘#countarthurstrong Absolutely BRILLIANT. Laughed til [sic] tears rolled down my cheeks! Thank you @BBC2. Haven’t laughed like that for years!’ and another dubbed it ‘Classic British comedy in the making’. Then again, some people sided with me by calling it ‘a bit broad’ and speculating that the usually reliable Linehan’s involvement went only as far as ‘spell checking the script’.
I suppose you can’t please everyone, can you?
Images courtesy of BBC. © Fremantle Productions
Count Arthur Strong is on Mondays at 8:30pm on BBC2
What did you think of Count Arthur Strong? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.
You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.