Category Archives: ‘The Wright Way’

Is Shane Allen Doing the Wright Thing For BBC Comedy?

New Controller of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC, Shane Allen, yesterday announced which of the corporation’s sitcoms, new and established, are to be axed, and which are to be returning. However, has he made the right choices about the recommissioning and cancelation of certain shows?

HEADING OFF

One of the casualties of the former Channel 4 Comedy chief’s shake-up is Sue Perkins’s Heading Out, in which she played vet Sara who, at the age of forty, had still not told her parents that she was gay. Over six episodes, we followed Sara as her friends had booked her sessions with a rather eccentric life coach (played by Joanna Scanlan), who helped build her confidence and find the courage to come out to her parents.

When I read that Heading Out had been given the chop, I have to say that I wasn’t particularly surprised. Whereas I wrote in my review of the first episode that the series ‘showed promise’ and it looked that there were ‘good things to come’, it failed to bloom into the brilliant show which many expected it to be, and it turns out that even Perkins’s common writer’s trick of ending the show with something of a cliffhanger, in the hope that commissioners and audiences alike will demand more, failed to work.

Don’t get me wrong, Heading Out wasn’t all that bad: it did manage to raise a few titters and I did find myself rooting for Sara. I even admired its rather unorthodox representation of gay people, which allowed them to be shown not as horrendous stereotypes but just…people, I suppose. It was an approach which is sadly rare in the world of sitcom.

GOING THE WRIGHT WAY – TO THE BIN

Next, there’s a sitcom which dealt with sexuality in a way more suited to the playground than the BBC, and one which should have been binned from the moment the writer penned his first draft: The Wright Way.

God, even writing it threatens the tears of despair which rolled down my cheeks during the transmission of Episode One. This almost universally disliked series, from hitherto reputable writer Ben Elton, focused on a local council’s Health and Safety department, headed by the series’ busybody protagonist, Gerald Wright – hence the title, The Wright Way! Oh my aching sides, Mr Elton.

The title, the jokes (or lack thereof), the title sequence, the delusion that Elton can still pen a successful sitcom, all of it was just so terribly tragic and led to the inevitability that this series would not again see the light of day. It’s not so much the inflicted boredom which influences my condemnation of The Wright Way: it’s the temerity of the BBC to commission it. During its last submissions round earlier this year, BBC Writersroom received over 2800 scripts – covering numerous genres – from budding scribes. I know, because mine was one of them. Now, I’ll bet that there were hundreds in that pile of scripts which the Writersroom team sifted through and were funnier or, if not a comedy, more worthy of the investment of licence fee payers’ money than Elton’s drivel. It’s almost as if he had a fast track ticket to a six-part series commission because he created The Young Ones and rescued Blackadder. Of course, I’m not for one moment suggesting that that is what happened, though.

Unbelievably, Shane Allen said, ‘[The Wright Way] isn’t what you’d call a flop’. And I agree – it’s not what I’d call ‘a flop’: it’s what everyone would call ‘a flop’. Ben Elton is apparently in talks about new pilots, however. Haven’t this show and Blessed (2005) taught the Beeb their lesson?

A SURPRISE

The third victim of Allen’s comedy shake-up is Getting On – which I was both saddened and surprised to read would not be returning.

Written by and starring Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, Getting On showed life in an NHS hospital, and totally lacked the glamour which medical sitcoms are usually brimming with. The trio created and played their characters brilliantly, making them rounded, relatable people whose day-to-day trials and tribulations, and reactions to them, were great to watch.

Unlike Heading Out and The Wright Way, Getting On had a true fan base – albeit a small one, given its modest three series run on BBC4. It received an RTS Award and Scanlan and Brand were each nominated for the BAFTA for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Role in 2010, which the latter actually won. The series is also heading for America, as US network HBO commissioned six episodes in March. So, with such acclaim from viewers and critics, it seems a mystery as to why Getting On is getting the axe.

Perhaps the reason is that three series was deemed enough. After all, just think of other comedies which have stopped after three successful runs: Father Ted? Gimme Gimme Gimme? Gavin & Stacey? The Inbetweeners? Like these shows, I’m sure Getting On will still be fondly remembered. Plus, we aren’t going to be without Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine’s brilliance for too long, as the BBC has just announced that their new sitcom, Puppy Love, is to be filmed later this year.

SHOWS WHICH ARE GOING STRONG

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news for fans of Auntie’s comedy output: Count Arthur Strong has been given a second series, despite only one episode having aired – and even that was met with a mixed reception from its audience of just 971,000 viewers.

Shane Allen also enthused about Jennifer Saunders and her BAFTA- and Emmy Award-winning sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, saying, ‘The door’s wide open [for it to return]’. I would definitely welcome a comeback for Ab Fab – despite many claiming that the 20th anniversary specials in 2011 and 2012 weren’t up to the standard of the original series (which ran from 1992-96, and then 2001-04) but I thought they showed the cast – comprising of ‘The Five Js’ – to be on top form, and Saunders to still possess the sharp wit and ability to pull of the satirical style which made the series such a hit in the first place. Even if Ab Fab doesn’t return, we may be seeing more from Jennifer on the BBC as Allen also said, ‘[Jennifer] is brilliant. I’d do anything she wants.’

I wouldn’t advise a West End musical though, Shane.

Also preparing for a return is The Royle Family, although it has been made clear that there are no further plans for Christmas episodes. Well if 2012’s effort is anything to go by, I’m not surprised. It was abysmal! Since the ‘Queen of Sheba’ episode in 2006, The Royle Family has moved away from its real-time routes and now jumps time settings and has even left the familiar surroundings of the Royles’ house on quite a few occasions. That took some getting used to for fans, but I think we’ve all come to just enjoy spending time with Jim and co., regardless of where it is. Last year’s Christmas special, however, ‘Barbara’s Old Ring’, was little more than an hour of far-fetched, yawn-inducing nonsense, which the BBC saw fit to broadcast at primetime on Christmas Day. I just don’t know how the writers thought that fans would be entertained by the rubbish that they handed in to the BBC – probably at the eleventh hour, something which Aherne and Cash are infamous for doing and which resulted in them not meeting the deadline to create a special for 2011. It was an inferior follow-up to the brilliant 2010 episode, which saw new character Saskia (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) go into labour a mere few seconds before the closing credits rolled. Skip forward two years and there’s not one mention of Saskia – who Antony had proposed to in the same episode – or her baby. It’s not what fans deserved, and I for one won’t be crying out for another special if the quality does not return to what we had become accustomed to with previous episodes.

So, in answer to the original question, I think Allen has made some ‘Wright’ decisions for BBC Comedy – axing Elton’s effort being the best of them all. However, I also believe that he has made some wrong ones – Getting On didn’t deserve the axe and maybe (just maybe) Heading Out should have been given a second chance (as Allen himself stated, ‘Only Fools and Horses took two series before it bedded in’). I also hope that he only gives the green light to specials of The Royle Family if they are up to scratch, unlike the last one, and that he has done the right thing in recommissioning Graham Linehan’s latest venture, Count Arthur Strong, so early on. After all, previous successes don’t guarantee that a show will work.

Ben Elton has learned that.

What did you think of Shane Allen’s decisions? Do you agree or disagree with me? 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.

TV Highlights (20th – 26th april)

Here I provide a comprehensive list of the best of the coming week’s TV.

Saturday 20th April

The Many Faces of Michael Crawford

BBC2, 8:30pm

Ooh Betty! Tonight, BBC2 are celebrating the fantastic Michael Crawford by airing a repeat of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (the one where Jessica is born) as well as a brand new episode of its The Many Faces of series dedicated to the actor.

The one-hour long documentary will profile Michael’s career with focus of course on his role as the accident-prone Frank Spencer (in the aforementioned Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em) and his turn in Lord Lloyd Webber’s smash hit, Phantom of the Opera. For example, did you know that Crawford initially turned down the role as the Phantom, but after Lord Webber and his (then) wife happened to hear him rehearsing with a vocal coach, he was persuaded to rethink and was offered the job almost instantly.

Also today: The excellent impressionist Francine Lewis (who some of you may recognise from Very Important People) impresses the judges on Britain’s Got Talent on ITV at 7:00pm (my review of this week’s episode is here); The Voice UK has waved its white flag and is now on at the later time of 8:20pm, BBC1; and Steve Coogan, Saoirse Ronan and will.i.am are all on the sofa for The Jonathan Ross Show (ITV, 9:30pm).

Sunday 21st April

Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero

BBC2, 8:00pm

In this series, Bill (pictured) travels through Borneo, encountering monkeys, macaques and frogs (I at least tried alliteration…) along the way.3785989-low-bill-baileys-junge-heroes

However, the main aim of this two-part series is to discover more about Alfred Russell Wallace. ‘Who?’ you’re probably saying – and that’s because he is little-known, despite having theorised evolution at around the same time as Charles Darwin, who I’m sure you’re most familiar with. Bill wants to pay tribute to Wallace, as he is too often over looked and seldom credited for his theory.

Usually my attitude towards nature documentaries is, If David Attenborough isn’t involved then I’m not watching it. However, Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero seems to be quite a good programme. Not only have we the studies of the weird and wonderful creatures which have been filmed along the way, but we have a lesson about Wallace and  a somewhat eccentric presenter, whose humour and enthusiasm will no doubt make it a worthwhile watch.

Also today: Jonathan Edwards hosts coverage of the London Marathon (BBC1, 8:30pm); Jurassic Park is on ITV at 3:55pm; and Jonathan Ross celebrates the work of Alfred Hitchcock in Perspectives (ITV, 10:00pm).

Monday 22nd April

Broadchurch

ITV, 9:00pm

I sort of wanted to avoid writing about Broadchurch – I didn’t want to have to read about it and risk discovering who Danny Latimer’s elusive killer is. So, forgive me if the following synopsis doesn’t offer much insight into this weeks’ episode. Then again, I’m sure you want spoilers just as little as I do.

Broadchurch has been a brilliantly gripping drama, throwing viewers clues and red herrings week after week, therefore keeping us on the edge of our seats. It’s also made me not be able to watch Birds of a Feather without thinking of Pauline Quirke as anything other than a twisted bitch.

Of course, as this is the last episode, the killer will be revealed: could it be Mark or Chloe (Danny’s dad and sister), Nige (Mark’s colleague); Reverend Paul Coates; or possibly DI Alec Hardy or DS Ellie Miller, both of whom are investigating the case. Hardy’s name has been discussed but I don’t remember Ellie ever having been looked into. Could it be that, as a friend of the Latimer family, she has managed to remove her name from the list of suspects by investigating the case?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Also today: Sandi Toksvig’s quite entertaining quiz show (even if it was only me who thought of it that way), 1001 Things You Should Know begins its second series (Channel 4, 3:30pm); and Ben Fogle visits Australia’s Restoration Island in the first of his new series, New Lives in the Wild (Channel 5, 9:00pm).

Tuesday 23rd April

The Wright Way 

BBC1, 10:35pm

From the anarchic Young Ones to the masterful Blackadder, Ben Elton has already well and truly left his mark on British comedy. However, he’s back with another tonight: The Wright Way, focusing on a Head of Health & Safety whose family and colleagues make his life the chaotic mess that it is.

4063124-low-the-wright-way The Wright Way seems very much like The Thin Blue Line – another of Elton’s sitcoms which was set in a police station, with an array of brilliant characters occupying it (most notably, James Dreyfus as the too-camp-to-be-heterosexual-yet-apparently-heterosexual PC Kevin Goody). However, their workplace settings aren’t the only things which link these two shows: they also star David Haig (DI Derek ‘Stop Fannying About’ Grimm in TTBL, Gerald Wright in TWW) and Mina Anwar (TTBL’s Constable Maggie Habib, TWW’s Malika). Both Gerald (centre, left) and Malika (centre, right) are fiercely passionate about the upholding of Health & Safety regulations, so it would be fair to suggest that this is where most of the comedy will stem from.

I’ll give any comedy a go. However, the fact that The Wright Way has been penned by Ben Elton makes me even more eager to watch it. Despite his track record, though, I do worry that it is going to be filled with stock characters and (as The Telegraph’s James Walton dubbed Life of Riley in 2009) ‘another half-an-hour firmly on Planet Sitcom: that strange world where people behave not like anybody in real life, but merely like people in other sitcoms.’ I really hope I’m proven wrong.

Also today: the only show where it’s acceptable to expose your genitals via webcam, Embarrassing Bodies: Live From the Clinic returns (Channel 4, 8:00pm); the final episode of The Great British Sewing Bee is on BBC2 at 8:00pm; find out what repercussions Mandy faces in the last in the series of The Syndicate (BBC1, 9:00pm); and Edward VIII’s Murderous Mistress (Channel 4, 9:00pm) explores the story behind an affair which the monarch apparently had before his ascension to the throne.

Wednesday 24th April

10 O’Clock Live 

Channel 4, 10:00pm

Who else remembers Channel 4’s huge campaign in 2011 for 10 O’Clock Live? They advertised it on TV, in newspapers and on billboards, all ready for the opening episode. Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne from BBC 6 Music were all about to have our sides splitting with their satirical take on the week’s big news.

Two years on, we’re still waiting for that to happen.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little too harsh. I actually like 10 O’Clock Live and am quite glad that it’s 10OClockLivetouseback for a third year. I just hope they get it right this time. All of the presenters have their own qualities to contribute. David (far left) chairs the often heated discussion between guests, and regularly drops his (in Jimmy’s words) ‘logic bombs’, as he does on almost every panel show he appears on – so pretty much every panel show. Charlie (second left) delivers his weekly monologues (read rants), fuelled by irritation and often a want to point out the complete hypocrisy of the nation. Lauren Laverne (second right) appears to keep the show running, introducing topics and chipping in on the rare occasion that the boys haven’t anything to say. Many have pointed out that Lauren is a bit redundant on 10 O’Clock Live but I’m not going to be so unkind – mainly because she’s from Sunderland. Jimmy’s (yes, you guessed it, far right) opening monologues are always a treat, as are his sketches later in the show (which more often than not involve him donning some ridiculous costume).

10 O’Clock Live is certainly worth a try. Hopefully it will be third time lucky for the quartet and they will manage to strike the balance exactly right this time. They’ve produced memorable moments before (Charlie’s ‘Witch Hunt’ rhyme and Jimmy’s now infamous mocking of Barclays’ 1% tax scheme), and fingers crossed the next eight weeks will deliver many more.

Also today: Billy Connolly narrates Great Bear Stakeout, a two-part documentary about Alaskan grizzly bears (BBC1, 9:00pm); and, having been a victim of a road accident herself, Sophie Morgan investigates car collisions involving young people in Licence to Kill (BBC3, 9:00pm).

Thursday 25th April

The Politician’s Husband 

BBC2, 9:00pm

The Politician’s Husband (a companion to the multi-award-winning The Politician’s Wife) has been written by Paula Milne and centres around Aiden Hoynes (Broadchurch’s David Tennant) and Freya Gardner (Appropriate Adult’s Emily Watson), who are the golden couple of British politics.3949127-low-the-politicians-husband

After a failed attempt at leadership, Hoynes is thrown into political obscurity while his wife is appointed to Cabinet. She must choose either to bring to fruition the career she has for so long wished or support her husband at home, and therefore save her marriage.

Over the three-part series, we find out whether Hoynes and Gardner’s relationship is affected by the decision she has made.

Also today: Abby and Brittany: Joined for Life follows conjoined twins as they graduate from college (BBC3, 9:00pm); Ladyboys returns to Sky Living for a second series (9:00pm); Russell Howard’s Good News is back (BBC3, 10:00pm); and so is traditional sketch show Watson & Oliver (BBC2, 10:00pm).

Friday 26th April

Ben Earl: Trick Artist

Channel 4, 9:00pm

Whether it’s The Incredible Mr Goodwin, Derren Brown or Dynamo, magicians are undoubtedly popular at Ben Earl Mannequins midresthe minute. Therefore, Channel 4 have commissioned Ben Earl to produce a four-part series all about…magic!

Every week, Ben will be presenting a show from a warehouse, where he will perform tricks based on various themes. This week, it is that of Crime (next week, it’s Art) and we witness the illusionist catch a speeding bullet, teach an audience member how to pickpocket and leap from the top of a speeding car.

Impressive!

Also today: Iceland’s volcanic activity is investigated in Iceland: Ash Cloud Apocolypse (Channel 5, 8:00pm); Masterchef reaches the last of the semi-finals (BBC1, 8:30pm); docu-drama The Genius of Turner: Painting the Industrial Revolution looks at the works of JMW Turner (BBC2, 9:00pm); Sarah Millican, JLS and Laura Mvula take a seat on the Chatty Man sofa (Channel 4, 10:00pm); and Lewis Hamilton, Dara O Briain, Pedro Almodovar and Alison Moyet are all dropping in for a chat on The Graham Norton Show (BBC1, 10:35pm).

Are you particularly looking forward to any of these shows or is there something else from the world of TV which you want to have your say about? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer.