Comedy Showcase/Lab: The Results Part I

Channel 4 and E4 have just completed the first half of runs of both Comedy Showcase and Comedy Lab respectively, a useful training ground for both established and upcoming comic acts to test out pilot episodes for prospective full-length series (examples that have made it include PhoneShop, Campus, School of Comedy, Fonejacker, Modern Toss, and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) or just one-off exercises to introduce new talent (Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay all made early forays into telly through Comedy Lab). Let’s take a look at them one by one…

Chickens

First out of the gate and, having received most of the publicity and, most probably, the budget too, Chickens is set on the Home Front during the First World War. Inbetweeners Simon Bird and Joe Thomas, and Edinburgh Comedy Newcomer Award Winner Jonny Sweet write and star as a trio of young men who have declined the call of duty for various reasons, and are left to be made a mockery of by the far more capable women that remain. Beyond the by-no-means-infallible Blackadder, period comedy is still a novelty, perhaps due to budgetary restrictions, but the set-up certainly has enough comic potential, and the pilot makes a fair case for it. This is in large part to the likeable Sweet, who despite playing the most detestable character (preying on the widowed and likely-to-be-widowed) balances his unsavoury preoccupations and selfish attitude with an effortless charm and great comic timing and delivery. Bird and Thomas are fine, if undefined, and the toilet humour jars somewhat, but with all the attention heaped on it, especially given the success of The Inbetweeners Movie, it would be a shame if Chickens didn’t make it to series. 3/5

Anna & Katy

Though both Anna Crilly and Katy Wix have appeared together and apart in a variety of comedy shows in recent years (including Not Going Out, Lead Balloon and Tom Basden’s play turned radio comedy Party), this is their first chance to make one of their own, the imaginatively titled Anna & Katy. Though a sketch show format is perhaps the simplest way to demonstrate the range of one’s talent, it usually takes more than one episode to really get going. However, on the basis of this, it’s a case of dead on arrival. The five or so sketches in the first half of the show (including a German hospital soap with Lee Mack, a quiz show with a twist hosted by Eamonn Holmes, and a corrupt W.I. awards meet) raise barely a titter amongst them, so to basically repeat them all in the second half shows a real lack of ideas. The best of the bunch is Congratulation! – a daytime telly piss-take with viewers phoning in to be congratulated for minor triumphs. It’s a nice concept, even if the cod-Jamaican accents leave a little more to be desired. Crilly and Wix are undeniably fun performers in other work, but this first attempt going it alone is unoriginal and uninspired. 1/5

 

Coma Girl

Perhaps the situation comedy with the least potential in its situation, Coma Girl focuses on three former school friends (Him & Her‘s Sarah Solemani, The I.T. Crowd‘s Katherine Parkinson, and Katy Wix – again), visiting the fourth member of their group, Lucy (Anna Crilly – again), currently comatose in hospital. There’s not really a lot more to it, though we do get the odd dream sequence of Lucy trapped in her subconscious. These brief segments are nicely shot and break up the episode, even if they would be better served doing more to subvert convention a la Living in Oblivion rather than simply sticking to the clichés. At least there wasn’t a ‘spirit guide’, though it would have given the titular Coma Girl someone to interact with. Overall it’s not bad, with okay performances all round, but it’s a brief interlude with a sarcastic nurse and the always classy Julia Deakin (Marsha in Spaced) as Lucy’s mum who actually bring the funny. 2/5

Totally Tom

Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton are Totally Tom, and they offer a much stronger if decidedly different set of sketches than Anna & Katy. While there are familiar set-ups (a police interrogation, two bitchy coke-addled party girls, a pastiche of Skins), they often end up in more grotesque territory than you’d first expect. The final sketch is a perfect example, taking a pretty straightforward T4 link format, sending up youth TV culture, and twisting into something smarter, darker and cringe-inducing. It’s by no means consistent, the sketches are perhaps overlong and its attempts to shock sometimes overpower their attempts to raise a chuckle. However, as a first chance to enter the warped minds of Palmer and Stourton, Totally Tom suggests that in some shape or form they will be ones to watch. 3/5

 

The Fun Police

Perhaps the most “star-studded” of the showcase so far, with The Flight of the Conchords‘ Rhys Darby and Vic Reeves (under his real name, Jim Moir) amongst the cast, The Fun Police positions itself as an I.T. Crowd-esque studio sitcom with mismatched characters in an off-kilter place of work (here, a seaside town’s Health and Safety Department). Reeves’ brief appearances as a brash swaggering town-planner are the clear highlight, and Darby is entertainingly incompetent, adorably proud of the terrible new mascot he’s devised. Nice suit too. But the rest of the cast are less successful: Jack Doolan (Cemetery Junction) is a drippy lead, Clive Rowe appears utterly superfluous as his counsellor, and (once more) Katy Wix’s robotic arm is a daft gimmick too far. It all amounts to a whole lot of nothing – aimless and shallow and simply not as funny as it should be. Best title sequence though. 2/5

Rick & Peter

Writer, comedian and occasional Coward Tom Basden ropes in T4 presenting chum Rick Edwards to play a version of himself, opposite Hollyoaks actor Peter Mitchell (also as himself), in the best of the run thus far. After making a series of unfortunate on-air ‘retard’ jokes, the producers pair Rick up with disabled Peter for a lesson in political correctness, understanding and sensitivity – even though neither participant is particularly enthusiastic about the project. The beauty of the show is not just in the deft performances, the naturalistic style and witty script, but that Edwards himself is host of Channel 4’s 2012 Paralympic Games coverage, making it a far more targeted skewering of tellyland personality clashes than your average self-reflexive mock-doc. Add in the scene-stealing Joe Wilkinson (Him & Her) as ‘The Sheriff’, Edwards’ free-loading buddy, and a couple of delicious cameos, and Rick & Peter is an example of Comedy Lab delivering the goods. 5/5

 

Channel 4’s Comedy Showcase and E4’s Comedy Lab return on 14th October.

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2 responses to “Comedy Showcase/Lab: The Results Part I

  1. I agree about Rick & Peter, absolutely deserving of a series. I was also similarly disappointed with Anna and Katy.

    I would have given the Fun Police a higher mark. I laughed quite a lot and I think there’s potential there. This might be because I like Matt Morgan so much and I spend a lot of time dealing with H&S legislation.

    Katy Wix is doing extremely well out of channel 4 at the minute.

  2. Pingback: Comedy Showcase/Lab: The Results Part II | Viewing Gum

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