Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Wright Way - or the Wrong Way?

The world can't get it together to stop the Syrian conflict or halt global warming, but everyone seems to be united in hatred of Ben Elton's new sitcom "The Wright Way". Among the critics' comments were "Unmitigated horror" and "fully deserved its graveyard slot in the schedule". Even the Radio Times slated it for being old-fashioned and sexist - adjectives which would have horrified Ben Elton twenty years ago.

Sorry folks, but I thought it was OK. The plots intertwined and cracked along quite nicely, there was some nice visual comedy with the tap which only spouts when pressure is exerted (they drive me mad as well), the routine in which Gerald Wright has to keep returning to the apathetic salesgirl to get his scarf built well and had me chuckling. And Wright's character, though far from being a David Brent sitcom monster of genius, is a competently drawn and amusing study of someone who can't handle the world not going all his way.

That's the word - competent. "The Wright Way" was efficiently put together. It was well paced. There were set pieces at the right times. There were at least four or five gags per minute, ranging from the good-ish to the lame. There was a good mix of characters..... and so on. If a new police procedural thriller was reviewed as "competently written", that would pass as a good notice.

Not so a comedy. If  a sitcom is deemed to be old-fashioned or harking back (perish the thought!) to the 70s, to be a bit sitcom-ish, with too many gags or broad generic characters, critics and punters react as if the writer had suggested that paedophilia is actually quite a good idea. Being well-made is almost part of the insult. If a singer performs in the style of 30 years ago, it's charmingly retro. If a sitcom seems as if it was made in 1975, it's an unmitigated horror.

There's lots wrong with "The Wright Way". The young characters are a cliche based on a cliche (constant repetitions of "yeah, like, totally" won't win Elton any awards for best-observed contemporary dialogue). Too often gag was piled on gag to throw any credibility out of the window. That's something good 70s sitcoms never did. I can see why he included all the characters in Wright's office, but they were so thinly drawn that you could virtually see the actors puffing out their cheeks to make themselves feel present.

I'll probably catch up with Gerald Wright again, but I won't watch every episode. The only sitcom really lighting my fire at the moment is "Parks and Recreation": sweet, real, of the moment and just bloody funny.

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