Sometimes it feels like the panel has taken over the TV comedy. It’s a conscious, ironic, smug kind of comedy, which mostly involves comedians laughing at other people’s jokes. It’s faking the week and 8 out of 10 cats and do I have any news for you. Give it a year and A Question of Sport will likely feature Nish Kumar and Katherine Ryan competing to say how much they hate the sport.
The show is bad (BBC One) doesn’t contain any of the above, so I should like it by right. A spin-off of the wildly popular West End and Broadway show The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s a shameless old-school farce – the debt to Morecambe and Wise is obvious. The premise is that an am-dram theater company puts on plays, extremely badly. The production is plagued with disasters both on-screen and off. This week the company tried to play Summer Once Again, a Downton-like tale of a son returning from the Great War. It featured creaky sets, crumbling props, an actor forever confused by his lines, and a director (Henry Lewis) drunk on power after his predecessor was ousted from his job in disgrace and reduced to appearing in this production. like an oik shoveling manure.
The cast’s comedic timing is impeccable and impressive – a scene in which a character narrowly avoided being hit in the head with a shutter, but was then hit in the head with a door, was executed perfectly. But all this left me cold. I can imagine it working like a theater treat and feeling a sense of common joy when sitting in the audience, but television puts viewers at a distance. Snaps taken from the back of the studio, showing the cameras pointed at the stage, only served to underscore this point. And there were genuine laughs from the audience, but also canned laughs as part of the script, which felt weird.
Some reviews have suggested that the only other show currently featuring this kind of slapstick is Mrs Brown’s Boys. But as a parent of young children, I can tell you that it’s alive and well on children’s television – Horrible Histories, Danny and Mick, Crackerjack – and actually rather better than that.