Coogan and Calf: a marriage of heaven and hell

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The Independent Culture
There is not much left to say about Steve Coogan, the comic who shall inherit the earth. In the previous 12 months he has sent up the video diary, sent up the chat show and, along with everyone else on The Day Today, sent up the news. Television d oesn'tsupply many more targets to him and his co-marksmen. Most of the vulnerable genres that remain are too easy - the game show, the sitcom, the costume drama that French and Saunders will slaughter in their seasonal special on BBC 1 tonight.

Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral (BBC 2), Paul Calf's second outing as the video diarist with absolutely nothing of value to tell the world, tightens the screws that were loose in his first. It also furnishes an apt illustration of Coogan's new clout: he has enlisted John Hannah, whose ashen rendition of W H Auden's "Stop all the clocks" has shifted so many anthologies, to assist in the merciless parody of the film that put him on the map.

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders also hire celebrities, and also take the mickey out of hit movies, but they don't have the impudence to ask actors to bite the hand that feeds them.

Without making the British film industry's success story of 1994 entirely the butt of its humour, Pauline Calf's wedding video succinctly points up the two central absurdities of Four Weddings, both of them located in the Andie MacDowell character: Coog

an's Pauline, betrothed to a fat Greek bloke called Spiros, is a more candid study in nymphomania; and Patrick Marber's Spiros, who she met on holiday in Corfu but who turns out to be a Scouse drug-runner, more realistically illustrates the folly of marrying a foreigner who you hardly know.

The scriptwriters, Coogan, Marber and Henry Normal, possess the sharpness of ear and eye that is the sine qua non of superior satire, and that acuity contributes to the roundness of their characterisations. Take the widowed Pauline furtively smoking at Spiros's burial, Pauline telling her friend, "You get a couple of GCSEs and you think you're Anne Diamond" (the beauty of which is that Diamond might look like a member of Mensa to someone thick enough): neither of these moments takes the script gratuitously out of its way in search of a laugh.

But it is not entirely accurate to pin the realism label on to this minor masterpiece. Detailed brushwork on a miniature scale does not preclude the odd swipe with the paint roller.

The video's subtlety buys itself the right to thwack you in the funny bone with some old, old gags: the sound of orgasms seeping through to the kitchen where Paul and Fat Bob are chewing the fat; Pauline's shopping list, as long as your arm, of the pubs

her brother can't visit on her hen night; Fat Bob uselessly faking an accident with a cupboard to send to You've Been Framed, only to be clubbed to the floor when Pauline barges into the room. They wouldn't be out of place in an old-school sitcom, but there they wouldn't be funny.

There must, one imagines, have been a temptation to secure a six-part series for Paul Calf, but so far it has been resisted. As Armando Iannucci, the producer and co-writer of The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You . . . with Alan Partridge, explaine d to Hunter Davies in the Independent this week, the loose-knit group of comedians to which he belongs knows when to just say no.

Coogan's raids on the citadels of television culture have all been stealthy: he can safely plead not guilty to the comedian's ultimate iniquity - ubiquity. He came from radio, and the suspicion lingers that he is still working for radio, furtively destroying its richer, head-hunting rival from within.

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