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The Independent Culture
In the last episode of Men Behaving Badly (BBC1), Gary ended up in bed with a girl from next door and it would be hard to say who was more astonished - him or us. Coitus interruptus has been the contraceptive of choice in British sitcom for so long that even as she was buttoning up her jeans and he was lying back with a smug smile on his face, you were waiting apprehensively for the screen to wobble and the whole delicious consummation to be snatched away. It wasn't, for which concession much thanks.

As it happened it was a good episode with which to bow out, more slyly observant of male vanity than some that preceded it and a little less dependent on the easy laughs offered by Tony's all-round idiocy (despite some incendiary farce with a wooden barbecue). I may be imagining it, but Tony seems to have become even more infantile as the series has proceeded: no longer a plausible figure of hapless sexual need, but something far cruder, a simple cartoon of male gormlessness. There isn't much that Neil Morrissey can do about this - he's not really bad, he's just drawn that way - but if I were him, I would stop playing for those laughs alone and start lobbying Simon Nye for more lines like those given to Gary, a character who is allowed a certain control over whether people laugh at or with him.

It is easy to prescribe such modifications, of course, harder to bring them about without disrupting all sorts of comic balances. Martin Clunes, for instance, is paradoxically freed for subtler comedy by a face that can turn into caricature at a moment's notice. Nye doesn't have to write stupid for him because Clunes can achieve it simply by gurning. This means that his lines can hover nicely between the dimly unwitting and the knowingly witty. "Have you ever had an orgasm without being touched?" asks the girl, a bit of small talk that alerts the dazed Gary to the fact that he's just been cleared for landing. "No," he replies solemnly, "I need to be touched... Not always for very long...". Which might just be sexily self-deprecating rather than ingenuous.

The ambiguity of tone permits him all sorts of possibilities that aren't open to Morrissey - for a comedy of detailed observation, even for a change of register into something more melancholy. His depiction of the irrepressible swagger of sexual achievement was truthfully funny, not just a funny turn.

There's nothing but cartoons in Atletico Partick (BBC1) unfortunately, a useful demonstration of how even a sharp script can be smothered by coarse comic performances. Ian Pattison, creator of Rab C Nesbitt, doesn't get off the hook entirely here. It may be mildly funny, for example, to cut from a man saying "If ah'm wrong, I'll eat your football sock," to a picture of the same man glumly contemplating a football sock. Only very mildly, though, and as a whole, the series is far too reliant on the well- worn joke of the contradictory edit - in which an absolute assurance that something won't happen is immediately followed by evidence that it has. It certainly isn't funny to then have the man attempting to eat the sock with ketchup and coleslaw - unless, perhaps, you're a Russ Abbott fan. A real cartoon could have pulled this off, adding a couple of sight gags on the way, but with a real man and a real sock you just have to wait for the joke to do the decent thing and slip away quietly.

There are funny lines in Atletico Partick, choice examples of Pattison's gamey Glasgow surrealism. But it is difficult for any of them to match the hard sell given by the leaping eyebrows and rolling eyes of the cast. This is revue comedy, an overplayed, nudging style which sinks the script's occasional attempts at something more profound. The worst offender is Gavin Mitchell, playing a nerd called McStick with a smirking loudness that makes the cast of Friends look like method actors. But the rest of the cast aren't far behind. It would be a lot funnier if they acted as if it wasn't funny at all.

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