reviews: TELEVISION Knowing Me Knowing Yule... with Alan Partridge (BBC2) It's not easy being incompetent - Alan Partridge is to chat-show interviewing what Rudolf Nureyev was to spot welding. But maybe it's time to get real.

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The Independent Culture
Nick Broomfield has already demonstrated this week, as on sundry other outings, that incompetence is a time-consuming business. It takes far longer to portray a slowly unfolding cock-up than a success in which all runs smoothly. Alan Partridge is one step up from Broomfield in the evolutionary scale of broadcasting competence: at least he gets the interviews, but conducts them so appallingly that he extracts no more from them than if he had interrogated a tree trunk.

It may well be that, like Broomfield, Partridge will come to resemble a one-trick pony, solely programmed to unleash his rib-tickling intolerance on blameless sofa-fodder. He specialises in digging himself into very deep holes, and sometimes the process overruns. His cock-ups are only mock-ups, like the studio re-creation of the Partridge hearth, but their excruciating accuracy can cut too close to the bone.

The central conceit of Knowing Me Knowing Yule... with Alan Partridge was that the Christmas special has to go well to safeguard the second series. In reality, of course, the BBC is gagging for another series, while the restless Partridge scriptwriters hum and ha and look for the window in their diaries. In fiction, Partridge tried to curry favour by inviting on to the show the chief commissioning editor for BBC television, a safely unreal post but none the less played by David Schneider as a trendy, worthy hybrid of Alan Yentob and Michael Jackson. Needless to say, Partridge's curry-favouring backfired: his final act was to glove the Beeb boss with a bird seasonally located in a pear tree.

Although in every sense a knockout joke, some other gags didn't pack quite the same punch. Our host quickly tired of the cross-dressing chef's saucy doubles entendres, and for once you were in sympathy with him. Sometimes the line between television that drags intentionally and television that just drags is not so very thick.

The details remain deliciously choice: Partridge's meretricious tangents and metaphors ("My show is your bell. Please peel it"), his instruction to researchers to find out if Dr Hook is a fully qualified GP. The pre- recorded tour of Norwich, where Partridge jogs in the cathedral cloisters and shops after closing at Tandy, was the cleverest and most richly detailed segment of the show. Line of the night revealed that, since the bombing of Dresden, Norwich has boasted the most pre-Reformation churches in the world: an ingenious Partridgean cocktail of pointless East Anglian trumpet- blowing and pointed xenophobic triumphalism.

As for the chat, it might underwrite the basic joke to show Partridge getting something right. And it may be a heresy to suggest it, but it might even be worth switching his attention to real personalities instead of invented ones. Mrs Merton is already on this patch, and running out of volunteers, but he is clearly capable of attracting non-fictional guests because Mick Hucknall, plainly a fan doing the Partridge team a favour, came on to sing out the credits with a carol. Although it would involve sacrificing control over one half of the script and usher in the risk of genuine embarrassment, to go legit would bring a sense of real rather than feigned danger.

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