television : Comic Asides: N7 (BBC2)

REVIEWS Hundreds of characters and only five jokes. Jasper Rees is not amused
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The Independent Culture
N7 supplied roles for two geraniums with the gift of speech. Some might judge this novelty enough for one sitcom, but with a series in his sights Nick Revell was clearly minded to rip up the handbook. To prove it, he created a homosexual character who deviated from the stereotype: unlike all known antecedents, he was not as camp as a Bedouin housing estate. Of the two innovations - flower and fruit - it's still too early to tell which will catch on, but the plants definitely shaded it in the psychological depth department.

The script outed James subtly, when someone asked him how his visit to Milan went. In sitcom shorthand, just as going to Ascot or Margate pins a character on to the social map, a trip to a fashion capital equals "bent as a nine-bob note". He later erased any lingering doubts about his orientation by boasting of Herculean horizontal feats with a married man. This unblushing frankness is a breakthrough of sorts, though would have been more so had some funny lines come the character's way. But as there were no more than five of these to go round the whole cast, to allow him more than one would have been a form of patronising positive discrimination.

The geraniums belonged to Nick, the central character who talks to them for company. Go on, surely you can see the comic possibilities offered by a pair of philosophising cockney flowers? In the end, Phil Daniels and Cliff Parisi as the flowers got the lion's share of the laughs, but between gags they had their work cut out (presumably from the same piece of cardboard as the other parts). The jibe of one of them - "We're not good enough for conversation now there's vertebrates coming" - offered a rare sighting of a joke with backbone.

Nick was an unsuccessful scribe. On how you felt about a scriptwriter naming the writer in his script after himself depended on your reaction to the wider picture. From here it looked like a case of inadvertent autobiography, because Revell, like his namesake, was clearly struggling. This is partly a pitfall of working for "Comic Asides". The one-off format encourages the writer to clutter too many disparate characters and ideas into 30 minutes; after all, precious few sitcoms - and only AbFab in recent memory - hit the spot in episode one. But N7 has an aimlessness all of its own: its title refers to a London postal code, while the streets in its title sequence belong to W11.

To show the democratic spirit in which duff lines were apportioned, even characters not in the script had to take their share. The girlfriend who has jilted Nick for a Brazilian toyboy - imaginative touch, that, to make his rival latin and youthful - sends a postcard with the message: "Having a great time because you're not here." By the end of the show one of the geraniums had converted to Buddhism, and would have been able to confirm that this show was a turkey in another life.