Television Review

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The Independent Culture
YOU STUPID, stupid people. Am I going to have to spell everything out for you in words of one syllable or less? By the way, that was a joke (you see, a word can't have less than one syllable, or it wouldn't be a word. Just a kind of "mmff" noise). Shall I do that - let you know when you're allowed to laugh? Write (JOKE) so your tiny minds won't have to work too hard? Honestly, it would be no trouble.

What bothers me most is that I hadn't even realised how tragically dim you all are. The penny only dropped when I watched the first three minutes of Gimme Gimme Gimme (BBC2) the other night. There was Kathy Burke snoring in her orange fright- wig and then there was a shellburst of canned laughter. Now, anybody who can be conned by a laugh-track into thinking this was funny is clearly suffering some pretty severe intellectual difficulties. The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the kind of people who watch BBC2 - often the same people who read this page - are thick. God, you probably didn't follow a word of that, did you?

Still, it is heartening that the BBC is so generous with its canned laughter. How else would you poor loves ever know that The League of Gentlemen (BBC2) was meant to be a comedy? No doubt some people will disagree. They will say that having trodden the well-worn path from Perrier Award at Edinburgh to Sony-nominated Radio 4 series to BBC2. The League of Gentlemen have proven their ability to amuse and don't need any artificial assistance. They may say that the town of Royston Vasey, where all the events of the series take place, is an obvious fiction. The awkward squad might further contend that the following are self-evidently humorous matters: a taxi- driver with a hairy chest who calls himself Barbara and talks about the hormones giving him nipples like bullets; a careers adviser forbidding her jobseekers to take time off for job interviews, and a hearse carrying the message "bastard" spelled out in flowers. They may go on to suggest that, given the deliberately subdued style which The League of Gentlemen adopt, the decision to plaster the show with canned laughter suggests an alarming degree of cowardice in the BBC light-entertainment department.

In case you find that line of argument convincing, let me point out that The League of Gentlemen is up against the confusingly similar Paddington Green (BBC1), with its real-life cast of transsexuals and wig merchants ("I've had requests for pubic hair, but that I've always refused"). You know this is a documentary, though, because instead of a laugh-track we get a voiceover keeping us up to speed on the bleeding obvious. (After Mr Gilbert, the wig man, told us three times that the ingredients of his special anti-wrinkle lotion were a secret, the narrator still took the trouble to ask: "So, can Mr Gilbert reveal what's in it?" Predictably, he wouldn't.)

Speaking personally, I rather enjoyed The League of Gentlemen - the jokes had nearly all been broadcast before on Radio 4, but it was surprising how some of them, such as the vet putting down the wrong dog, gained a wince-making intensity on screen. No doubt, it was all too clever for you ordinary folk, though. (JOKE.)

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