Television Review: Small Potatoes

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The Independent Culture
RIGHT, I'VE got this straight now: the programme about testicular cancer was part of a new series on Channel 4 called Embarrassing Illnesses. Small Potatoes (C4) was something entirely different: a sitcom - no, let's get the jargon right - a slackcom about "an underachieving video-shop assistant". That's as opposed to all the driven, focused video-shop assistants you come across.

The series was going to be called Hewitt, after the main character, who is played by Tommy Tiernan; apparently, Channel 4 was worried that people might think it was something to do with James Hewitt. Small Potatoes is a more expressive title, anyway: it's about pettiness, idleness, and sexual insecurity. It has been heralded as an exemplar of a new breed of comedy. In fact, it is pretty traditional stuff - Shelley is an obvious precursor, and you could trace it back to Hancock, Sykes, and even back to Jerome K Jerome if you could be bothered.

Unfortunately, as part of the general package of insignificance, Small Potatoes achieves only insignificant levels of amusement. Last night's episode showed signs of intelligence, including some quite neat little throwaways - Hewitt's boast that he has been to university ("Well, it's a university now"), or his quotation from Byron that turned out to be Elton John - and there was a good pubic-hair-stuck-in-the-teeth gag (though I lean to the view that there's no such thing as a bad pubic-hair-stuck-in- the-teeth gag). And the writers, Richard Pinto and Sharat Sardana, show a commendable unwillingness to stop with a punchline: "Women," swaggers Hewitt's friend Rick (Sanjeev Bhaskar). "Can't live with 'em, can't afford to get them a cab every morning." "Well," Hewitt offers, "you could always get your parents to run them home." But there aren't enough decent jokes, and the flow of it gets disrupted by overplaying and an over-eager studio audience. It tries too hard, which is ironic.

Where Small Potatoes is about the trivial, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (ITV) is triviality itself. A ditzy romantic comedy about a suburban girl (Sam Loggin) searching for Mr Right in the big city, which combines the maverick wit of Babes in the Wood with Jilly Cooper's grungy realism. As in most current comedies, the women are bright and sassy, the men either nerdy and needy or attractive and crooked - the exception here is Daniel, who is good-looking, attentive, etc, but also Lucy's bestest friend. (Smart money is on Daniel for love interest later in the series.) The story is absolute fluff - Lucy starts sharing a flat with two other girls, and a fortune-teller predicts that Lucy is going to find love with a man who is "not her usual type": so she promptly gets involved with a blatantly untrustworthy, blarney-talking Irishman called Gus.

Loggin is charming; otherwise, the main point of interest is that it is on every night. On the one hand, that makes perfect sense - the plot is slight enough to need all the momentum it can get, and this way the audience doesn't get time to forget all about it. But you can also see people's patience getting tried by its jolly, brainless progress. Still, if it doesn't raise expectations, at least it doesn't disappoint.

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