REVIEW / Laughing all the way down the Street

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The Independent Culture
AFTER BEING given a bloody nose in the scheduling battle last week (the first Monday edition of EastEnders healthily outperformed the secret agent licensed to kill it), ITV returned for Round 2 last night with a specially extended edition of Coronation Street. It wasn't clear at first glance exactly how this might help, until you realised that the programme was divided into three parts rather than four. If the schedulers' plan worked, you only realised after missing the first 10 minutes of EastEnders. It is easier to prise a small child from the jaws of a Rottweiler than it is to get ITV to surrender an advertising slot, so they really must be rattled.

But, given Coronation Street's tradition of gentle social comedy, there wasn't much else they could do in the way of grand gestures. I suppose a gang of Yardies might have burst into The Rover's Return wielding Uzis (how far is Weatherfield from Moss Side?) but it wouldn't have looked right, somehow - it would be as if Hyacinth Bucket suddenly succumbed to Aids or Del-boy was discovered trading in child pornography. So they drew the line at romantic disappointment: Emily Bishop's marriage was called off in one of those scenes constructed almost entirely from close-ups (a soap shorthand for 'Would you just look at this

acting?').

As always when anything unpleasant happens, Emily retired hurt, shutting down all facial muscles and turning the lights off. I think she was still in there somewhere but it can be difficult to tell. She was seen slightly later buying a box of Anadin, face like a wet chamois, but there have been no ominous shots of a trembling hand filling a glass of water, so the odds are she will pull through.

If anything is going to cement your loyalties, though, it is the grumbling comedy of the Street rather than its excursions into emotional despair. Any script that contains a nail polish colour called Crushed Flamingo is seriously flirting with the idea of giving up its day job and making a career as a sitcom, and the best scenes here were comic ones - Audrey Roberts giggling at the municipal pomp of Alf's investiture as mayor, Percy Sugden realising that, for reasons of economy, he's expected to wear his predecessor's pyjamas in the marital bed.

More subtle and truthful comedy, anyway, than that on offer in The 10%ers (ITV), the winner of last year's Comedy Playhouse Handicap Stakes, in which six pilot programmes were put under starter's orders. The blood-line is very promising - it comes from the Grant-Naylor stable, responsible for the estimable Red Dwarf, a series that every week reduces me to the condition of a drunken engineering student. But something is missing here: Rob Grant, to start with (the script for this first episode being credited to Doug Naylor alone).

It isn't terrible exactly but the heart does sink a bit when you encounter yet another of those grim miscomprehensions that seem indispensible to British comedy writers - 'Buskers?' 'No, they're nice really.' Even when the gag is quite funny (an over-eager executive drinking a bowl of soapy water with elaborate ceremony, in the belief that it is part of the hospitality offered by his Japanese hosts), the laughs peter out in a feeling of faint shame at the contrivance of the thing; you don't have to suspend your disbelief so much as send it into geostationary orbit. If the setting for the comedy is a battered space ship that's a little easier to pull off.

In recent weeks, Roseanne, which sits at the heart of American schedules conventionally derided as bland and juvenile, has delivered funny and truthful episodes involving adolescent masturbation and marital sexual boredom; the jokes invited you to recognise more than a comic rhetorical structure, one of those verbal toll-gates at which you have to ferret around for a laugh. Here, only Richard Harris's Outside Edge currently displays that degree of ambition (we shall pass over Carla Lane's Luv in charitable silence). That and Coronation Street on a very good day.

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