Last Night's TV: The Cup, BBC2<br />Comedy Lab: Kids School of Comedy, Channel 4

A few own goals on the field of dreams
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The Independent Culture

The Cup is a new sitcom, filmed in the style of a documentary, about an under-11 football team, in which, wait, don't tell me, let me guess: is it about insanely ambitious parents trying to compensate for all the disappointments they've faced by living out their dreams through the children? Do the dads get overexcited and stand on the touchline screaming abuse at the referee, the coach, the children and one another? They do? Wow, that's uncanny. I can't explain how I do it: some sort of ESP, I suppose. Unless, well, unless it's all just a bit obvious? Nah, let's stick with ESP.

The action revolves around a Bolton team called Ashburn United, known as "the Ashes"; the nickname is a bonus for their sponsors, the local undertakers. They are in with a strong chance of making it to the big time, or at any rate the North and Midlands Under-11 cup final in Birmingham. Things are seen mostly through the lens of Terry McConnell (Steve Edge), a car mechanic with a failed football career behind him. The rest of the family is quietly subordinated to Terry's dreams of sporting success for his son, Malky. Janice, Terry's wife, uncomplainingly washes the entire team's strip; Malky himself goes along with the pretence that he's football mad when it's clear his heart is really in cookery; and his little sister's announcement to the family that she's going to be Snow White in the school play drops into silence.

The comedy consists mostly of a piling up of Terry's delusions and humiliations: his insistence that Malky's resigned cooperation represents fire and determination, his indifference to Janice, his failure to realise that he's on the verge of getting himself sacked from work. Around him a number of subplots, or subsituations, are in play: the fraught relationship between Ashburn's ball-breaker chair, Sandra Farrell, and her wimpish husband; Terry's rivalry with the (comparatively) suave Dr Kaskar, a gynaecologist whose son, Ranjit, is joint leading scorer with Malky; the motivational techniques employed by the emotionally unstable coach, Tom Blackley, who tries to galvanise his infant team by screaming and promising that losing will doom them to a lifetime of shame. The climax comes when Terry, trying to harass Blackley into calling Malky off the subs' bench, drives him to what looks like a stroke.

It's all moderately amusing, but would be funnier if it didn't try so hard. Part of the problem is that it hasn't grasped how to use the documentary format. The script is far too ready to tell you, rather than show you, what's going on. So, for example, we know that the only reason Terry's boss, Steve, doesn't sack him is that Steve used to go out with Janice – we know this because Steve explains it to the cameras. This is not just unrealistic; it shows a lack of respect for the viewers' intelligence. What half-competent businessman would make comments such as that about an employee to camera? Don't they have lawyers in Bolton? The same fear of a joke going unnoticed pervades the programme. Moray Hunter and Jack Docherty are credited with the script, but it's not clear how far they are to blame since, reading the small print, The Cup turns out to be based pretty closely on a Canadian series called The Tournament. In Canada, it was ice hockey, not football, and Terry was called Barry, but from what I can glean from the internet, this version preserves not just the situation but even some of the dialogue. Where Barry dismisses his Janice with the words "Vacuuming's easy. Hockey, hockey's hard", Terry patronises his Janice by saying, "Hoovering's easy. Football, football's hard." Not championship material, I'm afraid.

At least the children acting out adult insecurities in Comedy Lab: Kids School of Comedy looked as if they were doing it off their own bats, though that may have been an illusion created by the absence of adults on screen. This was a sketch show acted entirely by teenagers, but featuring adult themes and – maybe a little too self-consciously – adult language. While there was a bit of the dog walking on its hind legs about this – "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all" (copyright 1763, Dr S Johnson) – there wasn't as much as you might have expected. The cast were pretty darn competent, though one supposedly American accent sent me scurrying behind the sofa and, as with most school plays, they needed to be told to keep their hands still (the director needed to be told to keep the camera still, too). The standard of the gags was higher than a lot of grown-up comedians manage (I'm thinking of Titty Bang Bang and Little Miss Jocelyn), as well, though the idea of replacing punchlines with children lip-synching to songs, Bugsy Malone-style, was a bad one. But I wasn't clear what was being proved here: a general proposition about children's ability to perform comedy? Or was it a more particular theory about particular individuals, with adult careers ahead of them and a yen to get some television on their CVs?

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