Last Night's Viewing: Felix and Murdo, Channel 4
It'll Be Alright on the Night, ITV1

 

Watching other people laugh is a funny business. It can curdle the hilarity in you in an instant or make it impossible for you not to join in, and it isn't easy to say what makes the difference. There were at least three sets of contagious laughs last night – one of them performed in Felix and Murdo (a Channel 4 one-off that is looking at the commissioning editors with liquid eyes in the hope of an extension) and the other two separate bouts of inexpertly suppressed giggles in It'll Be Alright on the Night, on which Griff Rhys Jones now has the task of reading out the mirth-killing autocue gags. And, while I would have bet on the latter to get anyone going in the end, it was the former that was actually more impressive. Trying not to laugh when you really, really want to is something pretty much any of us have done at one time or another. Pretending to laugh uncontrollably when you don't want to (and making it convincing) is a much rarer skill.

Felix and Murdo gets quite a long way on the performances of Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong, who did a bravura bit of tittering in the middle of this spoof Edwardian tale, having taken drugs as part of Murdo's training regime for the 1908 Olympics. But Simon Nye's script turned out to be pretty lively too. Sometimes his name on the credits means you brace yourself for something safely middle-of-the-road, but every now and then, as here, he abandons sitcom's shallow end to do something more free-form and gamey. Armstrong plays Murdo, a languid toff whose butler cuts anything "depressing or bothersome" out of the paper before handing it over, while Miller is Felix, a banker with a sideline in mad inventions. Murdo hankers after Felix's suffragette sister, Winnie, while Felix himself is enjoying vigorous "outercourse" with his fiancée, Fanny, a woman who protects her virginity by permitting every other liberty imaginable. "Good old anal," says a satisfied Felix, after popping upstairs with her. "Always goes down a storm."

It's recognisably Blackadderish in its approach to history, silly and inventive and with a good line in visual gags. Felix complains to his intended that her parents don't really like him. "Where do you get that idea?" she protests. "My birthday present," he replies, at which point the camera cuts to a framed needlepoint sampler on the wall reading, "We loathe and despise you". It pauses for just long enough for us to take it in before sliding down to a larger one below that reads, "For the Love of God Fuck Off". The comic pace perhaps slowed a little as it reached the 20-minute mark, but I have a feeling that it only felt that way because they came out of the blocks at such a sprint in the first half. I'd happily watch more.

Griff Rhys Jones also brings a rougher edge to It'll Be Alright on the Night, with jokes that Dennis Norden probably wouldn't have felt comfortable with, though he employs that same irritating chuckling-as-I'm-talking-because-it's-so-irresistibly-funny delivery. A series that started out when YouTube wasn't even a twinkle in Chad Hurley's eye now has to live with the fact that some of its best clips have already gone viral, as was the case with Bradley Walsh's heroic attempt to keep a straight face as he asked a question about Fanny Chmelar and that hapless Australian reporter who tried to tell the Dalai Lama a lame Dalai Lama joke.

But there are still in-house clips that work. Ant and Dec made me giggle by being unable to stop themselves and, while I already knew that Kim Woodburn got fearsome drunk in that Celebrity Come Dine with Me, I didn't know quite how drunk until last night.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'