The Weekend's TV: Pete and Dud: the Lost Sketches, Sun, BBC2
Lee Nelson's Well Good Show, Sun, BBC3
101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow, Sat, BBC1
They've got to be having a laugh
Monday 12 July 2010
I'm Pete again, aren't I?" said Angus Deayton, during one of the bits of rehearsal actuality that filled out Pete and Dud: the Lost Sketches. You wish, Angus. You wish. Actually, you're Angus Deayton, which is fine as far as it goes, but still leaves a slightly conspicuous gap between towering comic genius and jobbing comedy actor.
It's a gap that would generally pass unremarked, but for the fact that Deayton, and several other contemporary comedians, had accepted the BBC's invitation to restage some Not Only...But Also sketches that the corporation, in a more careless time, had managed to wipe. If the title got you all excited at the thought that someone had found a dusty spool of film in their attic and we were going to see the real thing you will have been disappointed. This was a tribute-band celebration of Pete and Dud, rather as if someone had accidentally destroyed the acetates of St Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 40-odd years ago, and they'd called in Jedward and Susan Boyle to reconstruct it from sheet music.
That analogy may be a little harsh, perhaps, but the show – one of the last things Jonathan Ross will front up for the BBC before he heads off to ITV – was an odd affair, clumsily blending the preparation for the show with a live-audience studio section in which the assembled players were introduced to do the greatest hits. Most of them, wisely, had decided not emulate the original delivery, not exactly inimitable – since the accents and manner almost instantly fed into every playground and student bar in Britain – but not easy to imitate well. That meant, though, that the focus necessarily shifted to the writing – the lines being the only residue of the original. Some of it stood up well. In one of the more famous "Dagenham dialogues", in which Pete tries to take Dud through rebirthing therapy, you could catch the authentic flavour of Peter Cook's imagination. When Dud protests at the idea that he wants to get back to his mother's womb, Pete is quick to clarify matters: "I'm not suggesting that you go around now to 465 Beckingtree Avenue and ask your mother for re-admission," he says, "It's four o'clock in the morning... and anyway it's illegal."
But in other sketches the raw words were left looking a little thin and you realised how important the volatile elements of a comedy partnership can be – the intangible stuff (including all the corpsing) – which they added to the printed words and which can only be captured by a recording. Some of the restagings here were frankly embarrassing, carrying the stale whiff of a thousand am-dram revues in which devoted fans vainly attempt to get lightning to strike twice. It was a reminder of just how good the originals could be, but not perhaps in quite the way that was first intended. "The BBC has wiped these tapes now... is that a big loss?" Jonathan Ross asked someone lamely at one point. Well if they hadn't we might have been spared this, which would have been something.
"I think they've definitely influenced everyone doing comedy now," said David Mitchell at the beginning of the programme, getting a little bit carried away in his admiration. I can't see much evidence that Pete and Dud have influenced the creator of Lee Nelson's Well Good Show, though it's abundantly clear that Ali G should be paying some form of child support, since Lee's persona, a breezily amoral Sarf London scally, owes quite a lot to Sacha Baron Cohen's invention. When he's working the studio audience, Taylor can be funny and fast on his feet, offering examples of his chat-up style to a pretty girl on the front row ("You're the best-looking girl I've ever seen... in your category") and protesting at his social worker's suggestion that he's implicated in his six-year- old son's behaviour problems ("How could it be my fault for fuck's sake... I'm hardly ever there!"). The sketch material is a bit more uneven though. He has an entertainingly dim Premier League footballer called Jason Bent ("Yeah... footballers do get paid more than the average wage... But without footballers the average wage would be a lot lower, so we're actually doing people a favour"), but the foreign doctor gag is Chuckle Brothers stuff. He needs a Dud to help him carry the weight.
101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow is for people who found Hole In The Wall too intellectually challenging. A quiz show that dispatches its losers in a variety of notionally spectacular ways. Questions are multiple choice with the contestants competing to pick one answer each and hoping to avoid the wrong one, which will spring a trap door beneath their feet plunging them 40ft into a swimming pool or something similar. Filmed on an Argentinian set, which looks like a space-shuttle engine-testing rig, it is stupefyingly dull, stretching out 15 minutes of material over an hour that feels more like three. I did, I confess, enjoy the moment when one contestent was asked "which planet in the solar system shares its name with a chemical element" and answered "Uranus", but it wasn't enough. "Oh, please hurry up!" pleaded one of the contestants during one of the grimly extended cliff-hanging pauses, "Do you accept bribes? I'll do anything." I'd be happy to chip in, and I'll pay an extra five quid on my licence if they axe it altogether.
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