The Weekend's TV: Pete Versus Life, Fri, Channel 4
Odd One In, Sat, ITV1
Amish: The World's Squarest Teenagers, Sun, Channel 4
Not quite in the premier league
Monday 09 August 2010
New comedies are curious things. When they're good, it can be fabulous.
You feel like you've discovered a new best friend, someone whose company you want to guard jealously lest anyone else gets a look in and they become – God forbid – mainstream. Obviously, you want them to be liked. But you want the credit for their discovery, too, a combination that can leave you both slavishly devoted and foolishly jealous. When they're bad – and, to be honest, this happens rather more frequently than their being wonderful – it's just plain awkward. They arrive, hot on the heels of a hyped-up ad campaign, and deliver little but disappointment. I'm thinking Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire. Or Off the Hook. Or – controversial this one – Material Girl. None provided much in the way of laughs, and all were fairly low on the watchability factor.
In short: it's one big blind date. It goes well and – who knows? – you might just see each other again. It goes badly, and you realise your search for a box-set companion just got longer.
Quite where in the spectrum Pete Versus Life falls, I'm not sure. Friday night's debut episode was undeniably funny. It had me laughing out loud – frequently, in fact – though I do rather get the impression that Pete and I are less suited to a many-seasoned future together than a quick-fire summer fling, not least since Pete is not really sticking material, as Jen, the environmentally minded object of his affection, learnt only too well when she invited him round for dinner at her parents'.
"I heard you flush the loo," Jen's cringe-inducingly right-on mother observed. "In this household we only flush after number twos." Pete's response did little to whet his hosts' pre-lunch appetite. Indeed, the fact that they had got to this point (albeit somewhat premature, coming as it did on the second date) was fairly miraculous. Pete met Jen in a bar after she overheard him discussing his love for the environment – a love that he had fabricated five minutes earlier in order to get out of spending a weekend with his friend's insufferable fiancée. Following? No? Never mind. Pete has a pair of sports commentators following his every move. In truth, this may be more of an obstacle to longevity than anything. Amusing though they are (and accurate as their portrayal may be) it is, ultimately, a gimmick – and one that is likely to get less effective with every outing.
If Pete Versus Life was a summer fling, Odd One In was a mistake never to be repeated. I'm not even sure it can be described as a comedy: it wasn't even vaguely funny. Jason Manford made a few valiant attempts to shore up the laughter quotient but, on the whole, no luck. The basic premise was that two teams of two (in this instance, regulars Manford and, inexplicably, Peter Andre versus guests Lorraine Kelly and Julian Clary) compete to see who was better able to spot the "odd one in" of four strangers. For instance: who here really is a cockney? Which animal can actually skateboard? Who's not just pretending to hula-hoop? A bit like spotting the odd one out, except the other way around. Clever! Not really: Never Mind the Buzzcocks has been doing this for years, only for them it's a throw-away round, not the basis of the entire programme.
Next! Ah yes: Amish: the World's Squarest Teenagers (definitely not a comedy, FYI). So far this series, from Channel 4, has been surprisingly good. The title rather suggests a kind of smug mock-you-mentary, a har-har-look-at-the-funny-people-in-their-funny-clothes affair. But nope. So far, so good. In fact, the closest we've come to that sort of behaviour was the bit of preliminary sneering we saw last night from teenage host Veronica. "They're very serious," she sniggered (oddly, by night vision) on first meeting them. Still, it didn't last: gratingly smug and schoolgirlish she may have been, but she wasn't, ultimately, unkind to her unusual houseguests.
Our teens were in rural Scotland – not exactly soaking up the local culture, though at least experiencing the upper echelons of the British class system in all its wellington-booted glory. Their host family split their time between a sprawling Highland estate and their second home down south (from which I think we can infer: they are ver' ver' posh indeed). Still, for all the traditional trappings, they were, fundamentally, quite a modern bunch. Despite Veronica's assertion that she "thought men should be boss" (more, I suspect, attention-seeking than anything), the mother of the house provided a feisty, commanding presence, asking the Amish the most interesting question that has been posed this series: their awareness of current affairs. Of which, it transpired, they knew very little: Global warming is made up ("everyone knows the Earth's getting cooler"), national politics doesn't affect them, and they definitely don't vote.
The Amish, it turns out, leave school at age 14, which may or may not explain their ignorance of what mainstream society deems knowledge-worthy subjects. They're not, however, without their own intellectual advantages: as well as a daunting knowledge of the practical world, they are in tune with matters the rest of the world is still grappling with. It took only one day at Veronica's public school to spot an over-riding flaw: "It all seems to be about passing the exams, not actually learning," they observed. Too true.
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