TV review - Ben Elton's The Wright Way (BBC1) is groan-inducing
The Great British Sewing Bee, BBC2
Like Dr Frankenstein, Ben Elton appears to have created his new sitcom, The Wright Way – his first for more than 10 years – by exhuming the body parts of different comedies and stitching them together. The result is an odd, lurching affair, sometimes funny but occasionally so groan-inducing that you want to gather a mob with torches and pitchforks.
And bits of it have clearly been underground for some time: "She's female. She's in the bathroom. She's never going to be out of there!" rants David Haig as the titular Wright, complaining to his daughter that her girlfriend (ooh err... little bit of sexual politics there) is hogging the facilities again. "Really?" you think, "Are you serious?" I take it Ben Elton means us to laugh at Gerard Wright's prejudice at this moment and not with it, but I'm not convinced that the studio audience much cares about this distinction. They hear the cue for a laugh and reflexively supply it.
But then we get to know Gerald a little better and something more interesting emerges than a mere sitcom reactionary. Gerald is the chief health-and-safety officer for Baselricky Council, a man perpetually frustrated by the failure of the world to operate along rational lines. And since David Haig is very skilled at comic despair some of his arias of exasperation work. He can be reduced to despair by the sight of an improperly stacked dishwasher and to apoplectic rage by the malfunctioning taps in an office washroom.
At his best, he is essentially Ben Elton letting rip in a stand-up routine, a caricature of splenetic exactitude who generally responds to calls for calm and perspective by doubling up on his original complaint. "She crossed a line," he says when his daughter remonstrates mildly over his separation from his mother. "She left a bit of butter in the Marmite!" she replies. "She left a lot of butter in the Marmite and a bit of Marmite in the butter," Gerald responds.
I could take quite a bit of Gerald in solo flight, arguing the toss with stroppy shop assistants over queing priority and struggling to contain himself when he becomes entangled in the unforgiving logic of his own rules. But unfortunately we get a lot of cruder stuff too when he goes to the office – the ensemble comedy of which all seems distinctly off the peg. Older viewers will be able to detect the comic DNA of Elton's own The Thin Blue Line and echoes too of Andrew Norriss's The Brittas Empire, though neither comparison really favours The Wright Way, which is overly dependent on laborious double-entendres. "Clive... talk me through my proud erection," says Gerald, convening an office meeting about speed bumps, and you can virtually see the crowbar marks on the punchline. Is it possible to love some bits of a monster while hating others? I'm not sure, frankly, but I'm left with the feeling that The Wright Way needed a bit more surgery before being released into the world.
The Great British Sewing Bee was the result of cloning, not post-mortem collage, as the title candidly admits. It had the appraising experts, the challenges and even the agitato strings of its model, but it lacked the warmth of nourishment, the way that baking goes absolutely to the heart of family life. Who ever said, "Oh I love my shirts just the way my nan used to make them"? Still, I imagine it's been a treat for those who like to debate the rival virtues of the French seam or overlocked hem. "The judges are now going to have to deliberate," said Claudia Winkleman as the final came to its end. It must have taken them all of 10 seconds, Ann having been a serene frontrunner from the very beginning. She winced once in last night's episode, but I think it was only to make the others feel better.
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