Something smells funny - and it's not the Edam

review

Friends (C4) opened with Carol informing her ex-husband Ross that she's expecting. What gave the scene its edge was that she has recently left him to set up house with a woman. The clueless look on the face of the father-to-be tells you that he's dumbly pondering a biological miracle in which all those X-chromosomes can pool resources and spawn a foetus.

To give the situation an extra spin, the couple are standing inside a prehistoric exhibit at the museum where he's a curator. The mute witnesses to this very modern rite are a pair of neanderthal waxworks. To cap it all, Ross is accident prone, and the arm of one of the dummies has come away in his hands, so when he hugs Carol with his back to camera the rogue limb reappears over his shoulder, as if belonging to his pregnant lesbian ex.

OK, so maybe there's one too many eggs in the omelette, but it serves to show why the American sitcom is so at ease with itself. Friends may take as its starting point the ur-situation - social and sexual tension among disparate types under same roof - but it accords itself the freedom to roam the genres. Over here, where we cleave to pigeonholes, the loose- limb sight gag would never have made it into a dyke-up-the-duff dialogue.

There was another corker of a scene, also involving a fractured relationship, in which Rachel visits Barry in his orthodontic practice to break off their engagement, only he terminates before she can. This time, the witness is not mute, but a kid in the dental chair who gives a terrifically assured cameo as an unwilling, unwitting commentator. Like most American comedies, Friends may have a damp squib for a title, but it's more than worth getting acquainted. It might not be as good as Cheers, but then not every painter worth hanging has to be up there with Vermeer.

Meanwhile, over on the far side, Vic and Bob were back with some thoughts on the necromantic properties of Edam. It can safely be confirmed that this joke has never been cracked before, nor ever will be again. You can't say that about many jokes, including quite a lot of the ones in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer (BBC2).

As with Cubism, the gifts put on display by television's premier absurdists appear to be within the grasp of anyone. So why aren't we all side-splittingly funny teenage heart-throbs? It requires only a gentle stroll for the imagination to dream up idiocies like, say, a removal van constructed from a cocktail of blancmange and Polyfilla, or a nappy wipe undergoing psychoanalysis - but the mere fact of an implausible conjunction isn't in itself comic. Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer unburden themselves of their zany worldview (to append to it a glum critical tag) with an almost saintly innocence. If it were ever revealed that either of them conforms to the offstage stereotype of the sad comedian, that would be far more absurd than anything they could come up with themselves. Their genius is their ingenuousness.

As with any comedy out there on the edge, you have to put up with wild inconsistency. The Stars in Their Eyes spoof could have been done by Cannon and Ball, and the thwacking-each-other-with-blunt-instruments sequence has already been seen in Bottom. But the puppet theatre soul singers with unreliable moustaches were a triumph. Best, though, was the advert for the coffee-table volume, Dogs and Their Hats, a not especially funny idea which was about to fall flat when it was revealed that each book contained a complementary copy of Cats in Their Bomber Jackets.

An Open Space Special (BBC2) movingly visited four conscientious objectors, now vigorous old men, who won't be celebrating on Monday. Like most minority movements, especially ones fired by emotion, they had as much clout as straws in the wind. That their views still haven't caught on says less about them than it does about everyone else.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn