TELEVISION / BRIEFING: High on culture, low on laughs

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The Independent Culture
It is not often that you hear Aristophanes' Lysistrata cited on a primetime comedy. And that is not the only respect in which CONJUGAL RITES (8pm ITV) is an unusual sitcom. For a start, it is based on a stage play (by Roger Hall). It is convincingly acted by comedy stalwarts Gwen Taylor (Duty Free, A Bit of a Do, Screaming) and Michael Williams (A Fine Romance, September Song). The first episode is played out by just two characters, frequently breaking into thought bubble monologues. And there is an eyebrow-raising amount of sexual discussion - not to mention activity - for a pre-watershed programme. Unfortunately, in every other way, Barry and Gen lapse into sitcom stereotypes. After 21 years of marriage, their suppertime conversation has dwindled to trading up the car (him) and re-decorating the bedroom (her). They have to think of Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Newman to pep up their love-making. And she is infuriated that he flushes the loo before he has finished urinating. ITV has made it a priority to try to match the standard of BBC1's sitcom output. But, on this evidence, it still has some catching up to do.

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