TELEVISION The Fast Show (BBC2) In short, less can mean more when it comes to comedy.

In Harry Enfield's passenger seat, Paul Whitehouse is always at a purely physical disadvantage. Their double-acts often require them to play identical versions of the same intemperate character, but as he is less sheerly imposing than his partner, Whitehouse's subtler character- acting risks being blown away.

So there is something improbable about the sidekick getting his own series, which is what The Fast Show is, in all but name. Let us not forget that in the history of comedy the chapter entitled "The little guy from the double-act who went solo" is already littered with the corpses of Ernie Wise and Ronnie Corbett.

The start of the new series is much surer than the start of the old, in which there was an element of Ron Wood cutting an album without Keef to hold his hand. There is roughly a sketch a minute to The Fast Show, some of them tossed out with such abandon that the show looks like an ideas meeting in which wheat and chaff are unseparated. But where once you might have objected to sketches that missed the target, they're now almost a perverse badge of merit, an insurance that something funnier will be along in a minute, and maybe sooner.

Released from Enfield's orbit, Whitehouse and co-writer Charlie Higson enjoy an almost limitless creative space in which broad cartoon comedy rubs shoulders with jokes that only work by staying in the neighbourhood of reality. A fantastical offering from Channel 9, an Esperanto TV station somewhere hellish on the Med, preceded a stinging sketch in which a competitive father puts himself in to bat and mercilessly tonks his two young sons' bowling all over the park.

Some items can have taken no longer to write than to perform. If a sketch yields one punchline, no time is wasted mining for another. They even make a joke out of one scene's longueurs, when a clay-mation artist painstakingly explaining his methods excites a look of withering tedium from his interviewer. And yet The Fast Show is quite capable of matching animation, its polar opposite in production terms, in detail. The Return of the Unpronounceables got the period feel of gangsterdom just right, but wove in its own joke about the impenetrability of New York's Italo-Judaeo-Polish surnames. On current form, French and Saunders would have doubled the length of the sketch but halved its quota of laughs.

We might as well savour this brevity while it lasts, as the history of comedy also teaches that sketch technicians tire of doing things succinctly, and yearn to stretch themselves. What is often stretched is the viewers' patience. For the moment, Whitehouse's performances are a match for his writing, and his best are reserved for those when the script apportions him no words (his mute, gnarled yeoman) or makes them incomprehensible (his slurring QC). But it would have given the wrong impression to call it The Dumb Show.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Life and Style
food + drink
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas