Television: Thomas Sutcliffe

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"Here we are up to our ears in work!" exclaims the harassed boss of a mini-cab firm in Roger Roger (BBC1). "How things can change so fast!". How fast indeed - just minutes earlier one of his drivers had disconsolately asked "Any work for me, Reen?" only to be told that he was at the bottom of the list and there might be something in an hour. On the way up to his ad hoc darkroom above the office, he passes his colleagues, sitting around drinking coffee and asking each other Trivial Pursuit questions, a scene that proved technically useful in the Banter Delivery department, but which didn't exactly consolidate the depiction of a firm stretched to its limits. While television comedy hasn't always been noted for its high opinion of the viewers' faculties, an assumption of endemic short- term memory loss hasn't previously been one of its working principles.

Unfortunately that sloppy inconsistency wasn't the only failure of finish that marred the second episode of John Sullivan's comedy - a series which sits a little uncomfortably between outright sitcom (in which a certain insulation from the real world can be an advantage) and the ensemble comedy drama (in which the demands of plausibility are more pressing and you don't have a laugh-track to semaphore the funny bits).

Later in the story, for example, a married couple visit a contemporary gallery where they are approached by a toffee-nosed curator wearing a purple cravat and a blazer - a species known to have been extinct in the wild since 1933, though a few captive specimens remain in old Punch annuals. But if he's a cartoon, what are we to make of the complicated emotional trade-off that has brought the couple there in the first place - is it real or another caricature?

At times Roger, Roger is like Auf Wiedersehen Pet on wheels, with a cast of drivers as tidily individuated as the Seven Dwarfs - at other times it turns to the devices of the shorter sitcom form. Given that John Sullivan is the writer, this isn't all bad news. As the inventor of one of the funniest sight gags ever broadcast (the one in which Del and Rodney set themselves up as chandelier restorers and then unbolt the wrong chandelier) his ability to contrive misadventure isn't really in doubt. This episode contained a well-crafted gag involving the accidental incineration of a treasured oil painting and a fine set piece in which Henry, the ingenuous Nigerian driver, is forced to interview a new recruit - a dialogue in which most of the laughs came during the perfectly engineered pauses. But those moments of comic precision sit in a vehicle which still has some unsettling rattles.

The nuts and bolts are much more tightly fastened in The Vicar of Dibley (BBC1), back for another series, and capitalising well on the audience's familiarity with the characters. The actual writing here is not exactly subtle, line by line ("You're the saddest person in the kingdom and that's including Rolf Harris", "I like the Times - it's not too rough on the buttocks") but there is a real assurance about the way in which the comedy combines both dimwittedness and wit - the latter being much rarer than the former in recent British sitcom.

I think there's something gracious about its even-handedness too - so that although Gary Waldhorn's local grandee is clearly the comedy's villain you are expected to sympathise with his crucifying exasperation at Parish Council meetings (gatherings which make all the directed headway of a pig on ice). And while Dawn French is an unusually knowing centre-piece (far more knowing than Captain Mainwaring ever was), she is not immune from ridicule. All the cast are good but Emma Chambers, who plays the gormless Alice, is superb, a dreamy combination of enormous heart and tiny brain.

When the vicar is invited to appear on Terry Wogan's Pause for Thought slot she helpfully offers the last apercu to disturb the unruffled pond of her mind: "I was thinking," she says with great solemnity, "wouldn't it be lovely if some kittens were born with pink fur?" The post-credit running gag - in which, every week, Alice fails to get a corny joke told by the vicar - is worth tuning in for on its own.

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