It's not often, in the era of ratings battles and petrified commissioning editors, that television is prepared to take a risk with someone new. So you had to hand it to Channel 4 last week when they plucked an unknown comic out of nowhere and deposited her into a prime-time comedy slot.
It's even more unusual that a channel should take such a gamble on – gasp! – a woman. The fact that they stuck their necks out on this occasion, though, made it all the more devastating to find that The Morgana Show, sandwiched in the schedules between Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights and The Big Bang Theory, was so teeth-grindingly, bewilderingly awful that you couldn't even file it in the "so bad it's good" category. It was about as funny as a hernia.
In case you had the good fortune to miss it, Morgana Robinson's programme is an old-fashioned sketch show in the manner of Armstrong and Miller or The Catherine Tate Show. Channel 4 billed her as "Kenny Everett without the beard", which would seem to promise an element of surrealism and subversion. Instead, we got a series of meandering, often incoherent skits about Gilbert, a teenager with bottle-bottom specs and learning difficulties trying to make a television show with the help of his granddad; Madeleine, a gin-soaked ex-Hollywood siren vaguely redolent of Everett's Cupid Stunt; and a pair of bickering married undertakers. Robinson also did a series of impressions, including Boris Johnson as a bullying schoolboy, Cheryl Cole and Fearne Cotton prattling on in yoof-speak (the best of a bad bunch), all to a ghastly soundtrack of canned laughter.
Now I admit that I have a low tolerance when it comes to TV sketch shows, a format that I believe reached its peak 40 years ago with Monty Python, and should have long since been put out of its misery. But I'm not the only one to have been thoroughly depressed by this particular example. Reviews for The Morgana Show have been, at best, lukewarm, with one critic bemoaning the programme's "clunking mediocrity" and remarking that by the end she was "just bored". So how on earth did it get past the commissioning meeting? And, if this was what they went for, what unspeakable bilge was consigned to the reject pile? Of course, this is by no means the first time that a channel has backed a lame horse. Just look what happened with Horne & Corden (a bungled attempt to cash in on the success of Gavin & Stacey) and Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder, two shows that were axed almost as soon as they were aired.
The word on Morgana Robinson is that Channel 4's head of comedy was so impressed when he was shown her tape (by her agent, John Noel, the man behind Russell Brand's leap to fame) that he by-passed the usual Comedy Showcase pilot and commissioned a whole series. Robinson's television experience thus far had been a role in Channel 4's short-lived TNT Show and bit parts in The Green, Green Grass and My Family. Did it help, you wonder, that she didn't cost a lot?
But Robinson's inexperience needn't have been a problem. One thing that is clear from her Fearne Cotton sketch is that she's a good mimic and a reasonable actor. With some extra writers and the right supervision, it might not have all gone so horribly wrong. Clearly, if you take risks on television there are going to be misses as well as hits. For every Little Britain or Nighty Night you are going to get the odd Horne & Corden. But a trip to the Edinburgh Festival, or any of the open-mic shows around the country, will reveal countless comics overflowing with ideas, full of great material and busting for a television audience. By all means give us new faces on TV. But pick them carefully, allow them to develop and give them the support they require. Otherwise you'll kill off their careers before they've even begun.
'The Morgana Show', Tuesdays on Channel 4, 10.35pm
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