“ BBC / Sketch Comedy starring Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. „
To be honest I was dreading this series, especially as it was in the prime-time Friday night slot and so had to deliver to that core and expectant audience. But that doesn't mean it has to be very funny these days as the BBC and other channels as they continue to dumb down to the lowest common denominator. After a hard weeks work and the 'credit-crunch' conations racing through your brain you don't want anything too challenging on telly but you do want to at least laugh during that comedy hour. It does deliver when 'Have I got News for You' and 'Little Britain' fill it but when those two shows are absent for most of the year it's a grim slot. C4 and BB2 have long since given up on putting 'intellytelly' on Friday nights so you can only hope shows like Harry & Paul will deliver.
We all know that when well known sketch comedians lose their youth and vitality they tend to lose their humors edge, as was the case with French & Saunders for their painful and more recent series on the BBC. They were brilliant female comics in their day (a rare commodity in Britain) but sadly now they are just wheeled out for a contracted and tired Christmas special, looking like the shows was knocked up over night. Because of the BBC policy to dumb down everything they couldn't do their more satirical stuff and parodies and so decided to end their contract with the BBC this year, hence the girls on tour for the first time in a long time. Harry & Paul have never claimed to be 'clever telly' and so safe for now but its clear that if you want to keep your BBC comedy deal you have to make your jokes accessible to more punters with a spread of brain power, Harry Hill style...
The BBC is quick to lose its best talent and slow to get rid of its old talent. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, on the other hand, have bucked the trend here and managed to blend in that middle-class/age angst and conformity into their sketches in their stuff without getting you reaching for the remote. The balding guy Enfield plays in the Polish coffee shop sketch, desperate to repel his mid-life crisis by trying to date the young foreign girl behind the counter, is a well observed piece and in its own way an example of how this genre can work. The trouble is you always get hit n miss sketches on the BBC shows and other skits are cringingly bad, like the posh builders. But if Harry Hill is classed as funny then why can't Harry and Paul be at 50?
The boys did briefly make the tabloids with this show's content when criticized for having a Phillipino maid being ordered to have simulated sex with a northerner acting as a middle-class family's pet dog - although the story failed to get past page seven of the Mail on Sunday to earn censure, or indeed free publicity. Race issues are clearly sensitive for the BBC with the government's human rights lawyers now threatening to pass laws to ban anything remotely blue in comedy and so it was no surprise there was only four Dragons in the Dragons Den sketch. Harry and Paul were allowed to dress as a woman, a Scotsman, a smug Englishman and chirpy Greek guy but not black up as Asian James Caan, the fifth dragon. Times have changed at the BBC and the egg shells are being crunched like our credit (And I know you're so fed up of hearing the bloody phrase the 'credit crunch'!lol).
What's new in this show is that Harry and Paul are now doing impressions of famous people, Nelson Mandela the most prominent. You don't really want them to go there as it's not their bag and it's a bit cruel to have a pop at Nelson of all people. But if it makes you laugh (which it doesn't) then why not, is their motto. Some of their characters completely misfire and perhaps too London centric for northerners (north of Watford) like me, like that South African idiot that works in the gym. Some are very silly and do work well, like the elderly American couple from 'Diddlyboing' Idaho, the sketch on the final show when they started shouting 'peado' in the greasy spoon café having me holding my sides. Other characters, like the guy who owns the shop in Soho and sells crap to thick Sloney women, are also quite funny, even though it's a broken record. One does suspect there are lots of Marcus types out there in West London and lots more women like that with their husband's money to burn.
The boys couldn't resist bringing back an elderly hybrid of Smashy & Nicey as two decrepit DJs spin hardcore house and gangster rap, a one track joke if there ever was, again those two some of the weaker characters that littered the series. But the show has just enough funny characters and sketches to keep you smiling, and more importantly watching, and it's a relief in the end that the series did work and the boys didn't end up like French & Saunders.
When Harry met Paul.....
Paul Whitehouse is a University of East Anglia graduate whilst Harry Enfield is from the University of York. Paul cut his comedy teeth with Charlie Higson on the Fast Show, who he met at UAE, before teaming up with Harry on Saturday night live, playing Harry's 'loadsofmoney' plasterer characters dim side kick Lance, the two recreating that partnership as market stall traders in the Harry Enfield show. Their last series before this run was called 'Ruddy Hell its Harry & Paul', this a subtle hybrid of for crediting reasons. The previous series surprisingly won a BAFTA, a National Television Award and a British Comedy Gong, the comedy grand slam, which is a blunt example of how poor the competition has been of late. Apart from Catherine Tates sketch show it has been a weak decade for non intellectual comedy on TV.
In a Saragossa Sea of comedy these guy juts about float my boat. They are no Alan Partridge of Curb Your Enthusiasm but they are all we have right now. Anything beats ITV sitcoms and Two Pints of Lager and a packet of Crisps. I'm a reasonably bright bloke and just can't hack being patronized by situation and sketch comedy, which means there are few shows I like this week. But I'm being selfish if I don't think idiots should be catered for too and so we have to have shows like My Family. What Harry and Paul do is mix the two, and like a tin of Roses, there's always something for you as well as your granny and pervy uncle to keep everyone happy, the essential factor Catherine Tate picked up on early, and so able to deliver her successful show. Family Guy in America came about because dim people just didn't get The Simpson's and so a market was there to be exploited. Unless you aim your characters at a cross-section of punters then you won't get that big audience tuning in again. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse really are everyone's cup of tea, even if I need five sugars...