Friday, October 19, 2007

Are Thursdays funny?

By coincidence more than topical programme making Jennifer Saunders new television vehicle arrived just as Jeremy Kyle, king of daytime talk shows and human bear baiter, was getting a sound drubbing from all angles. Good news for Vivien Vyle and I’m sure that loathsome creation would be delighted to profit from the misfortune of her rival.

In reality meanwhile it makes the comedy (I am assured that it is comedy although I’ve yet to laugh) seem a vicious personal attack on Kyle, rather than on the grotesque carnival that daytime talk shows have always been.

The recreations of the talk show environment are horribly accurate, from the Jeremy Kyle style graphics and set to the foul mouthed unfortunates who appear on the show, but that still doesn’t make them funny.

Saunders and the retinue of actors that have followed her across the hall from the Absolutely Fabulous offices inhabit revolting characters that show us just how shallow and unpleasant the media world can be (you know; a bit like Larry Sanders and Nathan Barley did – so much better and so very long ago). This weeks episode included a particularly heavy handed sequence where the ‘sympathetic’ character of Psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Fowler (Jason Watkins) told a sad story (which could easily be from a real case workers experiences) before everyone demonstrated how shallow and self-obsessed they were again.

This is part of the problem. The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle doesn’t seem to know if it’s a comedy or a drama. The source of confusion being that that people who think that baring their darkest most awful problems and traumas on daytime television will solve their problems aren’t funny, they’re tragic and desperate. No amount of Patsy and Edina style ‘Darling’s or camp husbands on rollerblades will mask that.

The latest episode also surprised me by having characters re-enact a scene from Brief Encounter as part of a bizarre reconciliation ritual. An interesting idea but I couldn’t concentrate on it as I was wondering if it had struck the writers whilst they were watching Alan Bennett’s History Boys.

Presumably for her medical expertise Jennifer Saunders has written this series with the help of Dr Tanya Byron, who certainly knows something about television exploiting peoples problems having worked on such reality shows as House of Tiny Tearaways and Little Angels.

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle wants to be a clever and biting satire on how ruthless and exploitative television is but just ends up being exploitative itself, as well as lazy and worse of all not funny. What awful people they are in TV land, I wonder how many trophies Ms Vyle will scoop next awards season.

After knocking around in many of the best sitcoms of the last decade, and providing the voice of Darth Maul for Star Wars: The Phantom … (Oh you know – the one with the kid) Peter Serafinowicz has emerged in his own sketch show.

Sketch shows are becoming a bit of a rarity on our screens and good ones even more so. The Peter Serafinowicz Show is jam packed full of fresh ideas and energy. It's the perfect antidote to the feeling of misery and wasted time that the viewer is left with after watching Vivienne Vyle.

It’s true that not every sketch or running gag is a success but with the likes of Michael 6 (a funny sketch about daytime talk shows), the endearing Brian Butterworth adverts, and ‘O news’ the laughs far outweigh any misfires.

The greatest revelation in this show is it's stars excellent talent for mimicry. Peter Serefinowicz does impressions of people you don’t even expect to see being impersonated – and then finds a context to use these unexpected impressions, the best example being his lampoons of acting masterclass series (a poe-faced television series of ‘classes’ provided by successful actors in the 1980's – most notably Michael Caine and Simon Callow).

One question though – does Alan Alda even get invited to film premieres any more? Actually – don’t worry, I don’t even care. The enthusiasm and energy of The Peter Serafinowicz Show belies any attempt to criticise.