Archive for June, 2010

Turning it off and on again

Posted in What I'm thinking on June 28, 2010 by Paul Brannigan

What a weekend! I’d been counting down the days and hours on my cell wall. I never normally get too excited about a TV event but this was different. The nation is going through some dark times. We’d had a harsh budget which promises even darker times ahead and I really needed a lift.

The beer was chilled. I was restlessly trying to fill the hours. Then, finally it kicked off. And edge of the seat anticipation gave way to confusion quickly followed by a horrible sinking disappointment.

I’m not sure I can (or really should) carry this strained World Cup football metaphor on any longer for it is the IT Crowd series 4 – which finally reached our screens on Friday night.

Now who the hell am I to critique Big G? He’s a comedy genius. (Graham Linehan was also the talent behind Father Ted and Black Books) And I imagine it must be unbelievably hard to sustain such a high standard of ideas into a fourth series (we can dream). But that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t the ideas that were wrong but the execution.

I’d read that he was looking to “develop” the characters for Series 4. Producers and actors love to see characters evolve – actors want to get their teeth into something meaty and producers can see the impact of their notes. Writer’s too must get bored and need a new challenge.

So he turned it off and on again. Series 4 ep 1 finds Roy lovelorn, Moss sensitive, Jen assertive and Douglas playing the role of straight man to his business cronies. What next? Richmond starts a family? (Actually that might be quite funny but if it wasn’t you’d get the point)

In effect Mr L tried forcing an unexpected reboot and ended up in the middle of invalid memory.

The problem is, by making these characters more rounded we’ve lost something of what made them so cartoon funny – and reduced the laughs per minute in the process.

Now, as Tess Morris so eloquently and entertainingly reminds us in her latest blog post http://tessmorris.tumblr.com/post/750799251/comedy-comeda (I get a commission on every referral) Comedy is subjective. One man’s d’oh! is another man’s oh.

But while that is true sitcoms must have some objective markers that we can measure them against – and for me one of the most obvious ways is to judge them against the rules and standards they set for themselves.

Fortunately and informatively Mr L set out his own framework for the IT Crowd on his blog – writing around the time a US pilot was being made. http://whythatsdelightful.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/notes-on-the-us-it-crowd/ It’s worth a read. (I told you about the commission right?)

For example, Seinfeld’s “No Hugging No Learning” is one of the Mr L’s cardinal rules for the show. But what was Moss doing if not metaphorically giving Roy a hug to help him say goodbye to his lost love?  (You could argue it wasn’t literally a hug but I can’t hear you so I’ll plough on regardless).

Now maybe I’m being harsh but I’m writing this from a pit of despair. I love football. I love the IT Crowd (I love parentheses). This has not been a good weekend.

Then again maybe I’m wrong, maybe last week’s episode was brilliant – crossed the line by miles – and the whole world could see it except me. Maybe I’m the Uruguayan linesman of sitcoms.

Still, I’m an optimist (I had England to win 2-0) and next week’s episode could be brilliant. Also tonight sees the start of Tom Hollander’s new comedy Rev. Steve Evets is in it and he tells me it’s very funny. I hope so. I need it.

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What happens in Clun…

Posted in What's happening? on June 13, 2010 by Paul Brannigan

Back to life, back to reality after an intoxicating week at the Arvon Writers Centre where to cut a long story short, I lost my mind.

Late night drinking games recalling the songs of Soul2Soul and early Spandau Ballet gave way to morning hangovers staring at the laptop in search of inspiration. Unfortunately, with no internet connection my usual sources of inspiration were denied me and I was forced to actually do some work.

I was in John Osborne’s slightly spooky old house near the village of Clun in the depths of Deliverance country, Shropshire. No mobile phone signal, no internet, no TV, no radio and no way out (apart from my car but that wouldn’t have been entering into the spirit).

I’ve never really got the point of writers heading into the wilderness but myself and 15 others were there as part of the Writers’ Lab – a great new scheme designed to a boost the careers of produced writers by teaming them up with major players in the TV industry. The purpose of the week was to prepare the project we’re going to develop with our industry mentors for the next 6 months.

Like most writers I’ve had a number of ideas floating around for some time and I was hoping to use this opportunity to give one of them a kick start.

Our guest tutors were the wonderful Tess Morris (My Family) and Julie Rutterford (Ashes to Ashes) – both very funny, insightful and more than happy to share their experience, wisdom and vodka.

I had my tutorial and outlined my ideas. You could hear Tess’s positive feedback training being mugged by her subconscious “Oh, that’s gre… goo… not bad”. Hmm. Not bad. Not bad is not good. Not bad is not pants-wetting. Not bad is not going to get anyone very excited in the corridors of comedy power.

I’ll admit I was a little shell-shocked. But at least I wasn’t alone. The house and grounds were littered with writers wandering aimlessly in a post-tutorial daze. Talented, experienced writers (who also happened to be some of the kindest, wittiest and most amiable people I’ve ever met – why do writers have a reputation for being anti-social?).

Tess and Julie then proceeded to coax a fresh, new and probably much better idea out of me.

I say probably because all writers know that first flush of excitement when they meet a new idea. It’s all giddy laughter and getting-to-know-you walks in the park. You’re enthralled and at that moment the idea seems to be everything you want from an idea.

But then, inevitably as you get to know the idea a bit better you start to become aware of the little imperfections. Those idiosyncrasies that initially seemed so endearing can become irksome and as infatuation gives way to routine you have to decide if you can actually live with this idea day in day out. Do you love it enough to really make the relationship work?  And maybe most importantly – are you right for each other?

Well, I’m about to find out. And just to add a little frisson this is the idea I’m committed to using to sell myself to the great and good in the world of TV comedy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea. But I feel like I’ve woken up next to a beautiful stranger the morning after a drunken Vegas wedding. I just hope we can make this thing work.