Regardless of the fact that the TV schedules are already rammed with the damned things, all sharing near-identical formats, television continues to spew out comedy panel shows. Channel 4’s Was It Something I Said? is the latest manifestation of a tedious trend.
The basic premise, upon which the contestants are invited to riff, is the world of quotes and quotations. A world very familiar to anyone who has listened to an edition of BBC Radio 4’s Quote… Unquote during its 49 series’ residency.
But originality clearly isn’t high on Was It Something I Said?’s priorities. Take a look at the line-up – David Mitchell in the chair, Richard Ayoade and Micky Flanagan as team captains, and Charlie Higson and Jimmy Carr as guests.
Individually, I like them all. Collectively, as part of a comedy panel show, their terrible familiarity provokes in me a level of screaming boredom that is borderline hysterical.
Even the fine actor David Harewood, roped in as guest ‘reader’, has been spotted slumming it elsewhere in the BBC’s Would I Lie to You?. Presumably, Harewood’s ambition was atomised at the end of Homeland’s second series, along with his character.
But possibly the most predictable and depressing aspect of the show was its total absence of women. Whether this was the deliberate product of an anti-feminist agenda, or simply down to the fact that Sarah Millican wasn’t available, we can only guess.
Truckers is an ensemble comedy drama centred around a Nottingham haulage firm, with each episode focusing upon a different character. Episode one shone a spotlight on mid-life-crisis-beset Malachi (Stephen Tompkinson) and his refusal to accept the demise of his marriage.
There was a lot to like about Truckers. The script contained some very funny lines, the characters showed promise and the performances were engaging. Unfortunately, the tone was all over the place. Broad, sitcom moments sat uncomfortably beside unadulterated pathos, high farce and, finally, near-murderous melodrama.
Malachi, obliged to channel the script’s ever-changing moods, was never allowed to develop into a believable character, although I enjoyed his naked and impassioned final speech from the roof of his cab – an articulate man on an articulated lorry.
Because it is set in the early 1960s, beautifully realised and boasts a lantern-jawed, skirt-chasing hero, ITV’s Breathless is being hailed as the British Mad Men. There is, of course, room in the market since The Hour, the previous drama to be hailed as the British Mad Men, recently got the axe.
Breathless follows the lives of a group of doctors and nurses at a London hospital, orbiting around the brilliant and charismatic surgeon Otto Powell (Jack Davenport).
My initial, dismissive, response was that this was yet another attempt to cross-pollinate medical drama with nostalgia. But then Breathless went off on a completely unexpected trajectory, using its storylines to explore the sexual and social mores of the 1960s.
Not only that, but the script hinted at a whole raft of intrigues and mysteries it is clearly in no hurry to clarify, let alone clear up.
Slicker than Otto’s Brylcreemed barnet, if Breathless doesn’t hook viewers, I don’t know what will.
Was It Something I Said?, Channel 4, Sunday, October 6, 10.05pm
Truckers, BBC1, Thursday, October 10, 9pm
Breathless, ITV, Thursday, October 10, 9pm