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TV review: Watson and Oliver; The Wright Way

Watson and Oliver. Photo: Gary Moyes

Comedy duo Watson and Oliver are back with a second series of sketches, despite the somewhat lacklustre reception their first outing received. So all credit to BBC Comedy for keeping faith with the duo, rather than dumping them unceremoniously at the first whiff of underachievement.

I’m not sure what the problem with Watson and Oliver is, unless it’s the inability of the great British public to come to terms with a female comedy double act that isn’t French and Saunders. They are funny, versatile and eminently likeable performers, working with some very strong and occasionally inspired material.

Some of the sketches don’t work at all – the flustered shopkeeper serving foreign students being a case in point – but otherwise the hit rate is very high.

If I have a quibble it is that their sketches sometimes overstay their welcome. Not by very much, but enough to irritate. Watson and Oliver are at their best when they are short, sharp and sometimes shocking.

The Wright Way, a sitcom about a punctilious health and safety officer, should itself carry some sort of health warning. It left me with a raging headache; I left it about halfway through. Critics, like the captain on a sinking ship, should really stay to the very end, but I am a middle-aged man with a sense of his own mortality, and this was 15 minutes I would never get back.

The show is written by Ben Elton so, as you would expect, there are some good lines, neat turns of phrase and a solid narrative structure. However, it is a long way from his best work, with far too great a dependence upon the supposed hilarity inherent in brand names. Horlicks, anyone?

But even if he’d scripted a masterpiece of Blackadder proportions, it would still have been scuppered by the performances, which are uniformly terrible. It is as though the entire cast has come straight from an evening class in sitcom acting for beginners and can’t wait to try out their comedy voices. Nobody, but nobody, behaves like a human being.

[pullquote]The Wright Way’s mildly amusing lines are met with an ear-shattering explosion of guffaws, while slightly clever sight gags receive the kind of rapturous ovation Pavarotti spent a lifetime chasing[/pullquote]

Worst offender is the show’s star David Haig, who has chosen to give his character Gerald a hideous nasal twang all too reminiscent of Chris Barrie’s in The Brittas Empire, a sitcom I also found unwatchable. Gerald is a boring person, but the show has fallen into the trap of actually making him dull company for the viewer.

It is often said that a successful sitcom is one populated by characters you want to spend some time with. Gerald, meanwhile, is a character I would like to spend some time with in a locked room, armed with a baseball bat.

The horror of the acting is compounded by a laughter track evidently laid down in a lunatic asylum. Mildly amusing lines are met with an ear-shattering explosion of guffaws, while slightly clever sight gags receive the kind of rapturous ovation that Pavarotti spent a lifetime chasing.

So, to sum up, I didn’t like The Wright Way. But had the cast played the characters instead of the comedy, uninterrupted by such a hysterical soundtrack, I suspect it could have been quite watchable. We will never know.

Watson and Oliver, BBC2, Thursday, April 25, 10pm
The Wright Way, BBC1, Tuesday, April 23, 10.35pm

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