TV review: Badults; Burton and Taylor

Emer Kenny, Matthew Crosby, Ben Clark and Tom Parry in BBC3's Badults. Photo: BBC/The Comedy Unit
Emer Kenny, Matthew Crosby, Ben Clark and Tom Parry in BBC3's Badults. Photo: BBC/The Comedy Unit

The Typhleotris is a freshwater fish that lives in Madagascar’s limestone caves, a habitat of such consummate darkness that nature has not bothered to provide it with eyes.

But even the Typhleotris, with a bag over its head, sealed inside a box, would have been able to see the jokes coming in Badults.

Not all the jokes, it has to be said. BBC3’s new sketch show/sitcom hybrid served up several that were genuinely inspired and laugh-out-loud funny, suggesting the fault lay in lacklustre quality control rather than any shortfall in comic creativity.

But the wheat was bulked out by an awful lot of chaff, not to mention corn, which is very surprising for an inaugural episode out to impress.

Written and performed by Ben Clark, Matthew Crosby and Tom Parry – hitherto best known as award-winning fringe troupe Pappy’s – Badults places immature adults into a flatshare environment, inevitably inviting – and suffering – comparison with a host of other comedies, notably The Young Ones, The Big Bang Theory, New Girl and even the works of the Three Stooges.

[pullquote]Badults served up some jokes that were genuinely inspired, suggesting the fault for its more corny jokes lay in lacklustre quality control rather than comic creativity[/pullquote]

It has manic energy to spare, an engaging cast, cheerfully throwaway plotlines and an instinctive  understanding of how to extract the most from its predominantly studio-bound setting.

The surreal inserts – Darwin comes alive off a £10 note to comment on the action – look a bit tired, and the central characters need far clearer delineation, but Badults shows a lot of promise.

However, poor Emer Kenny will need an awful lot more to work with if she is going to make any impression as fourth flatmate Rachel, sidelined almost as soon as she appeared and looking every bit the arbitrary, add-on female.

Hello, Pockmark.”
“Hello, Lumpy.”

Such exchanges are, of course, the product of an intimacy that not even two divorces can diminish. The ex-lovers are, of course, Burton and Taylor, as played by Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter in BBC4’s feature-length, thoroughly entertaining and unapologetically romantic biopic.

Is it factually accurate? Who knows?

Do West and Bonham Carter look like Dick and Liz? No, but who cares? The pair give great performances that really capture the spirit of the two stars’ volatile, passionate, destructive but enduring relationship.

The action is centred around their 1983 Broadway production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, a bittersweet comedy about a divorced couple who still love each other. I’m guessing BBC4’s budget didn’t stretch to producing a drama set during the making of Cleopatra.

The run of Private Lives sold out long before the curtain went up, and the public was never going to be any less than uncritically adoring, but there was still the small inconvenience of having to rehearse the play first.

Pitfalls to negotiate included poor health, poor timekeeping, drug dependency, drink dependency, markedly contrasting attitudes to stagecraft – in performance Taylor would enrage Burton by  blowing kisses at the audience through the ‘fourth wall’ – not to mention the ever-present threat of the two stars clashing or, possibly more damaging to the production, getting back together.

Burton and Taylor, BBC4, Monday, July 22, 9pm
Badults, BBC3, Tuesday, July 23, 10pm