I don't like sketch shows, it's a personal preference - I like shows with an ongoing narrative that builds on previous stories or character experiences. That's one of the things which frustrates me about many sitcoms from the 70s to 90s and it's also what frustrates me about Big Bang Theory (and it's poor butchered older uncle Two and a Half Men) - the philosophy that 'at the end of the episode everything is back to the status quo' is tired, low risk and ultimately doomed to stagnation.
One thing you can't accuse great sketch shows of is stagnation - most sketch shows go one of two routes, they either milk the same jokes over and over (Fast Show, Little Britain) and only achieve any genuine laughs from me when they break that mold. Or they mix things up with a variety of fresh material (Monty Python's Flying Circus).
So when - to borrow a phrase from Rob Buckley (http://www.the-medium-is-not-enough.com/) - the lovely wife suggested that we watch *finger wiggle* A Bit of Fry and Laurie *close finger wiggle* I was a bit dubious. On one hand I adored Jeeves and Wooster, love Hugh Laurie's work in House and consume anything Stephen Fry related whenever possible. But on the other hand my tastes and genre orientation for television viewing was not favorably disposed towards the situation.
So she started watching by herself, from the second season.
I picked up little bits here and there while doing other stuff about the place.
Soon I found myself sitting down and paying attention rather than doing other things.
And from here I think even the most Watson* of you detectives out there will be able to put the pieces together.
I rather came to enjoy it, a great deal, which was a nice surprise because the show does have a great deal of reoccurring sketches, catchphrases and gags. However. However, I did notice that there was a development in some of the sketches, a sort of timeline/narrative that continued from one sketch to the next. There was also an evolution of the jokes used in the ongoing sketches as well - Control and Tony being something of a favourite around the household, but I also enjoyed
The show echoes 'The Two Ronnies' in its style with elaborate and exquisite word play and bouts of verbal diarrhea that are close to poetry. But the thing which is most outstanding and unusual about the show is its relative timelessness. Hugh and Stephen have (sadly) both aged, and the filming quality, sets and guests certainly date the show, but the sketches and the topics that were targeted in them still remain relevant to this day. On one hand that's an awesome achievement for the show, on the other hand its not really a great commendation for the progress of British society. We're still struggling with the same problems we had twenty years ago.
Yes, that's right. 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie'. Still relevant on topical issues.
The fourth series is the longest and weakest of the bunch, the BBC forced Fry and Laurie to bring in regular guest stars and with a few exceptions this dilutes the quality of the show. Caroline Quentin is one of the few exceptions, but her comedic talents speak for themselves elsewhere and for the most part all they achieve is a few semi-funny jokes and some rather flat air time.
Apart from this fourth series wobble the show is quality, comedy gold. There are numerous sketches and phrases that hang with you for a long time afterwards and to me, that's the mark of a successful show.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to mix up "A Short Blog post by a Returning Author" for M'guests to drink. So please Mr Music, will you play?
*Comedy Watson of course, not the clever chap he can be, I mean the one who can't tell the difference between clues and jam.