Sitcoms are increasingly single-camera affairs (with no live audience), as the current trend is for creative filming techniques, natural acting, and a dose of reality. I don't mind that, as the result has given us The Office, Peep Show and, more recently, Whites. All are fine shows that wouldn't work any other way. But, as someone who grew up on the traditional format (multiple camera, wooden sets, a live audience), I can't help responding positively when an "old fashioned" sitcom comes along that totally understand what audiences liked about them to begin with. BBC2's Miranda is one such show...
Written by and starring comedienne Miranda Hart, her self-titled sitcom exists to put a smile on your face. Plain and simple. Hart stars as Miranda, owner of a joke shop she lives above, helped by best friend Stevie (Sarah Hadland), and constantly pestered by her interfering mother Penny (Patricia Hodge) about getting a boyfriend and starting a family. Miranda's smitten by Gary (Tom Ellis), the chef of the next-door restaurant, and most episodes involve her trying to win his affection, while causing herself public embarrassment -- thanks to her innate clumsiness (she's a stout 6'1") and tendency to get into awkward situations.
See, even the premise reeks of traditionalism (the accident-prone, unlucky-in-love singleton), but that's no bad thing. Miranda's a warm-hearted and fast-paced 30-minutes of knockabout silliness, aimed at making family audiences smile and giggle together. It's commonly thought that British entertainment has its roots in the theatre and music hall, and that's perhaps one explanation for why a well-calibrated sitcom like Miranda works so well for Brits. It resembles the kind of live comedy you'd see in the theatre; actors gauging their performance on the audience's reactions, able to time everything thanks to that constant interaction. I'm not saying single-camera sitcoms can't fake this interface as well, but you can sense it really happening when a live audience is present for filming.
There's a communal vibe that works beautifully for certain sitcoms, and Miranda uses that to its benefit. A trope of the sitcom is that Miranda often breaks the fourth wall to comment on events to "us" at home, or throw us a look of slight panic when a situation spins out of control. In so doing, she's involving us, inviting us in, and we become complicit with Miranda's escapades.
I'm sure some people hate the artifice this lends a sitcom, but as someone who enjoys watching a good "show" (in the traditional sense of the world), there's nothing better than watching people openly entertain for our amusement. Of course, there are moments that stretch credibility, or don't compute when you hold them up to reality, but in the "universe" it temporarily creates, Miranda is a perfectly acceptable place to visit. And sometimes the ridiculousness is part of the humour -- such as when this episode had Miranda's mother secretly pouring her daughter's date a drink, without him knowing she's in the room. There was no logical reason for her mother to risk exposure by doing this (she could have just crawled out of the room at any point), but seeing her pop up from behind the sofa to re-pour a Scotch was funny. So it's included. Funny is all that matters, forget reason.
You'll know if Miranda's for you after one episode. If you're not smiling when the end credits roll -- preceded by the iconic "You Have Been Watching" subtitle, over a sequence where all the characters dance around together, winking and waving to the camera when their name appears -- then fine, it's not your cup of tea. I'll find you squirming in your sofa, no doubt. But it cheers me up immensely, and I salute the excellent scheduling to brighten a chilly November evening.
WRITER: Miranda Hart
DIRECTOR: Juliet May
TRANSMISSION: 15 November 2010, BBC2/HD, 8.30PM