|written by Matt Morgan; directed by Richard Boden|
starring Rhys Darby, Jack Doolan, Kerry Howard, Katy Wix, Clive Rowe & Jim Moir
They remain unfashionable since The Office blazed its trail, but I'm still partial to multi-camera sitcoms recorded with a live studio audience. I won't bore you with exactly why this is so (most of you will know), but suffice to say they can feel more inclusive and theatrical than single-camera comedies striving for realism. The Fun Police is a very traditional sitcom, with a strong workplace backdrop, full of promising comic actors, but I struggled with it more than I expected to.
The Fun Police takes place in the fictional coastal town of Brightsea, specifically the council's Health & Safety department, which is run by azure-suited Leslie (Flight Of The Conchords' Rhys Darby) and his team: secretary Colette (Kerry Howard) and inspectors Neil (Cemetery Junction's Jack Doolan) and one-handed Toni (Katy Wix). It's a simple setup that means the script, by Russell Brand's radio sidekick Matt Morgan, is free to go off-piste and scribble in the margins, but there was something oddly desperate and undisciplined about this pilot. So much of what worked was down to the performances, as the cast were very committed and, notably in Darby's case, chewed the script with such gusto that their delivery made you giggle more than the words they were actually saying. Howard and Wix are fast-becoming veterans of the Comedy Showcase season, and both deserve to be given a funny role in a hit sitcom, but I'm not sure The Fun Police is it.
It's silly and loud, but I found it got tiresome surprisingly quickly, despite the fact I was willing this to work. I'd love there to be more madcap British comedies like Father Ted and The IT Crowd, if only to redress an imbalance we have just now, but those aforementioned shows are marked by endearing characters and clever, witty jokes. I can barely remember any gags in The Fun Police and didn't find any of the characters very personable. It was all quite bludgeoning, really. And that's a shame, because the premise is good (Health & Safety's quite topical, too) and the cast were fun to watch. Maybe it should be given a series, like Chickens, if only to find its feet and have time for the characters to mellow and deepen slightly.
One downside of live studio comedy is how actors, aware they're working from a flawed script deep down, try to compensate by overacting. In a nutty comedy like this, that approach can work in the show's favour sometimes, but it's not long before most people are thirsting for a really clever observation, a brilliant line, a witty turn-of-phase, or a sight gag you find yourself giggling about the next day. Something, basically, to make you recommend the show to friends and give you a feeling there's something worth persevering with, even if there were obvious issues that need fixing.
I didn't find have that feeling watching The Fun Police, but it's the kind of show I'm inclined to get behind and want to give a chance to blossom. Matt Morgan's an astute person, having heard him banter with Russell Brand on Radio 2 to good effect, but it remains to be seen if he can harness his natural wit and funnel it into rounded scripts with characters that demonstrate more warmth and nuance than this pilot achieved.
16 September 2011 / Channel 4