Originally part of Channel 4's Comedy Showcase season, Felix & Murdo was instead held back as a festive treat, and this pilot was decent enough to justify a full series next year. Written by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly), this studio-based sitcom is set in 1908 and revolves around banker/inventor Felix (Ben Miller) and rich toff Murdo (Alexander Armstrong), two "modern" housemates who live with their butler Archie (Marek Larwood). There was an undeniably confidence to this half-hour, perhaps because Nye's a veteran of writing sitcoms and its eponymous double-act are effectively reprising their "posh pals" act they've been doing for many, many years. The gags were hit-and-miss, and sometimes the comedy came from very obvious places (lots of anachronisms), but for the most part it had a snappy charm.
Much of its success was down to the cast. While nothing here was a stretch for Armstrong and Miller, they're very capable performers and know how to calibrate a performance in front of a live studio audience. There was also good support from Larwood as the long-suffering butler, Katy Wix as Felix's fiancé (who won't have sex with him before marriage), and particularly the brilliant Georgina King as Felix's suffragette sister Winnie (who, rather like Daisy Haggard, has the perfect funny/pretty face for comedy). More than anything, I wanted to spend time with these actors again, if only so the writing can perhaps become less manic and the characters get some time to mellow and grow. It was all a little too frantically paced at times, although that nixed any potential for boredom setting in.
As with every historical sitcom, it'll be compared unfavourably to the classic Blackadder saga, but this appeared to be going more for Father Ted-style strangeness and sight gags (like the reveal of a street urchin handing money out from inside an "automated" cash dispenser, or the presence of a Mrs Doyle analog in Mrs Snivel the bank clerk), with a slightly unnecessary tendency to suddenly go very crude. A hangover from Nye's days on Men Behaving Badly, no doubt. I'm not against rudeness, but for some reason it felt misplaced to be mentioning various sexual acts in a show like Felix & Murdo—perhaps because we associate the Edwardian age with impeccable manners. I think allusions and euphemisms would be funnier, but others may disagree and find its raunchier nature refreshing.
Overall, I really want Felix & Murdo to succeed, so we need to see more and hope Simon Nye improves on this confident but uneven start. As a defender of the "old-fashioned studio sitcom" format, it's about time we had one that reminded people of why they were previously so popular up until the late-'90s. It's the communal feeling they evoke, in what's essentially live theatre that's being televised, with actors tailoring their performance based on live feedback from real people watching. When it's done right, it's still a pleasure. Let's hope Channel 4 give the go-ahead for more Felix & Murdo, which definitely deserves a chance to blossom.
written by Simon Nye / directed by Christine Gernon / 28 December 2011 / Channel 4