Things began promisingly, with an amusing spoof of The Killing (hearing "Phantom Flan Flinger" spoken in a Danish accent made me giggle anyway), and a wise move to have Henry acknowledge that many people find him irritating. The quality of comedy in this half-hour wasn't great, and it definitely wasn't inspired, but it was functional and sometimes drew laughs from a recess of my brain where a Frank Spencer or Tommy Cooper impression is still a happy event. I have no idea what anyone under the age of 20 would make to the many callbacks to Henry's early career, such as resurrecting '80s character Delbert Wilkins (once a London pirate DJ, now a YouTube "star") or incorrigible ladies man Donovan.
But while there were sketches/jokes that would flop in the eyes of some people, others probably hit their targets: like a sketch with Ronni Ancona poking fun at Twilight (with Birmingham-born Henry as a "Brumpire" and his topless nemesis from "Werewolverhampton"), or the surprisingly funny appearance of Peter Serafinowicz as a white wannabe black man. A joke that may now feel tired, 15 years since Ali G perfected it, but you could tell the unlikely double-act of Henry and Serafinowicz were having good fun together. The show could have used more live studio sketches like that one, really.
British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili also appeared, in a slapstick sketch where two cooks had an "inappropriate fight" in a kitchen, and I could imagine many children being amused by the live-action cartoon violence of sitting on a red-hot stove or people having food stuffed up their nose.
Henry's own stand-up was the most underwhelming aspect of the show, as it was so middle-of-the-road you could see the white lines. One bit, about being jailed for the petty crime of pirating a DVD, has been done so many times before on-stage, by various comedians, that I'm surprised whoever came up with the routine hasn't started legal proceedings against a half-dozen performers. Still, Henry's been working a crowd for nearly 40 years, and he has enough stage presence and confidence to bulldoze his way through weak or naff material. I don't find him a particularly funny person, but I can appreciate he has a stage craft.
Overall, taken as a bite-sized family-focused half-hour, partly there to celebrate the career of a popular entertainer, who's still a rare black face in his particular field, I can't get angry about The One Lenny Henry's existence. It wasn't there to push boundaries or do anything unique and cutting-edge, it was 30-minutes of easygoing jokes and a few sketches to make you smile. I actually found it warmly nostalgic in a sense, especially because of the way it ended with a reworking of a popular pop song (Cee Lo Green's "Forget You"), which was the formula for every show like this back in the day...
6 January 2011 / BBC1