Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: THE FUNCTION ROOM – 'Meet the Police'

Monday, 20 August 2012

Another sitcom initially announced as part of 2011's Comedy Showcase, before being unceremoniously dropped from the schedule, The Function Room now arrives as part of Channel 4's "Funny Fortnight" season. Like Verry Terry, one assumes this is a back-door pilot for a series if the response is favourable, and it certainly made enough of a positive impression on me.

The Function Room cast a veritable who's who of modern British comedy talent: Friday Night Dinner's Paul Ritter, The Inbetweeners' Blake Harrison, Eric & Ernie's Daniel Rigby, The Vicar of Dibley's James Fleet, Psychoville's Reece Shearsmith, and The Fast Show's Simon Day. I was expecting the high celebrity quotient to be masking poor material, but BAFTA-winning Daniel Maier's script was appropriately silly and benefited immensely from the show's multi-camera, live studio audience format. I've had my fill of mockumentaries and single-camera comedy, so it felt refreshing to watch a style of sitcom that underpinned my formative years watching British comedy.

The only worry is how much The Function Room felt like a one-off special; as one would assume more episodes would struggle under the constraint of telling stories about a bunch of people meeting above a pub. There are surely only so many functions of a function room, and it might stretch credibility if the same characters were to always be participating in whatever activity was happening. Unless the idea is to have a different cast every week, with just a few recurring characters linking it together—like Marek Larwood's gormless barman and Day's pub know-all. Then again, restriction tends to breed creativity. You'll have to ask Daniel Maier what his plan is, should Channel 4 request more.

For now, The Function Room struck me as a good one-off. The basis of the episode was a "meet the police" event with Inspector Tony Marks (Kevin Eldon) addressing the local community, who were more keen to unmask the identity of a local menace known as the "Shit Egg Killer" (a miscreant who lobs compacted balls of faecal matter through people's windows). Marks and his loquacious beat cop PC Kelly Mink (Jessica Knappett) struggled to give their intended presentation, such was the strength of public feeling about the turd-throwing delinquent, and the show quickly dissolved into a murder-mystery as the finger of suspicion fell on various members of the community—from jittery amateur sleuth Yannick (Rigby), to semi-retired actor Arthur Marvin (Fleet), and outcast local couple the Jippeaux's (pronounced "gypos").

It was a fun, frothy half-hour sitcom; brilliantly performed by a starry cast, whose efforts helped raise a script that occasionally got stuck in a rut. I'm not convinced there's mileage in the very limited concept, but Maier (a writer on Harry Hill's TV Burp) certainly proved he can tickle funnybones and, most importantly, managed to create a handful of characters you enjoyed watching. And that's a critical thing many sitcoms forget about these days, as the main thing that's going to lure viewers back is how much they enjoy watching these people. I'd certainly take a seat for a hypothetical second session in the function room, if another event was booked...

written by Daniel Maier / directed by Barbara Wiltshire / 19 August 2012 / Channel 4