Charlie Brooker's hilarious spoof crime thriller A TOUCH OF CLOTH debuted three years ago, and yet these are only the fifth and sixth episodes. That's slow-going even by usual British standards, but the "less is more" adage rings truer for spoofs than other genres. 1982 U.S comedy Police Squad! was infamously axed after just six half-hours, and I've always partly believed it's because this brand of humour gets wearying after awhile. When jokes are so dense, audiences crave some breathing space after awhile, so A Touch of Cloth's best creative decision has been to only produce two hours a year.
Not much has changed for maverick cop Jack Cloth (John Hannah) and his partner DI Anne Oldman (Suranne Jones) for this latest case, beyond the latter developing a drink problem that compels her to drink flushed vodka from a toilet bowl and squeeze spillage from pub beer mats. The only big difference is the addition of newcomer Kerry Newblood (Doctor Who's Karen Gillan) as an ingénue fresh from the academy, with a tendency to drop papers, who's taken under the wing of DC Des Hairihan (Adrian Bower). The bond over firing range practise ("two in the same hole... I've only ever seen that in a video.")
A Touch of Cloth continues to improve with every special, and it feels like Brooker and the writers are now in full swing. A great deal owes a debt to the trailblazing work of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who practically created this brand of comedy in the 1980s with Airplane! and The Naked Gun, but why not take inspiration from that trio when modern spoofs are horrendously lazy films that simply parody the latest pop-culture hits? A Touch of Cloth is easily the funniest spoof I've seen in a good few decades, and has done a great job adapting this very American style to a British setting and tastes. There are lots of clever nods to the conventions of gritty city thrillers, but also parochial murder-mysteries.
One of the best thing about this genre is the replay value, as there's always some background detail you miss the first time, or a particularly funny joke you don't actually have time to savour because another one's stolen your attention. A Touch of Cloth must crank out an average of eight jokes per minute, which is most than some sitcoms manage in a whole half-hour. And if there's a clunker, who cares? The hits are more memorable than the misses, and sometimes the sheer idiocy of the duds can be amusing in themselves.
"Too Cloth for Comfort" was funnier than the previous two specials, although the storyline was probably the least interesting and the plotting slightly rougher. It felt like it existed just so John Hannah could play his own murdered twin brother Terry, but I don't really care. You don't watch this show for the ingenuity of the story, you just want something fairly engaging to hang lots of top-quality jokes onto. A Touch of Cloth III had that in spades. I particularly liked the Top Secret!-inspired trick of perspective with a giant wine bottle, or the grossest autopsy scene ever committed to film.
If I had to be critical, the self-referential jokes where characters suddenly have an awareness of the fact they're on a TV show tend to be overused (and take me out of the show's "reality"), but beyond that these were two more funny hours of a show I hope isn't over... although the fake preview clips for the next special, culminating with THE END written on Jack Cloth's buttocks, suggests Charlie Brooker's ready to move on