Did we like it?
Unfunny but imaginative, derivative but comfortably familiar – perhaps this is the way that sitcoms will now seek to seep into the consciousness so that distinctive series become a single amorphous blur of quaint humour. And that sums Lab Rats up; the first episode was enjoyable but only because we felt we’d seen it somewhere before, and were sporadically gripped by its quirky imagination – it could be the next Father Ted or it could be the latest corpse dropped into the mass grave dug for Only Fools & Horses spin offs.
What was good about it?
· The Thick of It’s Chris Addison, as Dr Alex Beenyman, carries a hell of a lot of good will into this sitcom in which both stars and co-wrote. Right from the off amid the mire of rushing-to-please diluted quips and stampeding character introduction, Addison’s talent glows – his timing, delivery and pauses all make a mockery of his single glimmer of renown being founded on The Thick of It. He probably will never be known as “Lab Rats”’ Chris Addison, but that’s only because he will achieve greater things in the future.
· It is derivative of so many other comedies the risk is losing any sense of identity. This will hopefully fade in future episodes, but Cara is the Father Dougal/Baldrick-esque clot who tried to power a calculator run on lemons – eventually using a huge lemon that recalled Baldrick’s giant turnip from Blackadder The Third; and Brian is the cynical lab assistant who fulfils a more peripheral Arnold J Rimmer role of disagreeable cynic.
·But the most promising characters were Professor Mycroft and the Dean, Mieke Miedama, who engage in a relentless duel, almost detaching themselves into their own weekly sub-plot. And Mieke had perhaps the funniest line – amid wan competition – about the reason she keeps a lit-up light bulb in a metal tin on her desk: “It frightens me.” And her chair seems to have been purchased from Death Row.
·The Russian professor who wanted the lab rats to remedy his cloning experiment of his grandmother perhaps epitomised how this series might pan out. Initially, Dr Kyrtisteigys (Curtis Steigers, a colleague was named phonetically Billy Ray Cyrus) mannerisms really grated, but gradually his way of elongating syllables became almost endearing and amusing.
· The film references were hardly as subtle or ingenious as Spaced or The League of Gentlemen, but they did propel the plot along and provide a few throwaway one-liners such as when Dr Beenyman bemoaned, “Snails! Why’d it have to be snails?” before revolving to reveal a pack of the shelled molluscs affixed to his back.
What was bad about it?
· Not being privy to the vagaries of getting a comedy commissioned on TV, we can only guess at the crumbling compromise writers must succumb to in order to please the executives – who are to TV what the Spanish Inquisition was to tolerance in the middle-ages – but some of the ropey gags that flew wildly off the script like wood chippings dilute the impact of the blithely surreal situations exemplified these concessions, most notably the pink lab coat and the associated “gay hair” of Dr Beenyman – not offensive, they just sound as if they’d been dreamt up with the aid of a mood board.
· Another concession was the bane of the modern sitcom – canned laughter. If this was shown at 8.30pm on a Monday, it might be more understandable as it would act as a mirth alert to the inherited braindead EastEnders audience, who mostly have to be told when to breathe let alone laugh. It really does sound like a thousand metal hearts rattling inside a stitched leather torso.