Luke on TV returns! With Pulling, Perrin, The Unloved and a US TV autumn preview

Now I don’t know whose to blame for the lack of really decent comedies on TV of late. Of course there are a few exceptions namely The Inbetweeners, Outnumbered, The IT Crowd, Peep Show and the cruelly axed BBC1 sitcom Not Going Out but where are the gems?

Perhaps its lack of good writers or that networks nowadays are taking the risks as much choosing instead to going with another celebrity-based reality series. I do worry that British television is becoming just as cutthroat and ruthless as American TV where things are axed the moment the ratings drop.

The BBC’s latest attempt on the comedy front is, of course, a rehash of 1970s sitcom The Fall And Rise of Reginald Perrin but, for our short attention spans in 2009, they’ve named it more simply as Reggie Perrin. This is a novel thing nowadays in as much as its filmed in front of a studio audience. For some reason, people tend to look down on this as old fashioned but it never bothered us in the 1980s with programmes such as Only Fools & Horses or in the 1990s with I’m Alan Partridge.

Of course, comedies have evolved a bit with series such as the Royle Family and The Office and even zany hospital series Green Wing. These shows abandoned the studio format because the series would not have suited them but I have no problem with the traditional sitcom feel if the programme in question makes me laugh as much as the audience who saw it live.

Reggie Perrin is a series that really wouldn’t right without the live audience feel. It’s written original writer David Nobbs and Men Behaving Badly’s Simon Nye. With Martin Clunes in the lead role as the increasingly disillusioned Reggie, it’s bound to be of interest to most but the problem is for every gag that works and actually produces a laugh there are 10 more that don’t even warrant a smile and it makes me feel like each little witty comment is being forced upon me. Plus, Reggie is the only believable character in a land of caricatures.

The BBC obviously has high hopes for it though, taking the almost unheard of step of repeating it on the following night in another primetime slot. So if you forget to you record it with your recordable DVD player, set your PVR or watch it via the iPlayer, you can just watch the next night!

Its criminal that something genuinely funny Not Going Out should get the chop when there is such a weak supply of comedy now. We used to be able to comedy better than anyone – Porridge, Rising Damp, One Foot in the Grave, Men Behaving Badly and I’m Alan Partridge all manage to stand the test of time but we seem worryingly unable to create comedy series that are relevant and, most importantly, really funny of late.

As I say Outnumbered, The Inbetweeners and Peep Show are the exception but even they are never guaranteed a recommission when lame ducks like My Family and Reggie Perrin are clogging up the schedule. America suffers from a slightly worse problem: sitcoms come and go quicker than busses. The American networks haven’t had a true comedy hit since Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond finished and they were on their last legs by the end of their 10 and nine year runs.

Networks keep trying and failing with their sitcoms in America with the death rate far higher than in the UK. The main problem with the majority of current US sitcoms is they are all based around the same scenarios with single fathers raising their children, or sex obsessed friends trying to emulate the success of series like Sex and the City or Friends. Other series such as My Name is Earl, Scrubs and The Office are limping along and they won’t be long for the chop.

Speaking of things going in and out of the schedules before American TV becomes awash with repeats for the summer, the major networks have announced their new autumn (fall) lineups. I’ve never completely understood how the networks seasons work unlike our TV where a series will air for six weeks and then get replaced with another six-week series. American TV seems to dash between repeats and new episodes and it gets quite confusing. For NBC the surprise returns include American football based drama Friday Night Lights which has been struggling along quietly for a few years. It even faced the chop but its loyal fans kept it on the air.

Another surprise return for the peacock network is surreal action series Chuck which has also been close to the axe. NBC really wants Chuck to be a hit; they’ve spent a lot on advertising campaigns and gave it this years prestigious slot after the Superbowl but even that hasn’t made it the hit they’ve been hoping for.

I often criticise US TV execs for canceling things too soon but in the case of Chuck and Friday Night Lights NBC appears to be bucking the trend and, although neither show is must see in my household, it is commendable that a network is listening to the fans that are there and keeping them happy. Notable series that have either been cancelled or come to their natural end include once-big NBC ratings winner My Name is Earl, Medium, The Thursday night staple ER and the heavily publicised but badly executed Knight Rider which never needed to be remade for the noughties.

On ABC, the axe has fallen on Eli Stone and Pushing Daises which was another that never really caught on despite all the hype that the network tried to muster. Another surprise axe is Samantha Who which had a loyal following and I always secretly enjoyed. The Jim Belushi sitcom According to Jim has been finally been put out of its painful misery after years of below par jokes.

No real surprise returns for ABC: Desperate Housewives, the ever popular Dancing with the Stars and the final series of Lost will return. Perhaps the only real gamble for ABC is the odd choice to bring Who Wants to be a Millionaire back to primetime. When this started back in 1999, it became an American obsession and ABC cashed in, airing almost nightly but the public got so sick of it being shoved in their faces that it drifted into a syndicated slot with the big black chair being occupied by various nondescript hosts. They are bringing it back, though, with original American host Regis Philbin to celebrate its 10th anniversary and, while it could be of interest to some, I think the majority of have had their fill of the series and that’ll be their final answer.

Rupert Murdoch’s network Fox has renewed the usual suspects, too, with The Simpsons, 24, House and this year’s big hit Lie to Me. Series that we’ve seen the last of include Prison Break and Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles which, despite the big budget and big push behind it, hasn’t taken off. New series for Fox include the highly anticipated Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show and the heavily hyped Glee which Fox is hoping will be their new golden goose, even putting it on straight after American Idol which is the best slot at the moment.

Speaking of series that have been ended before their time, BBC3’s amazing comedy Pulling tied up all its loose ends with an hour-long special. With a schedule littered with Two Pints of Lager and Freaky Eaters, the Sharon Horgan sitcom was one of the best things to come from BBC3 since its launch.

The great thing about Pulling is that its never afraid to push boundaries. It reminds me of the great early days of Shameless where you were never sure where it was going but the ride was always fun. Among the twists, this final episode featured a man jumping out of hot air balloon and ending up in a coma, a man tied to a chair with tampons stuffed in each ear, and Donna posing as an escort to get into a swanky London club.

I’ve loved Pulling since the start and had high hopes for this bittersweet finale. It lived up to them and I’ll even admit screaming with laughter in places. I guess if It has to end there was no better way. I loved it but I can’t help think what a shame it is that something so genuinely funny and relevant should be axed when we find it so difficult to produce decent comedies.

BBC3 execs are so desperate to stick to their demographic of young adults and I guess Pulling didn’t fit perfectly into that brief but this was one of the best hours of television I’ve watched in a while. Even though the conclusion was left open, I’m grateful Sharon and Co were given the chance to give the series the end it deserved.

I love my TV. People think its odd that I love to talk about TV and that I know what’s coming before it arrives or that I get a little fed up when something I’m looking forward to isn’t up to standard but every once in a while (and it’s quite sparse this year) something airs on television that is so fantastic I feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

Luckily for me I have this column as I’ve been banned of getting on the roof by the local authority and I’m not insured for it anyway. The programme in question this time though was Channel 4’s stunning drama The Unloved. The story followed 11-year-old Lucy as she traveled through the childcare system, suffered in a children’s home and struggled in a world where no one even seems to notice she existed. Of course, this was a hard-going and bleak two hours but strangely beautiful as well. I’ve never quite come across anything on the TV quite like it. Dialogue was quite sparse but when the characters did interact it felt so real and natural that you almost forgot this was a drama. Actress Samantha Morton directed and based the story on her own experience as a young girl in care and I think this is why this felt so heartbreaking as it was done so sensitively by someone who knew their subject matter inside out.

The direction was so wonderfully done that the dialogue-free scenes were even more engrossing as you really believed the characters and their torment. The real star of the piece though was young newcomer Molly Windsor who almost moved me to tears with her gentle yet extremely powerful performance. It didn’t matter that we spent a lot of time watching Lucy walking down roads or riding on the bus because the performance drew you in and you forgot no one had spoken for 20 minuets. I don’t feel articulate enough to express how much I was moved, surprised and shocked by this drama and urge anyone with a TV to see it.

So what do you think? Was The Unloved worthy of my praise? Are you surprised by any of the recent US cancellations? Feel free to pass on your opinions below.

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One thought on “Luke on TV returns! With Pulling, Perrin, The Unloved and a US TV autumn preview

  1. I find it bizarre that someone can bemoan a dearth of US comedy with one breath and then claim The Office is ‘limping along’ with another.

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