Comedies are more difficult than ever to get right. BBC1 controller Danny Cohen is desperate for the next big studio based sitcom. The BBC’s long lasting sitcom My Family was recently axed (lasted far too long for my liking) and the BBC’s latest comedy hit Mrs. Brown’s Boys isn’t exactly the new Only Fools & Horses, is it?
What makes comedy so difficult? Have we become a nation of comedy snobs? In America sitcoms are culled and commissioned in equal measure but a true hit is rare. What the networks in America want is a sitcom that can go into syndication which means the sitcom gets sold to affiliates who then repeat the show to death in non-prime time slots and the producers sit back and watch the repeat fees roll in.
In the UK we don’t have such a system. The closest we’ve got is perhaps a repeat on Dave or BBC3 but it’s not quite the same. The sitcom is a tricky beast. We seem to love nothing more than comparing the latest comedy effort to those landmark sitcoms that have gone before it. It’s good but it’s hardly The Office is it? I often wonder why some comedy writers bother, the task before them is so mammoth I admire anyone who dares to give it a shot.
One of my favourite comedies in recent memory (and that’s a fairly short list) was Pulling. The BBC3 comedy about three female roommates and their (I hate this word) “dysfunctional” lifestyles. The show ran
for two series and a special on BBC3 and was co-written by Horgan who also starred in a main role. If you’ve not seen Pulling it’s a difficult one to explain, which thinking about it is perhaps why I was so fond of it. It was a show with its own unique voice. It seemed to create a genre of its own. The characters were a believable mix of completely bonkers yet completely true to life. Horgan and co-writer Dennis Kelly created characters I’d never seen before on television. Pulling didn’t fit the mold. It filled its own gap and whilst not as over exposed as other BBC3 comedies of the time, was just as stylistic and brilliant.
You can imagine my giddy excitement when BBC3 announced Horgan had picked up her pen (or opened Microsoft Word again) for a new six-part sitcom with new writing partner Holly Walsh. The series, entitled Dead Boss, isn’t close to Pulling in style but that is not to take anything away from it. Horgan takes the lead as wrongfully impassioned Helen Stephens, who finds herself sentenced to seven years behind bars for the murder of her a boss at a tiling company. Helen doesn’t exactly adjust to prison life. Horgan says “She’s an optimist and she naively thinks that it’ll all work out in the end. As soon as her alibi turns up and as soon as the ridiculous mistake is figured out then everything will be fine so she has that on her side.”
The prison sitcom is nothing new of course but Dead Boss is an interesting new take on the theme. It’s a sitcom full of laugh out loud gags, visual giggles and a lot of plot lines which give the strong comedic cast a chance to shine. Walsh and Horgan have created a real laugh out loud comedy with this. The humour may be daft at times but that’s not to say it’s childish or silly. Once Helen’s predicament is set up in episode one the story development really kicks in and it really starts to show its true potential.
There’s so much going on and a nice little murder mystery element where we find out who is really responsible for the murder. Horgan shines as usual but this is an ensemble piece and everyone gives an equally strong and memorable performance. Jennifer Saunders is wonderful as the ruthless Governor. It’s a quirky role and she plays it brilliantly. In a world of gentle or family centred comedies Dead Boss is a refreshing change with its own voice and offering something different.
Maybe comedy isn’t such a tricky thing after all, maybe all it needs to do is make me laugh and Dead Boss managed this a lot so well done Sharon and Holly and everyone involved!
More on the Show
Read our interview with Sharon Horgan