For once the term “All Star” is fully justified. As this new sketch show progressed, the stars simply kept coming, from Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer to Steve Coogan, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, Morwenna Banks, Fiona Allen, Richard Wilson, Meera Syal, Tim Healey, Angus Deayton, Patsy Kensit, Ronnie Corbett and Ronni Ancona. It’s doubtful if such a line-up has ever been seen outside of a Comic Relief night. The trouble is that it wasn’t very funny – in fact it was an object lesson in the fact that Big Names don’t necessarily mean Big Laughs.
The problem, as with BBC1’s bizarre Revolver, lay mainly in the writing, which is surprising given that the credits include Caroline Aherne, Vic and Bob, and the Little Britain team of Lucas and Walliams. As it was, the sketches – three Geordie astronauts checking that they had their lunch-boxes before take-off, Syal as a vet receiving randy love-letters from her prisoner-fiancée, Linda Robson more interested in the police finding her contact lens than her husband’s corpse – were uninspired, a series of unexceptional ideas written up in a competent but lacklustre way.
The performances, sadly, matched the sketches – competent but with about as much spark as a spent Swan Vesta. The best of the show came from veteran Ronnie Corbett, using sheer skill and effort to make something of a dire piece about a postman being blamed for starting World War Two. Next to him, Coogan and Ancona played it cool (with rubbish West Country accents) and came across as simply not having warmed up.
There were highlights, notably a Jane Austen takeoff in which Banks and Kensit fired salvos of sexual innuendo at a bemused Don Warrington (Rising Damp). But that, and Vic Reeves’ Pinocchio-style nose being rattled along a ladder, were the only really good laughs in an otherwise mirthless 30 minutes.
How did it happen? In a word, clout. With its A-list cast and writer credits, and executive producers Coogan, Normal, Reeves and Mortimer, the All Star show reeks of the New Comedy Aristocracy ringing each other up to suggest an untaxing little project that celeb-obsessed TV bosses won’t be able to resist. For ITV, the lesson should be – yet again – that just signing up the names isn’t enough; you have to get them to make good programmes, too.