What to say of you liked it
An excruciatingly well observed comedy, written by and starring master funny men Chris Langham and Paul Whitehouse, in which a psychotherapist analyses the problems of the lurid menagerie of his patients.
What to say if you didn’t like it
The tragic comedy equivalent of watching the upturned corpses of ducks being retrieved from a lake after it was blown up by naughty schoolboys.
What was good about it?
• Paul Whitehouse playing numerous distinct characters (see below)
• Chris Langham as the neurotic Peter, who is almost as much in need of therapy as his patients. After convincing the awkward Gary to confront his feelings, on his way out Gary compliments him which causes Peter to clench his fist in joy.
• The comedy is quite dark, exemplified by the racist Italian immigrant who beats up his wife in frustration at his daughter’s inclination to listen to rap and have black friends.
• No canned laughter track.
• The innovative, brave format which largely consists of Peter’s patients simply talking to him about their problems.
What was bad about it?
• Because HELP is a character-based comedy, it hasn’t a chance of becoming hilarious until the audience are more familiar with Peter and the sorry souls and as a result there was little to laugh about in the first episode.
• The Beatles’ Help as the theme tune – predictable and tedious.
Pick of the patients (episode one)
• Clement, who believes his speech defect occurred as a consequence of being buggered “more or less relentlessly” at school. “I don’t lant to be legarded as a cletin.”
• Michael the drug addict who tried to deceive Peter that he could invade other people’s minds such as a roadsweeper (“Broom. Fag. Broom. Crisp packet. Dull.” “I left him with a little thought. Seize control of the means of production. I was only being playful. I think it was probably lost on him.”)
• Monty, a lonely widow who comes to Peter as much for the company as therapy because he’s overwhelmed by having to care about his sick wife – and London’s congestion. “I rang Radio Five Live about the traffic. They were quite rude. They said this is a debate about obesity, so I said ‘The traffic’s dreadful. I’m going to pull over and have a donut’.” On the upside, Monty does know “a cute little shortcut that squirts me out at Hendon.”
• The Scouser: “I have sex on average four or five times a day. Is that normal? With a problem like this, I’m not going to get a great deal of sympathy.” Peter – “No you’re not.”
• Gary the cockney who is only undergoing therapy to please his wife and is quite willing to pay for the sessions but only chat about mundane stuff
• Johnny, the racist wife beater. “When my daughter is doing something bad, I hit my wife because it’s the natural thing to do. Now I can’t lash out, I’m like a lost snail in the night.” Although he came to the country through the asylum system, he hates asylum seekers. “The new seekers, coming over here and taking the micky piss.”
• Louis, who behaved like a dog. “That’s barking mad and I’m not barking mad.”
Pick of the patients (episode two)
• John Hardaker – a camp northern celebrity. He’s fed up being recognised in the street and having people shout out his catchphrase: “Don’t go mad, just a sprinkle.” But Peter doesn’t have a clue who he is and tries various lines of questioning to find out. “If you were on Mars, how would you describe why you’re famous?” John – “A communicator, a facilitator and a friend.” Eventually, Peter gets to the truth – and is hugely disappointed to discover John’s a mere TV chef. And not very happy about having to repeat the catchphrase with the appropriate gesture.
• Monty. The cabbie tells Peter about the customer who defecated in the cab and did a runner – and the reaction of a policeman who told Monty: “If no-one claims it in 10 days, it’s yours.”
• Johnny, the racist wife beater. He brings Peter some stinking salted fish and reveals he’s been dreaming about a smiling donkey. But his violent streak has eased up slightly. “I did hit my wife the other day. She didn’t know what had hit her.”
• Gary who still doesn’t approve of therapy. “Cavemen didn’t bleat about their midlife crises.” Peter – “That’s because they didn’t live past 28.” After discussing cottage pie, Peter drifts off, only to come out of his stupor to hear Gary finishing off talking about “the darkest period of my life.”
• The Welshman. Peter encourages him to sing, and wishes he hadn’t when he has to sit through Edelweiss “Always reminds me of home.”
• Clement, who struggles into the surgery on two sticks, only to be told he’s a day early for his appointment, and tells Peter: “You lemind me very much of my first wife.”
• Rockstars Denny and Les from No Qualms (Peter’s favourite band) who have grown to hate each other after 32 years in the band.
• The murderer. Peter’s reaction to the confession – “That’s very bad.” Patient “I thought you might say that.”
• Louis, who decides to tell his life story in the form of a dance
Pick of the patients (episode 3)
• The Scouser who was useless at word association. First session – river, river; death, death; sex, sex; moon, moon; OK, OK; no, no; stop, stop; wait, wait; shut up, shut up; f**king hell, f**king hell; SHUT UP, shut up. Second session – father, parsnip; mother, potato; sex, asparagus; policeman, cabbage etc.
• Racist wife beater Johnny admits he cut the brakes of his old neighbour’s electric buggy. “That could be very dangerous,” Peter pointed out. “No it’s alright. No-one saw me.” They then get into a does-doesn’t squabble over the existence of the Devil.
• The magician who disappears without paying.
• The middle-aged gay man who is obviously being used by his young lover – an actor who hasn’t worked for eight months but looks like Michaelangelo’s David (although he’s better endowed). But Peter’s client realises the future looks gloomy. “I shall end up an old man with a wardrobe full of young shirts.”
• Gary who becomes convinced his wife is having an affair when Peter suggests it’s not only men who are unfaithful
• Gary’s wife who comes storming in, demanding to know why Peter told her husband she was playing away
• Cabbie Monty who soothes the trouble between Gary and his wife and talks about his latest mishap. “The tyre on the cab decided to pop in Harlesden of all places.”
Pick of the patients (episode 4)
• The Scot who is desperate to quit smoking but is told by Peter he can’t smoke in the surgery. “f**k you, pal. I’ll get help somewhere else.”
• Clement who tells Peter: “My deepest regret is never having had any children.” Peter: “Children?” Clement: “Small people. You must have heard of them.”
• Jonny talking about the size of his penis after seeing a boy with a whopper. “My wife has never complained. Not about that anyway. She complains about everything else. If she did complain about it, she’d get a little smack.”
• The patient who comes in for hypnosis (aka guided mediation). After struggling to go under, he goes into a complete trance, enabling Peter to go to the toilet, sort his mail, complain about the shoes he ordered off the internet and enjoy a cup of tea,
• Freddie who is being taught to be assertiveness and demand a pay rise, but his boss is an Austrian who has a high-pitched voice and a lisp, so Peter has to play the part.
• Howard the mother’s boy. “Ladies are like a foreign country to me and I don’t speak the language and, furthermore, I don’t really like the food. Have you seen the state of the female vagina?”
• Kevin who needs help controlling his violent temper. “I think this is a problem I can best help you with over the phone,” says Peter after suffering a couple of slaps and a punch,
• The father who is having a problem with his daughter Tanya – because he’s really thick and she’s really bright, coming out with statements such as: “I have a problem with pop videos in general. There seems to be a movement within the music industry to sexualise children at an earlier and earlier age. On the one hand, there’s a slightly paternalistic desire to protect children from corrupting influences and yet a flagrant need on the part of men to hold up young women as a paradigm of what’s desirable.”
“Watch your language,” says dad when she says paradigm.
• Kevin and his wife Collette who are upset that fellow patient Monty, who gave them good advice last week, isn’t around to help them further. They both admit to having an affair. Collette’s infidelity particularly excites Peter.: “You’re telling the truth without beating around the… mincing…”
• Terry who thinks he’s black and discriminated against but is really white
Pick of the patients (episode five)
• The man who was undertaking a trust exercise and crashed to the floor because Peter was distracted by receptionist/lust object Rebecca
• Robertson Paul, the American mathematician. Irked Peter by calling maths “math” and zed “zee”. Peter irked him by saying: “I read that people only use 65 per cent of their brain. What are we doing with the other 45 per cent?” Robertson talked about his obsession with his subject. “It’s an abyss and I’ve spent the last six months teetering on the brink of that abyss. Do you know what I’m afraid of?” Peter suggested heights. “I’m scared I’m going to disappear into my own mind and not find a way out.”
• Freddie the posh guy whose session was interrupted by building noise from next door
• Bradley who hadn’t spoken during the previous six sessions. Peter tried to guess his problem. “Size of your…, fear of bats, curtains, sandwiches, going bald, psychiatrists, dentists…”
• Scottish madman “I sense a cow in here. No, it’s gone. Thank the lord.”
• Johnny. Accused Peter of being afraid of black people. But Peter insisted he was not and he got on well with his black neighbour – a lawyer.
• Monty. “You want me to be angry. I know that’s the modern way. Let’s all shout and be angry. No, it’s rude and selfish.”
Pick of the patients (episode six)
• Man with Tourette’s. “We call it f**k shit syndrome.”
• Rocker Michael who was encouraged to do a roleplay exercise in which he spoke with his dead father about something other than knots. It all got out of hand: Michael discovered he was the Crown Prince of Wessex and he turned on Peter before going with his father down the pub.
• Spencer who has too much on his plate. Does he give up fishing (which gives him a strong erection every time he mentions it) or dancing (which fails to stir his lions)?
• Monty. Reported that there was a terrible snarl-up in Chiswick – and wife Rose had died.
• The angry Scot. ” I could batter you just for speaking. What should I do?” Peter – “Moving back to Scotland springs to mind.”
• The wife who has read all the self-help books and talks non-stop
• Gary. Revealed he had recommitted to his marriage. “We knelt down in front of the telly.” He also sussed out Peter. “You’re kind, a bit misguided and uncomfortable about sex. You are a bit like a vicar.”
• Johnny. He denies Peter’s suggestion that he’s scared of his wife. “She’s ugly. Looks like Madonna. Diego Madonna. The cocaine thug.” He’s been trying to better himself by reading. He started off with erotic novel The Story Of O. “It should be The Story Of Ooh. Or Ow!”