The jokes in Frank Skinner’s new sitcom, about a taxi driver who feels life is passing him by, were so typical of his humour on Baddiel And Skinner: Unplanned, that this was almost Frank Skinner: Planned. The drawback is that more elaborate humour is expected of a sitcom rather than two witty blokes on a sofa.
The scene-setting opening was painful. A succession of awful puns and extended gags about American TV audiences, Tarzan’s primate pal Cheetah and wasteful conversations (if a tree falls out of earshot does it make a sound?) initially indicated a dreadful working class My Family.
The cause wasn’t aided by the sparing use of Shane’s wife Myrtle (Elizabeth Berrington) who delivered great comic timing yet only really appeared in this scene. Meanwhile, Shane’s son Lenny (Tony Bignell) was let down by lines that made him appear as a huge irritant rather than the precocious 11-year-old he is supposed to be.
Shane’s daughter Velma (Kelly Scott) appeared as nothing more than a plot device after she brings home her American pal Audrey, a beautiful blonde, who confounds Frank’s lowly expectations of her appearance to set up the storyline.
And that was pretty much all that was seen of Shane’s family, which was unusual for the start of a new show. This was largely because the story was a spoof of American Beauty which concentrated on Audrey tempting middle-aged Shane with lines such as “You don’t look old enough to be Velma’s dad” and then asking him to meet her the next evening. The spoof was spoiled by the characters actually talking about American Beauty, as if the viewers won’t be literate enough to spot the comic references. The best of these was in a fantasy dream sequence when Shane bursts in on the alluring Audrey in the bath, where she is covered in pickled onions.
And this was one of a number of great visual gags that compensated for the earlier excruciating puns, notably Shane opening the fridge to cool his engorged amorous ardour after Audrey propositions him. And later Shane accompanies his distraught colleague Bazza (David Schneider) to the vet’s where his dog is very ill. Shane tells Bazza that if his dog survives, he will go through with his liaison with Audrey; if the mutt dies, he will remain faithful to Myrtle. The camera focuses on the American vet as he solemnly informs Bazza that his dog didn’t survive the operation, off screen there is the sound of inconsolable whimpering. The camera then cuts to Shane sobbing on Bazza’s shoulder. However, the vet tells them that he was only jesting as part of an American festival to play as many practical jokes on people as they can. This makes Shane fear that Audrey’s interest in him is one of her own jokes and decides not to meet her.
Unfortunately for Shane, Audrey was serious and she waited in futility for him to arrive on their illicit date. And it was a good thing he didn’t as this would have meant the end of Shane’s marriage as well as the end of the series, and, despite a weak opening, there was enough wit in the script to suggest it could get better. The real acid test will come in establishing the cast – Bazza and Myrtle (what we saw of her) were great foils for Shane, but his children weren’t on screen long enough to form any definite impressions.