Did we like it?
Paul Merton is a national treasure and the format is innovative and ripe for comedy, but it mostly fell flat because the format has a number of crippling defects.
What was good about it?
• Paul Merton’s sketch in which he played a butler to a posh couple luxuriating in their country home was the best sketch of the six, and even that only had one moment of brilliance. This was when the lady asked Merton “Why did you fall out with the housekeeper?” “’Cause she stinks!” Merton replied. “Why did you fall out with Mrs Rodriguez, the housekeeper?” the lady repeated. “No, she doesn’t stink as that would be racist!” Merton backtracked.
• It’s always good to see Paul Merton on TV, championing a comedy cause. We’re just sorry it isn’t a funnier programme.
What was bad about it?
• With Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the obvious antecedent, much of the humour was derived from Clive Anderson giving the performers, who often included Paul Merton, a starting point from where they would embark on a more-often-than-not hilarious improvised flight of fancy confined by nothing more than the limits of their imagination.
• But here, the strict scenario into which each of the contestants is dumped doesn’t allow for this. The actors, who do a decent job with what they’ve got, are contracted not to follow the whim or wit of the performer but to remain resolutely adhered to the prescribed path and this leads to a staccato effect of unnatural conversation making it more resemble a job interview than a comedy sketch.
• Playing a World War Two RAF air marshal Clive Anderson could make a genuinely funny quip about why his squadron were launching an attack on Germany in 1988, only for the script-jacketed actors to awkwardly bring it back to the World War Two story. Or when Michael McIntyre, playing the captain of an incompetent cruise ship, responded to a disgruntled passenger request for “nannies”, he took it to mean nanny goats and scoffed, “this isn’t Noah’s Ark”, but again his invention was stymied by the actors dragging him back to the mundane concerns of the passengers, breaking the little wave of comedic flow McIntyre had started.
• Or in Merton’s sketch when the lord of the manor asks him about his “new uniform”, Merton responds that it should be “an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress with a blonde wig”, to which the lord responds, “let’s break this formality”.
• Merton seems to have been instructed – on pain of series cancellation – to emphasise that “just to conform, none of you have any idea what’s going on” by the ITV1 truth police, even if a little preparation would enhance the laughs. It’s an open secret that Have I Got News For You, QI, Buzzcocks etc all have a certain amount of stage-management, but as long as it doesn’t seem too rehearsed, such as Phill Jupitus roaring with laughter after a pop singer has limply delivered one of their fed lines or William Shatner’s appearance on the awful Space Cadets, it doesn’t matter as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief in the same way you would for Doctor Who or the Coronation Street conveyor belt of death.
Paradise Or Bust, BBC2
Did we like it?
It’s got lovely scenery, a few mildly engaging people and some testing challenges – but, perhaps because you get swallowed by the somnolent surroundings, it is all just a little dull.
What was good about it?
• Becki Hunter, an actress hired by entrepreneur Ben to provide website updates to both customers and potential customers of the eco-village. She seemed quite lonely on the island with just Ben and his brother as fellow westerners, and so spilled out most of her concerns to the camera.
• And this was no forced ‘confessional’ self-promoting, forced gobbledygook, what she said to the camera seemed truthful as she had no one else to talk to.
• The enthusiasm of joint founder Ben Keene who waded through the mango swamps and forests of Vorovoro with the same sanguine self-assurance as the quagmire of financial meltdown, gaily stepping over the quicksand of liquidation with a merry quip and a smile.
• The lovely, lovely scenery of the Fijian island of Vorovoro.
• The most educational parts were those depicting the way of life of the Fijian islanders whether it is preparing a feast to mark the amalgamation of the two tribes of native populace and wide-eyed westerners (which involved the slaughter and cooking of a squealing pig), the peculiar sign in the marketplace that said ‘No spitting’, the building timber and water tanker being tossed into the shallows 50 metres out to sea and dragged on to the shore or the clearing of the land to build the toilets on which began with a phalanx of muscular men hacking away with their machetes harking back to a less technological era only to be usurped moments later by a Fijian with a lawnmower.
What was bad about it?
• Very little seemed to actually happen. This meant that minor events, such as the bizarre hunt for a whale’s tooth in the local market, were stretched out like a heathen on a medieval rack way past the point when your attention snapped like dislocated kneecaps.
• While the scenery was lovely, there did seem to be rather too much of it compensating for the sense of inertia to suit the contrived pacing of this opening episode so that it could culminate with the arrival of the first paying tribes people.
• Becki’s dad, who from what we saw at the airport on her departure, is the least supportive father since Darth Vader about her plans to journey to Fiji to help set up the enterprise. “I think she’s making a massive mistake,” he glumly opined. Becki said: “What my dad said crushed me. It’s really horrible.”
• With next episode previews for such shows, it always promises far worse calamities than actually occur – so as the narrator muttered darkly of conflict on the island it was accompanied by images of smoke in the sky, while the supposedly perilous finances of Ben were again highlighted with such ominous overtures that you imagine that they are battling disasters more potent than those that caused the collapse of the Roman Empire.