Shiny Shelf

Early Doors

By Eddie Robson on 11 May 2003

It’s a mark of just how long a shadow ‘The Royle Family’ still casts over its co-writer Craig Cash that I haven’t seen a single review of his new show, ‘Early Doors’, that draws any comparison with ‘Cheers’. Anybody else writing a sitcom set entirely in a pub would struggle to distinguish themselves from what is probably still the most successful TV comedy series the world has ever seen, but with Cash all anybody wants to talk about is that show where they all sat around watching telly and nothing ever happened.

‘Early Doors’ is inescapably cut from the same cloth as ‘The Royle Family’. It’s set among working-class and lower-middle-class folk in the north-west of England; there’s no laugh track; it’s dimly lit. Most of all the humour is very dry indeed, relying on the viewer picking up on the characters’ quirks and contradictions, and the contrast between how they are and how they see themselves.

This means that, like ‘The Royle Family’, you’re sometimes supposed to laugh at the characters and for this reason it will inevitably fall prey to the same accusations of condescension. Personally it doesn’t bother me (I refer the reader to the words of Joel Coen, defending ‘Fargo’ from similar criticisms: ’sometimes the more shmucky [your characters] are, the more you like them’). To its credit, though, none of the characters strike me as being re-treads of the Royles (it helps that Cash himself is the only cast member to appear in both).

As a comedy-drama, though, ‘Early Doors’ falls between two stools. It does provide more than a few laughs during the half-hour but it isn’t as funny as a traditional filmed-in-front-of-a-live-studio-audience sitcom, largely because it wants to be more realistic than one of those. However, it’s too short on incident to work purely as a drama, and it actually isn’t as funny as sharply written dramas like ‘This Life’ and ‘Six Feet Under’.

It would be nice if we could shake off the preconception (reinforced by American imports) that dramas last about an hour and comedies last half-an-hour. I reckon ‘Early Doors’ would work better if each episode had a slightly stronger narrative and became a drama-with-jokes rather than a sitcom: by sticking it in its Monday night comedy zone BBC2 is certainly pitching it as the latter. It may be well-observed, well-acted and well-made, but that doesn’t make it compelling.

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By Eddie Robson

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