I note from this week’s TV guide that Channel 4 has elected to move ‘Six Feet Under’, quite possibly the best television series ever made, from an already-rather-late 11:05pm slot to a graveyard-esque 11:35pm slot. And what, pray tell, is this move in aid of? It’s to accommodate a new series of long-running light-hearted kitsch pornography show ‘Eurotrash’, a show which certainly doesn’t belong on Tuesday nights, or arguably on television at all.
There is obvious scope here for another of my trademark bitter rants about modern television scheduling, but on reflection the world doesn’t need another of those: you, the reader, can be trusted to draw your own conclusions. Instead, let’s celebrate something good on the channel, in the form of ‘Green Wing’.
Channel 5 recently outbid 4 for the ‘Friends’ spin-off ‘Joey’: this was a watershed in 4’s dominance over US imports. With ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier’ over, there are few new comedies on US TV which you can see crossing over to a British audience (possibly ‘Two and a Half Men’ if somebody sees fit to pick it up), leaving 4 with just ‘Will & Grace’ (averagely popular, but not actually very good) and ‘Scrubs’.
Accordingly, 4 appears to be making a move towards building Friday night around home-grown series, which is no bad thing – especially since the imports it has acquired in recent years have been quite shabbily treated, with many great shows being shunted into late-night slots… oh darn it, there I go again. I could bite my tongue out.
So, yes, ‘Green Wing’. The influence of ‘Scrubs’ is clear – it’s a surreal comedy set in a hospital – but it has a different sensibility and structure. It doesn’t have the occasional sentimental moments of ‘Scrubs’, it’s more languid (cribbing much of its visual style from ‘Jam’), and the hand of its creator (‘Smack the Pony’ writer-producer Victoria Pile) is evident in its sketch-like nature. There are loose plots running through the episodes, but the essence of it is that each scene is built around a gag, rather than furthering the plot over a series of funny lines.
So, I hear a significant proportion of you cry, why not just make a sketch show? The same thought initially occurred to me, but as the series has gone on the advantages of its format have become increasingly apparent. We’re now midway through the series and, as the characters develop, the humour that arises from them feels more natural, as it does in a good sitcom. With each episode being an hour long rather than the usual half-hour, the cast can be larger than usual, and it appears to contain at least one person from every British comedy of the past ten years (‘Brass Eye’, ‘Coupling’, ‘Black Books’, ‘Hippies’, ‘The Armando Iannucci Shows’, ‘The Book Group’, ‘Spaced’, ‘Peep Show’ and, er, ‘The Brittas Empire’ are all covered).
What felt a bit hit-and-miss at first is now producing far more hits than misses, and although it lacks the quotability of student hits like ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Little Britain’, it’s possibly funnier for that – there’s a nice subtlety to much of the humour. Of course, with British TV’s short series the challenge is to pick up the audience with whatever replaces it in a few weeks’ time. Thankfully the slot is too early to stick ‘Eurotrash’ in there. (At least, I assume so.)