Is there such a thing as being too clever? I don’t think so, but I think there is such a thing as being clever without being good. The trailer that ran on BBC3 for ‘Annually Retentive’ was a fine example: although in keeping with the tone and style of the programme, it altogether failed to communicate the concept, merely looking like a self-deprecating trail for a new panel show rather than what it is: a spoof panel show where the main focus is on the behind-the-scenes preparation.
Oops. Never mind, BBC3, it’s not like you’ve tossed away half the audience for one of your best new shows of the year. Oh, wait: you have. Because although the concept of ‘Annually Retentive’ may well inspire suspicion – it wouldn’t be the first TV comedy to attempt to coast on a clever idea without actually being funny – it is very funny, as well as having cleverness beyond its initial concept.
It’s the show that has finally worked out how to do a British ‘Larry Sanders’: we don’t have the same tradition of late-night talk shows here (Jonathan Ross has finally made a success of it, but even his show doesn’t have the kind of presence enjoyed by Letterman, Leno et al). What we do have is comedy panel shows, lots of them, and this gives Brydon’s team something distinctive to spoof without being simply the copycats they portray themselves as in the show.
What works really nicely is the structure (not unlike that of ‘Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace’): the show progresses from beginning to end, and the behind-the-scenes material is cut in non-sequentially, making full use of the contrasts between the bonhomie displayed in front of the camera and the backbiting that goes on elsewhere. One particularly deft sequence sees Brydon talking to Jonathan Ross about appearing on the show, cut into him flatly nixing the suggestion to the guest booker (with whom he shamelessly flirts).
The show itself walks a line between being the rubbish that Brydon dismisses it as off-camera and entertaining enough to watch in its own right. David Mitchell gets some good material with which to upstage the host, and a good ad-lib from Dave Gorman is nicely undercut by the revelation that it was pre-planned and lifted from an old stand-up routine.
Yes, ‘Annually Retentive’ is another example of insular, HBO-style TV about TV, and we’re all pretty wise to celebrities’ desire to look like good sports by letting themselves be sent up in this sort of format. But Brydon happens to be very good at it (‘Director’s Commentary’, ‘A Cock and Bull Story’), so if you’re happy to indulge this kind of thing, this is as good an example of the genre as you’re likely to see. So, if you gave this a miss because of the useless trailer, try to catch one of the 37 repeats everything on BBC3 gets within the week.