Sunday, 24 January 2010

Rock & Chips & comedy & drama

I know it doesn't reflect well on John Sullivan & the BBC's Rock & Chips that I'm typing this before it's finished, but it's actually enjoyable in the most harmless way and I'm rather pleased to see it.

When the actors were doing publicity for it, some idiot had supplied the broadcasters with clips from the show which hadn't been "filmised" (I'm assured this is the technical term, the more impressive-sounding "field-removed video" not actually being what they do these days). So the clips shown on BBC Breakfast made Rock & Chips look like it was on plain video, a format used only be Eastenders and the news. And it looked cheap. Plus I could have sworn I heard studio audience laughter (in fact it was the presenters and the cast, covering their awkwardness).

So I started watching Rock & Chips, the prequel to Only Fools & Horses, expecting car crash TV. I've never had the closest of relationships with Only Fools in the first place. I missed it when it started (and I know that, at the time, it was poorly received both critically and viewer-wise) and only sporadically watched it over the years. It had always been the less cool of the BBC's comedy offerings, grabbing the ratings (after a slow start) but being overshadowed in the eyes of we smart young things by The Young Ones, Blackadder et al, but I was quick enough to concede it was actually funny. I'd been a childhood fan of Sullivan's first sitcom, Citizen Smith, and his follow up had his trademark loveable characters and snappy dialogue. And Del Boy falling through a bar, who didn't love Del Boy falling through a bar.

I had two problems with Only Fools as the years went by. Firstly my Mum & Dad liked it, which I'd long held as a yardstick by which I could measure something I needn't bother with myself (they liked Jim Davidson, I mean, come on). But worse, when I dipped in to Only Fools, usually around Christmas time, often with the parents, it seemed to have stopped being a sitcom and become a comedy drama. It still had the audience laughter, but it was mostly shot on location, and had long since lost the small studio set that had characterised its early years. Indeed most of the episodes I can remember seeing in the 90s saw the Trotters on holiday in Spain or America or somewhere. Whatever, regardless of what I thought of them, they were popular and good luck to them.

So Rock & Chips is a prequel to a comedy soap opera I hardly watched and mostly didn't like, which had grown from a sitcom which I admired but was longer ago than anyone can remember, how awful was this going to be?

Turns out, I'm enjoying it. As I type we are just getting the 'Smith' routine, which I guarantee will be in the clips of the year. We just had the 'Minge' line, oh dearie me I am laughing out loud.

Which rather contradicts what I was about to say about R&C not being funny. In fact there have been three or four scenes which stood out as being written by Funny John Sullivan. The rest of the show has concentrated on being a comedy drama, not dissimilar in tone to the early Film 4s that Channel 4 launched with (I was probably watching Ptang Yang Kipperbang and Wish You Were Here instead of Only Fools back in 1984 now I think of it).

I began Rock & Chips being critical of the casting for not looking like the grown-up equivalents, but the characters have been & gone and grown on me, and in their own rights. Okay Del's Dad should be more hopeless and repulsive, and Trigger should be more glaiket (no English equivalent, sorry), but Grandad's a match, and Del Boy, played by one of the leads from The Inbetweeners, is shaping up to be a strong central character (though in this episode I don't think he's had one good line). The greatest strength though is the two characters at the heart of the drama, who've also been, surprisingly, in the funniest scenes, Freddie Robdell (played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, as his own dad) and Joanie, Del Boy's mum.

Like Goodnight Sweetheart before it, Rock & Chips has set up a strong premise for a will-they won't they comedy drama, seemingly effortlessly realised a period setting, and lined up a row of parts in which at least a dozen actors could shine.

Okay, so it's just the BBC's equivalent to Heartbeat, and its core audience is, quite possibly, my parents (and if I've got another complaint it's that, so far, it's steered a wide berth around the racism and sexism of 1960 - we've had three key balch characters and not one of them has suffered a casual racial slur. This is the single most unrealistic part of the whole show) but given a series, and team writers, it could be a big hit for the BBC.

A nice start to TV's year, which will be making a lot of people in TV centre very happy. Lovely jubbly.

Kev F

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