Why do I think more fondly of VIII these days than I used to? Have I mellowed in my old age, or what? Well, I think I’ve finally figured it out.I still maintain that VIII, compared to 1-VI, is poor in nearly every respect. However, what VIII is, in essence, is: knockabout face. Knockabout, brightly-lit, studio-based, sitcom farce. Something that there just isn’t enough of on TV these days. Yes, it’s now a cliche to say it, but most comedy around these days is obsessed with either being dark, or being moody, more filmic stuff. And even out of the stuff that isn’t (Look Around You, for instance), it still isn’t your traditional sitcom in front of an audience programme – a format that, as you well know, I adore.

So, Red Dwarf VIII despite all its many faults, scores in this area – its a type of show I love, and so I’m warming to it simply because of the form – and because there’s so little stuff like it around these days. The show hasn’t fundamentally improved in my eyes – it’s still got the same faults it always had to me – it’s just its far easier to ignore them and concentrate on the good stuff, because of the affection I have for that kind of programme.

As it is, I’m really rather looking forward to the VIII release now. And not just because of the extras, either. But wouldn’t it be nice to have some decent traditional sitcoms around again?

37 comments on “So, something I’ve been wondering…

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  • > But wouldn’t it be nice to have some decent traditional sitcoms around again?

    There are, it’s just they’re shit! For my money, the style of the show doesn’t matter in the slightest, as long as the writing and acting is there. To use a current example, Peep Show is the best sitcom of the century (IMO), not because of the first-person gimmick, but because it’s hilarious.

    I prefer VIII to VII, simply because I think it’s funnier. It pains me to admit it, after spending the last eight years of my life trying to pinpoint exactly why VII was a bit rubbish, but that’s all it boils down to for me – not being funny enough.

  • Yeah, these days we have too many sitcoms that try to be funny in a not funny way and are in fact, not funny.

    And other shows that try to be funny in a funny way are also, not funny.

    The Green Green Grass Christmas Special must be avoided at all costs. I’m going to sleep after The Christmas Invasion.

  • I think there’s a certain snobbishness with the funny-in-a-not-funny-way sitcoms out at the moment. Wow, The Smoking Room – look, people talk for thirty minutes in, you’ve guessed it, a Smoking Room. And its not funny.

    But I think it assumes its own superiority over traditonal sitcoms. There seems to be an inherent smugness to come up with a concept for a comedy show like that.

  • I agree that there is an element of snobbishness from fans of both camps. Not in terms of anyone on here, mind, we’re a level-headed bunch in general.

    The Smoking Room is excellent, though!

  • Obviously VIII isn’t all knockabout farce. But that’s a large element of it, and its an element I like.

    As for the “it doesn’t matter how a show is shot, its how funny it is that matters” – logically, I agree. And I’ve got nothing against shows that are shot more filmically, as long as they’re funny – Spaced is one of my favourite shows ever, for instance.

    But emotionally (and that’s what this is all about, not logical stuff), I’m still drawn to trad sitcoms – because I just love them. I love how they look, and I love how they feel. So, I tend to cut them more slack than other types of shows. Not that I enjoy absolute garbage – as you say, Ian, there are trad sitcoms around still (although not *nearly* as many) and they’re absolute shit. But VIII *isn’t* absolute shit – there’s some wonderful stuff in there. So I’m just trying to explain why I think my brain is cutting more slack with VIII these days.

    And there are far, far, far too few trad sitcoms around these days. I’m genuinely worried that it’s a dying form. This would greatly upset me. But I can see it happening completely, give it 10 years or so. So again, my reaction to VIII these days is also influenced by that.

    Agreed with the whole reason why you don’t like VII, though. It’s slightly galling to realise that it just boils down to “not enough good jokes”.

  • Yeah, the Smoking Room isn’t half bad. It’s not the best thing ever, but it definitely has its moments.

    I’m not sure I agree with you about the “snobbishness” of such sitcoms, though. I just think people have wanted to try different things, because mashing genres together is rather de rigeur. So you have the movie stylings of Spaced, the docu-comedy of The Office etc., the POV style of Peep Show, and so on. I don’t think you’ll find any of the writers of those programmes saying that their style is “better” than the traditional sitcom format, because they all – in their own ways – owe a great deal to the classic sitcoms. If there are any writers who are like that, they usually tend to be the writers of things that are pretty bloody lousy – the good writers acknowledge and revere their influences.

    I do find it quite interesting, though, that it was Victoria Wood that declared last week that traditional sitcoms were “dead”, when it was dinnerladies that was arguably the last truly great one.

  • Yes, but Tanya also likes Robin Askwith films. I’m tempted, therefore, to use the phrase “will laugh at any old shite”, but that might be a bit unfair ;-)

  • >Yes, but Tanya also likes Robin Askwith films. I’m tempted, therefore, to use the phrase “will laugh at any old shite”, but that might be a bit unfair ;-)


  • ‘Tanya likes The Smoking Room as well. Maybe I’m just a HUMOURLESS CUNT.’

    Join the club, apparently. :)

    The actual recent big, family-related, vaguely ‘normal’ sitcoms have all been written by established writers – Blessed by Ben Elton, Tanya and Greg (or whatever its called, its shit whatever it is, Neil Morrissey is in it) by Simon Nye and The Green Green Grass by John Sullivan. Now all of these are shite but that’s irrelevent to my point. Is it maybe a case of having to come up with ‘clever’ concepts and situations to get commissioned in the first place?

  • Speaking as someone who once saw Robin Askwith’s penis at very close quarters during the stage version of ‘Confessions of a window cleaner’, I have since found him hard to watch…

    My current favourite comedy is ‘Worst week of my life’ which does verge on the slapstick…I agree that most comedies these days are very dark or try to be too clever for there own good…

  • Right well, I won’t bother sending this to News but this is an interesting set of programs coming up…

    Monday 2nd January 2006, 10:15pm Channel 4.

    Counts down the Top 20 Best loved UK And US Sitcoms of the last fifty years. Rather small number for such a large amount of sitcoms, so I’m not sure Dwarf will get on it.


    Monday 2nd January 2006, 10:15pm Channel 4.

    David liddiment explores the rise and fall of the British sitcom and examines the crucial factors – including huge shifts in society, class and family and in the nature of television itself – that have contributed to the decline of the once-loved genre.

    And Alison Graham in the Radiotimes comes out with this column related to the programmes.

    The sitcom is deceased. It is an ex-genre. Good. Now get over it, says TV editor Alison Graham.

    Former television executive David Liddiment asks Who Killed the Sitcom? on Channel 4 this Monday. He offers a few suggestions, though misses out the most obvious, that most ‘traditional’ British sitcoms these days are awful…

    I’m not gonna type that all out, but buy it if you’re looking to get angry. She seems to hate most sitcoms out at the moment, while praising Little Britain Series Three in previous issues. Liddiment also gets a wee article about him.

  • > Oh, and I hate The Smoking Room. I didn’t LAUGH. Great cast, great idea, but I just didn’t find any of it funny.

    That’s exactly how I feel about Chris Morris’s jam.

  • > The sitcom is deceased. It is an ex-genre. Good. Now get over it, says TV editor Alison Graham.

    The same Alison Graham that quims over everything Ricky Gervais does?

  • The traditional sitcom is dead? No it isn’t. There are specials of My Family and The Green Green Ass on this Christmas, and both are traditional BBC1 sitcoms. Granted, both are tripefests, but what do you expect from BBC1? There will only be ‘safe’ comedy on BBC1, which is why there will NEVER be another good BBC1 sitcom. But that doesn’t mean the BBC1 sitcom will die. Fuck, if they can commission stuff like Carrie and Barrie and Blessed then it will NEVER die.

    Let me think of my favourite ever ‘traditional’ sitcoms…Dwarf (duh), Father Ted, I’m Alan Partridge – actually, the way they did IAP, with the enclosed sets, was an interesting change from the norm. It turns it into part trad sitcom, part something else. I’ve never seen anything like that since (I reckon the first series of IAP is one of the finest pieces of television comedy ever to grace British screens).

  • Traditional sitcoms are now shite because talented writers are not making them anymore. Ben Elton has fucking lost the plot since his Young Ones and Blackadder days, not to mention the great Thin Blue Line. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are maybe the most talented writers of comedy around at the moment. The writers of Peep Show and a couple of other shows (Julia Davis did great on the first series on Nighty Night but then lost it) are giving them a run for their money, but watching Extras again on DVD confirmed for me how good they are. The brilliance of the Office cannot be denied. Anyone who thinks otherwise can…think that way…they have every right to.

  • Sorry, I didn’t make the original point that I meant to make which was – it’s all the BBC’s fault.

  • I was with you up until you said “the great Thin Blue Line”. However, you’re completely right about Extras and The Office. I *know* some people absolutely hate them, but they really are very good at what they do.

  • The Thin Blue Line is wonderful. It never fails to have e in hysterics. Literal, collapsing on the sofa hysterics.

    Still, as everyone knows, I don’t like The Office or Extras. *Nothing* to do with its form, or the fact that it isn’t a traditional sitcom – as I say, I love Spaced – there’s no hidden motive or anything. I just don’t find them funny. There is also the stuff about media over-exposure of course, but that’s secondary.

    It’s strange – I can see both sides in the most vicious of arguments, but when someone finds something funny and I don’t, it’s incredibly difficult to see why anyone would think that thing was funny at all…

  • The Office is a brilliantly observed, written and acted piece of television comedy. The media over-exposure was, for once, deserved. It infuriates me that they gave Lucas and Walliams the Ronnie Barker writers award and that Little Britain beat Extras in the best comedy series.

  • I don’t really agree with Performing Monkey.

    First of all, let’s stick up for the BBC? Look at ITV’s shite – everyone remember Shane? And Hardware? Two shite sitcoms.

    Secondly, this talk of BBC only putting on ‘SAFE’ sitcoms is both naive and wrong. I mean BBC1 has to cater for a mainstream audience and My Family was a sizable hit for the channel, even if you dismiss it as a ‘tripefest’. Let’s not suggest something needs to be controversial or revolutionary to be a success.

    Let’s not forget the new addition of BBC3 and BBC4, which have given us Nighty Night and The Thick Of It. Also, they gave us Little Britain which of course made its way on to BBC ONE. It’s hardly Middle England ‘safe’ is it?

    Also, you can dismiss Ben Elton but can you really do the same for Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) and John Sullivan (Only Fools and Horses). Whatever you may think of these two, or three, I don’t think we can say they are not talented which you allege when you say ‘talented writers’ are not making sitcoms anymore. BBC has to cater to an audience, it comissions three sitcoms from established writers with hits under their belts – the only ‘safe’ thing to do – and they produce three shite family-based sitcoms.

    Also, if I look at your argument the fact is that you only hate family-based sitcoms. My Family again was a hit but you hate it. Now let’s have a look at this list:

    The Green Green Grass
    Carrie and Barry
    Mad About Alice
    The Crouches

    And we’ll see they are all BBC1’s attempts at making the family sitcom and we will also see that they are all in fact, shite. Now add My Family to this list if you want but you can see there is one sitcom type that is proving to be of an uniformly poor quality.

  • I’m right and you’re wrong. That’s just the way it is… He he, no I can totally see the other side of the argument. Actually, I’m having trouble remembering whether there has EVER been a decent family-based sitcom. Or at least one that I think is decent. I thought Shane was all right compared with sitcoms of it’s type, despite it basically being a load of Skinner’s jokes strung together and fit into a sitcom format. They filmed the second series of it ages ago but it hasn’t been on yet. I wonder why.

    Anyway, I KNOW that ITV is shite at comedy, and they’ve never pretended that they aren’t, whereas the BBC are always harking back to their ‘golden’ sitcoms like OFAH, Porridge, Open All Hours etc. as if just to prove a point. Those days are long gone. It’s 1996 since there was a funny OFAH episode. They like to cling onto something (The Office, Little Britain) and then shove it down your throat just to remind you that yes the BBC does still have comedy output, despite 99% of it being throwaway.

    OK…this is my last word on this. To me, so called ‘cult’ shows are -99.9% of the time- much funnier than mainstream, whether it be a sitcom (traditional or otherwise), a sketch show or anything else. I know ‘cult’ isn’t really the right word but you know what I mean. Sure, The Office seemed to become very mainstream, but in regards to the actual show, it didn’t. Notice how Gervais/Merchant made sure Extras was a BBC2 comedy instead of like Lucas/Walliams debuting their new series on BBC1. That is the difference. Little Britain now is far too self-conscious to be half as funny as what it was when it first started. Bringing Dwarf into this, series VI is one of my least favourite series because it is too self-conscious. I still love the series, but it feels so much like the ‘third album’ series, i.e. the one which is done after the success. People work harder when they are not a success, and become lazy when they have the money in the bank. Anyway…where was I…oh, fuck it.

  • ITV *does* have some wonderful comedy in its back catalogue, anyway. Rising Damp, Man About The House, George and Mildred, Mr. Bean, The New Statesman, End Of Part One, The Kenny Everett Video Show. Admittedly, you have to look harder than for the BBC, but its there.

  • To be fair, reading back my original post, there is actually some badly-expressed shite in there (of course there *are* trad sitcoms around these days, for instance.) I was rushing it before I went out to work.

    My first comment does rectify it somewhat, though.

  • > ITV *does* have some wonderful comedy in its back catalogue, anyway. Rising Damp, Man About The House, George and Mildred, Mr. Bean, The New Statesman, End Of Part One, The Kenny Everett Video Show. Admittedly, you have to look harder than for the BBC, but its there.

    Not to mention Spitting Image and Auf Wiedersehen Pet.

  • Am I the only person here who loved Is It Legal? – written by Simon Nye, first two series on ITV, third on C4? It gets a bad rep, but I thought it was great.

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