Seeing as we haven’t heard much about it since last August, I’d more or less forgotten that Ben Elton’s got a new sitcom premiering on BBC1 this week.
In fact, had I not ‘overheard’ RT’s Jack Seale and Guardian TV critic Stuart Heritage discussing the programme on Twitter earlier today, chances are it would’ve passed me by completely. But now I’ve been reminded of its existence, I can’t wait to see this thrusting new laugh-a-thon play out on screen tomorrow night (10:35pm, BBC1).
The Wright Way (not to be confused with Channel 5’s Wright Stuff) stars David Haig as an exasperated health & safety officer called Gerald Wright (hence the title), who heads up a team of – wait for it – hilariously incompetent council workers.
It’s Elton’s first sitcom since 2005 and, on the evidence of this preview clip, looks about as broad as the elastic band on Eric Pickles’ boxer shorts:
(It’s not just the presence of Mina Anwar AKA Constable Habib that reminds one of The Thin Blue Line, eh?)
Sadly for its makers, The Wright Way’s caught a lot of pre-emptive critical flak, and not just from Seale and Heritage.
In this week’s Radio Times, David Butcher says that the show is “creaky and laboured” and asks: “Who would believe this is [by] the same comic whose stand-up routines sandblasted away the pebbledash of 1970s tit-gags and racism?”
All of which are perfectly valid criticisms. The show does seem horribly dated, outrageously overacted and, as Butcher says, “irrelevant.”
But, for those among us who enjoy sniggering ironically at TV, I think there’s going to be a lot to enjoy here.
In fact, I imagine watching The Wright Way will feel rather like catching up with sitcom garbage like Yus My Dear three decades too late on YouTube – it’ll inspire gales of incredulous laughter at its creaking gags and hackneyed stereotypes.
I mean, if that preview clip’s anything to go on, the show looks about as sophisticated as the spoof sitcom When the Whistle Blows from Ricky Gervais’s Extras, but made all the better because it’s been put together without Gervais’s knowing sense of irony.
Indeed, had Elton not become such a middle-of-the-road sort of chap with his fiction, TV shows and bloated stage musical We Will Rock You over the past couple of decades, I’d almost be inclined to suspect that he was being subversive and taking the mickey with this new show. As it is though, I think he’s probably just writing what comes naturally.
Why? Well, the first joke in the sitcom, delivered by Haig, is a routine about how long women spend in the bathroom. Which is all very predictable and the sort of stuff naff old ‘70s sitcoms were made of – but it’s also a topic that Elton’s had Haig bellow about in the past. Remember this scene from The Thin Blue Line?
By all accounts, The Wright Way promises to be a car crash of a sitcom, and of course it won’t stack up well against the cutting edge likes of The Thick of It or Peep Show.
Even the BBC seems to have taken steps to ensure that it won’t be seen by a great many people (Heritage points out that it’s been “shoved to the margins of the schedules” and “barely promoted”).
But is it possible that The Wright Way will be one of those counterintuitive bits of entertainment’s that’s, to use a popular cliché, so bad it’s good? I, for one, look forward to finding out. Roll on Tuesday night.
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