Friday, 11 April 2014

I was annoyed to discover that the fourth episode of the new BBC comedy “W1A” was the last of the current run

"Yeah, no, okay, cool. What?"
I blame John Cleese and Fawlty Towers. Having created a benchmark for British television comedy back in the 1970s by spending months honing every script to perfection and only doing a total of 12 episodes he seems to have convinced the creators of hip TV comedy series that paucity of product indicates pure comedy gold. But W1A – like its predecessor 2012 – isn’t absolutely out of the top drawer. It is, however, bloody funny (which can’t be said of many British comedy series these days) and cutting off the flow after two measly hours of output – especially coming off the back off a successful earlier series – is irritating, to put it mildly.

For those of you who didn’t catch it, W1A is a mockumentary series which follows Ian Fletcher, the former head of the Olympic Deliverance Commission, as he starts his new job as Head of Values at the BBC. Perhaps it’s because I used to work for the BBC and spent my last two years there working with many lavishly remunerated executives with seemingly meaningless job titles (to come clean, I was called "Head of Enhanced TV Programming" for a while), but I found the series hilarious. All of the main characters are pretty much perfect, including Jason Watkins as Simon Harwood, the deeply creepy Director of Strategic Governance; Sarah Parish as Anna Rampton, the charmless, frozen-faced Head of Output; Hugh Skinner as the fabulously useless intern, Will Humphries (“Yeah, no, okay, cool. What?”); and Rufus Jones as the annoyingly camp little twat of an Entertainment Format Producer, David Wilkes "I'm like, Holly Willoughby, Gary Lineker together. Is that even legal?). I swear I sat in meetings with all of these people at one time or another. (And I too spent hours trying to find a desk in the corporation’s various new, funky, vibrant, office-less environments – I left ten years ago, and nothing seems to have changed.)

If they bring it back, I hope they either fire David Tennant as the narrator – he gets the tone wrong and the writing here is crude – or simply drop this linking device altogether: it feels like it’s had its day.

So, why only four episodes? Having already trialled the format with 2012, they must have known it was going to work (yes, there’s been lots of criticism, but I get the feeling most of that’s directed at the BBC itself rather than the programme). Is it because there’s only one writer? Then draft in more, like the Americans do. Worried it would be too self-referential, what with it being about the BBC and everything? Grow a pair. Scared of running out of material to satirise? There were little side plots (for instance, the issue of the female Newsnight presenter showing too much leg) that could easily have filled an entire episode. Besides, this is the BBC we’re talking about – running out of things to satirise would be impossible. Of course, it could be that Hugh Bonneville’s too busy, what with Downton Abbey and all – but that’s about the only excuse that would hold water.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the way BBC entertainment types invariably referred to presenters by their first names, as if they were close personal friends or talented family members. This practice is universal, and as a former News person, I always found it nauseating – I’m convinced that if BBC staff had been ordered to refer to the likes of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall by their surnames a lot of unpleasantness, embarrassment and suffering might have been avoided. (I also enjoyed the way that every meeting contained one or two worried-looking twenty-somethings who never spoke and didn't seem to have any function whatsoever: I met a lot of those.)

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the return of W1A – but I hope it doesn’t turn out to be another niggardly four-episode run. Otherwise, to quote the programme, I’ll feel “as if I’ve been run over by a truck – and not in a good way.”

No comments:

Post a Comment