Last year, the BBC ran a series of revivals to celebrate 60 years of British situation comedies, and the quality was variable to say the least, though the Hancock and Steptoe shows on BBC Four were excellent. The worst effort was an updated version of Porridge, and guess what? In their wisdom, the Beeb decided to order a whole series of it, and the first outing last Friday on BBC 1 confirmed everything I hated when I saw it last year.
The original Porridge was all about great characters led by the relationship between Fletcher and Godber, along with a wonderful supporting cast, again full of characters like the very different prison wardens MacKay and Barrowclough. I would easily put the show as one of the all-time great British TV comedies, which makes the new Porridge even more painful.
We have Fletcher’s grandson, called Fletch and played by Kevin Bishop, in for a spell behind bars for cyber crime. Unlike Ronnie Barker’s Fletcher, this new lead character brings no empathy at all, and we even have two poor MacKay and Barrowclough impersonators in a script that lacks heart, soul, and most importantly humour, as a canned laughter track tries to encourage you that you are actually watching something that is funny.
That’s the real sadness of this dismal half-hour, as it has been written by the brilliant Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who gave us the original show, in addition to penning gems like The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehn Pet. It’s very much like Roy Clarke returning to another old Ronnie Barker vehicle to bring us the equally awful Still Open All Hours. Some things are best left alone in the archives for us and future generations to marvel at how good they were, rather their reputation being thrashed in a senseless rehash.
Another comedy set to make a return, if reports are true, is Miranda. At least that came off screen nearly three years ago, with the happy ending involving Miranda and Gary, played by Tom Ellis. I wonder where the revival might figure in his schedule, as he has been making waves in the States with Lucifer (currently into series three), which only premiered in Britain on FOX UK in the summer. There’s more fun in Lucifer than in Porridge, as Ellis plays the Devil who’s decided to take a break from his dark activities and is running a nightclub in California. Goodness starts rubbing off on him and he becomes intrigued with a detective that he starts helping to solve a few cases. Lucifer is funny and full of wise cracks in what is essentially a police-procedural with a twist, and Ellis oozes a lot of charm with his quick-fire patter. It’s good harmless fun, and with so few dramas in the UK and the States mixing in some humour, Lucifer does offer something different.
After their disaster with The Nightly Show earlier this year, ITV have rolled out something completely different for a few weeks in the shape of After The News. Produced by ITN, the very good radio presenters Nick Ferrari and Emma Barnett take it in turns to talk to politicians and pundits, as they chew over the main stories of the day. It sounds simple, but I have to say it works and is giving the more formal Newsnight over BBC 2 a run in the ratings, with a sensible placing straight after News At Ten (hence, the title!). The production costs are minimal and draws in a different kind of audience to ITV, which will also attract a greater range of advertisers. It sounds like win-win all round!
ITV’s gripping Monday night drama Liar has trumped The Replacement for sheer craziness, but I’m enjoying every second of the network’s big new drama hit of the year. A second series is apparently in the works from the Williams brothers, as their boring offering Rellik on at the same time on BBC 1 disappears without trace.