LAUGHTER might well be the best medicine but in the case of TV sit- coms
there is the definite possibility of overdose. To take the American example, it
appears that there is not a corner of the empire of lunacy in which its citizens
do not wisecrack their way through the day. From Hawaii to Alaska, from New
York to Miami, people are pinning each other to the wall with devastating
one-liners. A state of being, I might add, that runs directly counter to many
people's experience of the American race. Still there has to exist a witty
subculture even if it's only stand-up comedians turned TV stars and their sitcom
script writers. Otherwise how to explain the epidemic of the genre?
The English are infected by the same disease. From providing us in the early
days with such charming visions of low-life as Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe
and Son, they have been almost completely laid low by one-line fever. Such is
the case with Goodnight Sweetheart (Channel 2, 8pm) or the first part of it at
Bombarded by gag after gag in the first few minutes of the premiere episode,
you get to experience what it must be like to stand in front of a Gatling gun.
This does not seem to bother the studio audience who respond as faithfully as
Pavlov's dog. Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst whom I last remember as a school
bully in To Serve Them All Our Days) is a TV repairman in his mid-30s. Gary is
married to Yvonne (Michelle Holmes) and they live in a dog box in Cricklewood.
Both dream of something better although Yvonne is alone in doing something about
it by taking up an Open University course in psychology. Gary's lot, then, is a
humdrum one until, that is, he suddenly steps back in time to 1940. He thinks
he's walked into a theme pub while the clients of the same hostelry reckon he's
a German spy. There's comic mileage made of the shift in social customs and a
few nice anachronisms such as Gary singing Elton John songs in the fallout
shelter. Overall, though, you have to say that this is an antic opportunity
missed. I only hope future episodes make a liar of me.
Much more promising is An Actor's Life For Me (Channel 2, 10pm). Bit part
actor Robert Neilson's greatest fear is that he is fast becoming typecast as a
prat. (When you see his superbly inept commercial for Doberman aftershave you
understand why.) Even his girlfriend Sue can best describe him as ``not
conventionally good-looking". His agent (played with the requisite amount of
cunning and charm by Victor Spinetti) is less diplomatic. Of course Robert can
find work as a romantic lead. ``After all, Donald Sutherland did and HE was
Robert's big chance comes in the form of a walk-on part with Kim Basinger.
The audition is a treat and the whole enlivened by an attractively dorky
performance from John Gordon-Sinclair playing the hapless Robert.
An Actor's Life For Me will appeal to more than a niche audience of jaded
thesps. If nothing else it strips away some of the myths of a grubbing
profession which is hardly ever glamorous. Of which there is no better example
than sit-coms. Here, with some exceptions, actors become ambulatory
joke-dispensing machines. Close your eyes and you will hear the same deadly
rhythms. Rat-a-tat-tat. Boom boom. Perhaps it's about time scriptwriters came
under some `friendly fire'.