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The Age

A state of being - gag after gag

Author: Simon Hughes
Date: 16/01/1995
Words: 603
          Publication: The Age
Section: Arts & Entertainment
Page: 15
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 least.

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 ugly."

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'.

 
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