Monday, 10 January 2011


Over Christmas, someone linked me to an article which they knew I'd hate. And funnily enough, I did. So I saved it, because I knew that at some point in January I'd dig it out of my Bookmarks list and have a look at it. "So here we are now", as Father Todd Unctuous once said.

You may or may not be familiar with the comedienne Miranda Hart. In my opinion, she's quite funny. That's tough for me to say, as I'm of the opinion that 99.9% of women are spectacularly un-amusing. In fact, let's just take a moment to list funny females:

Linda Smith
Clare Grogan (in Father Ted)
That woman off The Vicar of Dibley who isn't Dawn French. You know, the thick one.
Pamela Stephenson


Well, yes, exactly. ANYWAY I quite like Miranda Hart, and I do like her sitcom "Miranda". Really, I do. Is it the greatest thing ever made? No. Is it going to win a bajillion BAFTAs? No. Is it the smartest comedic writing since Frasier? Definitely not.

So what is it? For me, it's just a bit of fun. It's light-hearted, it's warm, and the majority of characters are likeable. It's a sitcom you can watch with your parents, and there's always a bit of physical humour which kids would appreciate. There's no swearing, and no crude humour - I'm not a prude, at all, but sometimes it's welcome to watch comedy that can be aired before 9pm.

Nevertheless it does seem fashionable at the moment to hate the programme, which I struggle to understand as there's far, far worse out there (I'm looking at you, "Big Top") and it's not really harmful in any way. However, maybe I'm about to understand why people hate it so. Because Catherine Gee has written, for The Torygraph, six points as to why she thinks it's rubbish. Let's have a look.

One: Canned laughter. Once upon a time, audience laughter was used to signal where the jokes were, when producers thought that viewers wouldn’t be able to figure it out for themselves. Now that comedies such as The Office and Peep Show have proved said viewers more than capable, it seems strange to still use it. Even stranger is the audience's apparent need to squeal with laughter at the most insignificantly small remarks.

Utter rubbish. To compare a sitcom like 'Miranda' with 'The Office' is absolutely insane, as they are two very different beasts. A laughter track/audience laughter would never have suited the 'The Office', just on the basis of it's "mockumentary" style. In Catherine's point here there is an assumption that a sitcom which has audience laughter recorded onto it is somehow bad. To my knowledge it never stopped Fawlty Towers, Frasier, Friends, Only Fools and Horses etc. from being successful.

Two: The jokes are about as original as a clown slipping on a banana skin. Yelling “my eyes” at the sight of something rude was reused countless times by Friends in the Nineties. As was, come to think of it, the overbearing mother who wished to marry off her daughter. And the overly sexually liberated parents. And the male friend who struggles to prove his masculinity

It's fucking difficult to write something that is original nowadays. Yes, some of the characters are clichéd (as we'll see in the next point). But again, that's not necessarily a BAD thing - it only would be if it was a direct rip-off from 'Friends', and I defy anyone to watch 'Miranda' and think "Oh yeah - this is just like 'Friends' innit?" The really hilarious thing about this point is that the relationship between the mother and the daughter is the best thing about the show. Clichéd? Yeah, sure, but it works. It really does.

Three: The role she’s written for herself is basically the socially inept sibling you’re embarrassed to introduce to people. Why voluntarily watch them at their most excruciating? Every week?

Alan Partridge. David Brent. Basil Fawlty. Blackadder. Private Godfrey. Father Dougal. PC Goody. Woody Boyd. Frank Spencer.

All of those characters come from brilliant sitcoms, and yet they all have severe character faults. Some are stupid, some are excruciatingly arrogant and smug, some are bad-tempered, some are nasty and spiteful. Yet as characters they work really really well, the majority of the time when they have someone to play off. This is the same in 'Miranda' - she may be slightly socially inept, but that's in direct contrast to her friends and her aspirational mother. Earlier on I stressed that the show is quite sedate and simple, so I don't want to think about these things too deeply, but to claim that the character is un-watchable because she's often awkward is a really rubbish point.

Four: It considers itself old-fashioned but seems to have only retained the worst aspects of the sitcoms of yesteryear– the cheap sets being just one. Vintage comedies such as Fawlty Towers and The Good Life may have been built out of reinforced cardboard, but at least they were backed up by likable characters and genuinely funny jokes.

Really? There's only one character in the show I don't like, and that mainly stems from the fact that every episode this character starts waving a picture of Heather Small's head around whilst singing badly.

Five: The humour relies purely on Hart’s attention-seeking oddball behaviour and rarely rises above the immature level of toilet humour and falling over gags. Or on the hope that breaking into song at inappropriate moments will remain amusing for an entire series.

Fawlty Towers is possibly the greatest thing of all time, and reflecting on it I realise how much physical comedy plays a part in it. Admittedly this is aided by John Cleese who is so wonderful at it, but think for a moment - the Hitler walk he does, the moose falling on his head, the abuse he dishes out to Manuel, when he implores Polly to hit him, when he accidentally gropes the girls breast, when the guests return back to find him lying on top of Manuel. I'm sure there's more but that's just off the top of my head, but my point is that if it's okay for the best thing evah~!, it's good enough for me. There's a lot of falling over in 'Miranda', yes. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No.

And of course let's not forget when Del Boy fell through the bar....and Trigger made a face.

Six: Miranda’s asides to the camera are completely unnecessary. In the episode in which she and her mother find themselves in a therapist’s office, Miranda asks the therapist (played by the woefully underused Mark Heap) if the fruit in his bowl was real. He responds by asking the old psychiatrist cliché: “How do you mean?” After she simply rephrases the question, she turns to camera and adds “I don’t know how to make it any clearer.” It’s a struggle to decide whether Hart considers her viewers to be so mentally challenged that they can’t see the joke implied, or if she genuinely thinks she's being funny.

This is such an unbelievably petty thing. So petty in fact that the cynical part of me ponders whether you were asked to write 6 points, but could only come up with 5 so had to cobble a load of shit together to pass off as the 6th one. You can't bullshit a bullshitter, Gee. is the link for the article, which also contains a brief defence of the show and lots of varied comments from readers.

Such fun!

1 comment:

  1. My friend Lynsey wanted to post a comment but for some reason it wasn't working for her, so she sent it to me so I can post it for you all to see:

    "You missed Victoria Wood off your list of women comics.

    Seriously though, you make some very good points. Admittedly, I've never watched Miranda, however I have liked Miranda Hart in the other things I've seen her in (she was great in Not Going Out). Looking at what the writer of that article says,I think she's talking a load of rubbish, especially re the laughter issue. Like you say, Miranda and The Office are totally different - it would be ridiculous to include a laughter track in the latter as it would ruin one the main joke of the show, which as we all know now (however a lot didn't realise when it was shown for the very first time), was that it wasn't a real documentary. I could go on for longer, but I'd probably end up feeling like I've rewritten my dissertation (which actually was on British TV Sitcoms) and no-one wants that.

    Anyway, nice work Ewar."