YOU are obviously asking for trouble by calling a sitcom The Wright Way. It practically begs to be dubbed “The Wrong Way” – especially if written by Ben Elton who, despite having maintained a successful career for the past 30 years, hasn’t had a critic say a good word about him for at least 15.
The Wright Way
Wednesday, BBC1, 10:35pm
Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild
Monday, Channel 5, 9pm
It’s boring now to point out that he lost his comic mojo when he started collaborating with his former Tory enemies. Surely it’s time for the critical consensus to rediscover him, just as everyone from Bob Monkhouse to Roy Chubby Brown have been belatedly acclaimed?
So it is with relief that I can report that Elton’s new comeback series is hilarious! It is a classic situation comedy with great jokes and … and funny characters who … who …
No. I’m sorry, it’s no good. You see, it really is no good; in fact, it’s a stinker. David Haig plays Gerald Wright (hence the title!), an annoying man who wants everything done a certain way. It’s a perennial sitcom trope, done beautifully by Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles, for instance, or decently by Chris Barrie in The Brittas Empire. He’s a health and safety inspector for a local council, the department “that introduced the static seesaw and the horizontal slide [and said] babies must wear helmets when breastfeeding near the swings”.
But what makes it a stinker are the jokes, which feel as though when the BBC moved out of Television Centre they found an old box at the back of the cupboard labelled “Leftover Sitcom Gags 1973”. They are ancient, is what I’m saying, they have whiskers on them.
The main running joke involves Wright trying to wash his hands under a bathroom tap and soaking his trousers, and then someone coming in and thinking he’s wet himself, and then shoogling about under a hand dryer and someone else coming in and thinking he’s doing something filthy. And this happens three times.
Haig tries to make things sound funny by stretching and emphasising certain words – not a stammer, but a sort of word-mastication which would be excellent for someone trying to practice shorthand or audio typing dictation, if anyone still does that nowadays.
The show’s token nod to modernity is that Wright lives with his daughter and her female partner (played by Beattie Edmondson, daughter of Elton’s old chum Adrian – how cosy). He has to buy a present and they suggest a shop called Girl Shack – wait, Girl Shack? In 2013? I take it Chic Chicks or Trendy Togs or Burdz Boutique were all taken?
Finally, there is the catchphrase: “Don’t get me started!” which Wright says when particularly exasperated. This is very nearly “Are you ‘avin’ a laugh?” from Ricky Gervais’ spoof sitcom When The Whistle Blows. Sorry, Ben: this isn’t the one that’s going to win over your critics.
And so to another Ben: Ben Fogle, who wants to discover “the reality of giving up the rat race” in New Lives In The Wild, in which he visits people who have gone to live in isolated locations. Except … hasn’t he already done that? Isn’t the whole reason that Fogle is on TV, with his amiable personality, strenuous rowing adventures and vague affinity with Prince William, all because he went to live on an island in the Castaway series? It wasn’t THAT long ago, but apparently he’s forgotten, musing: “I wonder whether it is all that we imagine. Is it really that romantic notion of paradise?” Well, you should know, no?
Anyway his first subject, David Glasheen, lives on tropical Restoration Island, off the largely empty Cape York peninsula in Northern Australia. And yes: it does look like the stereotypical deserted island on which Robinson Crusoe might have thrived.
Now 69, Glasheen came to the island after losing £6.5 million overnight in the 1987 stock market crash. That would rather put anyone off civilisation. Now it’s just him and a friendly dog that fends off the crocodiles, all alone on a 100-acre island. He shops only once a year, eats oysters and fish, brews his own beer (“a necessary luxury”) and spends most of the time clad in only a G-string and a long beard.
He does have the internet, mind you, on a solar powered computer with satellite dish, which enables him to continue trading shares. He even tried online dating, hoping for a Girl Friday to join him, but has had no luck so far. “There’s three billion women out there, there’s got to be one or two …” he says, hopefully. And that beer is regularly swapped with the crews of local fishing boats.
And therein, I suppose, is the irony: it’s impossible now to be truly cut-off from our interconnected world. Even that man recently discovered in the Maine Woods after 27 years lived by pinching stuff from cottages.
And Glasheen is fighting a court case for eviction. He might be able to stay if a friendly local Aboriginal community get back the land rights and then he could be their caretaker. Oh yeah – he visits them sometimes, and there’s women there and everything. And he goes to the city to see his children and they come to visit.
Hang on, so that’s the internet, fishermen, the Kuuku Ya’u people, children, dog, occasional film crews and royal chum Ben Fogle: this guy’s looking less like a “real life Robinson Crusoe” by the minute. I live in a city and I don’t see as many people as that.
THE NAKED GUN
Star rating: * * * *
Wednesday, Film4, 9pm
The original and best spin-off from brilliantly stupid TV cop spoof Police Squad, with Leslie Nielsen keeping an impeccable straight face as the hapless detective Lt Frank Drebin, here trying to protect the Queen as she visits Los Angeles. The jokes are awfully silly and awfully funny. Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban and OJ Simpson co-star. Apparently a remake is being mooted. Sigh.
THE KARATE KID
Star rating: * * *
Tomorrow, Channel 4, 7:30pm
This remake of the 1980s favourite should really have been renamed The Kung-Fu Kid as, with the location switched to China, the American youngster having trouble fitting in at his new school is now taken under the wing of Jackie Chan, who teaches him some amazing moves. Amiable family fare with Will Smith’s son Jaden.
Star rating: * * * *
Monday, BBC 4, 9pm
Based on Richard Yates’ brilliant novel of suburban disillusionment, Kate Winslet (with dodgy accent) and Leonardo Di Caprio co-star again, years after Titanic, as a 1950s couple whose relationship is even more of a tragic shipwreck. Some painful truths emerge.
MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
Star rating: * * *
Wednesday, Channel 4, 1:40am
A black comedy with Nicole Kidman as a bitchy woman who causes chaos as her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) prepares to marry Jack Black. An intriguing alt-folk soundtrack accompanies the passive aggressive bickering.