NO MATTER how sophisticated comedy gets, I will always love Airplane! The disaster-flick send-up sparked lots of spoofing, much of it funny, but that first, almost subversive thrill of watching B-movie and ham-TV dependables – Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Peter Graves – getting their own back on pulp writers and, of course, sending up themselves, could never be matched.
Somehow, it’s just been Spoof Week on the box. Three comedies lampooning familiar idiot-lantern styles landed within 24 hours. First up was A Touch Of Cloth, heavily trailed by Sky. It seemed to be a straight cop drama with a terrible title and an over-acting John Hannah, so my pencil was already poised. Little did I know it was a deliberately bad cop drama featuring the big name in some unintentionally not-very-good ones (most notably the initial attempt at bringing Rebus to the small screen). So I was laughing before it started. Sky’s drama output has improved out of sight over the past year or so but the network can still fall for something that looked and sounded this shlocky, something which won’t have escaped the notice of the writer, Charlie Brooker.
He got a good budget (you want us to rename this tower block Peter Andre House, and that one Sally Bercow House? Sure. And you want us to park an ice-cream van in a field specifically for the one-liner ‘Two 999s, please?’ No problem). Most of Brooker’s gags were better than that, such as DCI Jack Cloth (Hannah), rounding up the murder evidence with the comely pathologist: “What have we got between us?” Pathologist: “An implied but never openly referenced sexual history and the suggestion of unfinished business?” Cloth, to the man from forensics: “Any prints?” Forensics: “Only Purple Rain and Lovesexy.” Pathologist again: “They handcuffed the victim to the bed and hacked him to bits.” Cloth: “Some kind of sex game?” Pathologist: “Maybe later, when I’ve finished pointing at blood.”
It was ludicrously gory and for a moment I wondered why. But then I thought, hang on, so was Waking The Dead. Why did I keep watching that for 179 series? And Silent Witness for all of its 132 series? It made you ask vital questions such as: who still manufactures cassettes and can this industry really be kept afloat by police interview rooms alone? And if we were questioning the whole schedule-monstering crime genre, what were the actors doing? Rebus was sufficiently far back in Hannah’s CV but his sidekick here, Suranne Jones, is a current crime star. Perhaps she should be sending the next batch of Scott & Bailey scripts down to the labs to check for clichés.
Bad Sugar featured a power trio of comedy actresses and that was my first problem with the second of our spoofs, lampooning those big, throbbing family melodramas. To the best of my knowledge, Olivia Colman, Julia Davis and Sharon Horgan have never had their names attached to such overcooked tripe. That cannot debar them from making fun of it, but the pleasure of watching them is less because they don’t bear the scars of rotten scripts past, like Hannah does, or Stack in Airplane! when he removed his sunglasses in the air traffic control tower to reveal not his stock expression of heroic anguish but… another pair of sunglasses. And my second problem with Bad Sugar, the tale of a wealthy mining dynasty and a battle for power involving a psycho, a drip and a gold-digging interloper? It wasn’t remotely funny. The very least a spoof should be is a collection of half-decent jokes, but this was like a comedy version of Real Madrid’s football gallacticos – great talent enlisted without a plan. Still, now they’ve appeared in a dud, our star trio can lampoon themselves with conviction at a later date.
Much better was the costume drama spoof Hunderby, again starring Davis and written by her. A fruity romp, it benefited hugely from a comedy performer normally the butt of jibes seizing his chance of a lead role. Alex MacQueen – the biscuit-nibbling, blue-sky-thinking buffoon in The Thick Of It – was a parson grieving for his dead wife. “Many a haggard fishwife was eager to warm the dent in the widower’s bed,” we were told. Eventually he remarried, but his new bride struggled to match up to a woman who was “proficient on both harpsichord and tuba and could outrun any negro”. After bedroom conjugals – as squirm-inducing as you’d expect from Davis – the parson liked to recover with a glass of “bubbly milk”. The creator played the demonic housekeeper in an eyepatch. At dinner one night, one of the guests remarked on the crunchiness of her fayre. “Battered lambs’ faces, sir – 12 more in the pot.”