Friday, 21 October 2011

Comedy Drama

I'm of the firm opinion that any drama must have moments of comedy and any comedy must be built on a dramatic structure. Otherwise what have you got?

The Street
One of the bleakest dramas in recent years was Jimmy McGovern's The Street, by God did he put his characters through hell. And yet, even in the darkest corners of those shows there were moments to make you laugh out loud. McGovern knows that lives are not all bleak or all sunny.

Take an hour of your life and look at the emotions you experience: frustration, anger, jealousy, happiness, disgust, pride - and that's just watching Deal or No Deal.

I need all the shades in the dramas I watch and some of the darkest of my favourite shows are the funniest. Since Sky Atlantic popped up on my planner I've found myself hooked on new series and old favourites. Even though I have the box set of The Sopranos I was watching it all over again, week by week, marvelling at the depth of character and subtlety that sits alongside the moments that make me laugh out loud. Of course the trick with funny in a show like The Sopranos is conjuring the unexpected, be it slapstick or a mispronounced word - there's plenty of them, the Wise Guys ain't always too wise - or the incongruous alongside the surreal. The darker the show the funnier the comedy.

The Sopranos
But no-one calls The Sopranos a comedy drama or a dramedy, I suspect that a 'comedy drama' based on 'at home with the Mafia' would have been a very different beast - and, because it would constantly be looking for the laughs, not funny at all. No, I'll stick with my one or two laugh out loud moments in the drama.

The best episodes of House are seldom those that build on a comic plot. House intentionally being  funny is not half as funny as him being a flawed, miserable, cantankerous, self centred, medical genius.

Let's come this side of the pond, to a series that's a mainstay/highlight in the ITV schedule - Doc Martin. The good doctor is a distant, distant relation of House. He too is miserable and cantankerous and self centred and a jolly good doctor too - even if his phobia of blood was a determining factor in leaving his London job and heading to a GP's surgery in Cornwall.

Doc Martin
Doc Martin is a fish out of water tale. Brilliant man with phobia heads for English coastal village where he's surrounded by enough colourful characters to keep the series going ad infinitum with the slightest of plots and a love interest (now with baby). Doc Martin is very much 'comedy drama', barely a scene ends without a knowing look or comic button. It benefits from having Martin Clunes giving a terrific performance as Martin and a host of much loved British character actors around him. Those actors play 'comedy characters'; the funny policeman, the funny fat plumber, the funny lady from the chemist with a thing for the Doc. At its best the show delivers enough smiles to sustain - and draw a massive audience. It's not too demanding, the sun always shines and everything turns out alright in the end. It's a latter day Darling Buds of May.

But unlike those other great rude TV characters Basil Fawlty and Victor Meldrew, I often find it hard to feel sympathy for Doc Martin. He is so socially inept the longer the series has gone on the more his rudeness grates. In some recent episodes he seems to have had no dialogue other than a terse 'Yes'. He may now be the father of a child but isn't it time he started to show outward signs of growth.

You only have to look at the audience figures to see that this formula is a winner with the audience but here's the thing about 'comedy drama' - I just wish it was a tad more dramtic and all those 'funny' characters were a bit more real - which I'm certain would make them funnier.

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