I got that bit wrong, not ‘comedy double act’ I meant ‘female comedy double act’, who would have thought, in 1987 when French and Saunders were commissioned by the BBC that the term ‘female double act’ would still be required because male is still the default.
I have written about women’s underrepresentation in comedy a few times before, when women such as Miranda and Watson and Oliver get airtime they seem to have the added pressure of representing ALL OF WOMENKIND. Or, at least they have 28 minutes to prove women can be funny.
In Miranda’s case the writer and performer had the chance to perfect her sitcom on BBC Radio 4’s 18.30 comedy slot. When the sitcom, Miranda aired a section of the BBC audience were familiar with the traditional comedy style and any edginess could be found (ish) in Miranda’s decision to return to the comedy device of breaking the fourth wall.
Watson and Oliver have had no such indulgence and have been plunged into the deep end of BBC 2 and it looks a little bit like they panicked. Ingrid Oliver told the Independent, “We’re not edgy, and the series is quite classic in its format, but it feels very us. We have filmed and live sketches, we introduce each episode and then have a big finale.”
The rush to pay tribute to the ‘greats’ such as Morcambe and Wise has given them a classic framework but no classic content. Apart from a sketch featuring Oliver frantically re-drawing her eyebrows to fit the ebb and flow of a conversation with Watson there wasn’t anything particularly new or fresh about this show.
Which is so frustrating! Because I really want to support and like a new female fronted comedy show. Unfortunately I don’t think this pair have been given the time to work out their strengths and how to play off each other.
The sketches consist of ground previously trod by French and Saunders et al. Pride and Prejudice, Playboy Bunnies, greasy spoon café. Failing to be totally original is hardly a fault specific to women in comedy. However the problem here is that neither Watson nor Oliver wants to be the necessary ‘straight man’ (woman/person) for these sketches to work.
This is understandable. Women are forever being cast in comedy as the humourless character the other men get laughs off. If a sensible person is required in a cast it will nearly always be a woman who gets lumped with that role. Now both Watson and Oliver have the chance to play the clown it seems neither are happy to reprise that role to the detriment of the sketches.
Watson described the pair’s writing process, “Egos can come into it when we both want to play a part but it's usually obvious who plays what. The friendship comes first and we don't argue.” In the spirit of friendship the end up repeatedly going with the formula and possible sad truth that women really don’t like each other.
As yet I can’t see the beginnings of any running gags, which are usually required if you are going to go down such a traditional route.