Ben Elton used to write satirical jokes about politics; now, in his new BBC One show, he writes jokes about taps. The Wright Way is like a sitcom written by an awful Michael McIntyre. There is two minutes of observational comedy about a dishwasher at one point. It is truly one of the most unfunny, horribly cynical shows I’ve seen.
And I say cynical, because it’s a clear attempt to ride the wave created by Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys. I didn’t like either of those shows, but I don’t begrudge them their success. Miranda Hart apparently loves the Morecambe and Wise type of humour her show apes, and Brendan O’Carroll built his show on the back of years performing it on stage in Glasgow. The Wright Way on the other hand feels like it was created by BBC executives and focus groups. And by Ben Elton, a comedian hated by other comedians.
Elton gets so much abuse because he is seen as a sellout. Once involved in genuinely outstanding British TV – from The Young Ones to Blackadder – he went on to embrace the mainstream and make musicals about Queen. I never really got the hate though. I’m not old enough to have been singing the praises of Elton in the 1980’s, so I don’t feel betrayed by his new stuff. But watching this show, I’m starting to understand the dislike people have for him.
The Wright Way is about Gerald, a health and safety manager, his work team, and his lesbian daughter. In episode one, Gerald shuts down a street. And buys a scarf for a woman at work he likes. And that’s it. That is the entire plot. The rest of the episode is about taps. They don’t work, you see. The jokes in this show really are terrible. And there is a nasty Daily Mail populist angle to the show as well. The health and safety team build horizontal slides. They make babies wear helmets. At one point, a character mentions a ‘multicultural festival’. Boo, Hiss. Multiculturalism.
Every joke is accompanied by guffawing laughter from what is either a laugh track or a studio audience. I think it’s the latter, because the show’s sets have the fake, kind of shit look of a lot of studio comedy. The windows in Gerald’s house look out onto dodgy looking, imitation gardens, probably a painted backdrop. Assuming that the show does have a live audience, they must have been coached in some way, because they respond like canned laughter and laugh at things that aren’t even jokes.
There are occasional funny jokes, but the audience is so obnoxious in their pandering reactions that even those are ruined. The characters in the show are unbelievably broad. The friend of Gerald’s daughter has all the authenticity of a teenage character from an NHS drug awareness campaign, speaking occasional modern buzzwords that Elton apparently picked up from watching a documentary about the internet. There’s also a black cleaner with a Jamaican patois and ‘oh no you didn’t’ facial expressions who is a borderline racist caricature.
There is one good part of the episode, where Gerald takes a scarf back to a shop because the security tag is still attached. The manager won’t let him leave with it, because it’s still got the security tag attached, and maybe he stole it. The catch-22 situation shows hints of a decent joke, but it is wrapped in such terrible, lazy writing that it is barely noticeable.
The Wright Way is what happens when two popular but broad shows like Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda come along at the same time, and are huge successes. The BBC executives now think they’ve found the secret of all comedy. Prepare yourself to be bombarded with such lazy, utterly awful studio comedies in the near future. This is all your fault, Miranda fans. Yours and Ben Elton’s.
There aren’t any.