Just after the turn of the century Dom Joly redefined the hidden camera show. A bonanza of bizarre, surreal, but most of all original ideas which has cemented its place among modern comedy greats. Trigger Happy TV was an undoubted success, owing to the abstract humour of the show, and the sheer simplicity of it all.
Now, a week after Trigger Happy TV was ranked 12th on Channel 4's list of their Greatest Comedy Shows Ever, Dom Joly returned to TV with Fool Britannia, again featuring pranks on the unsuspecting public – and given his track record, I tuned in to ITV1 with high hopes.
Fool Britannia, from its opening episode, keeps to the very successful formula that made Trigger Happy TV such a success. However, the sheer simplicity of Trigger Happy TV was lost, and this let it down. Hard.
This was evident from the very first seconds of the show when Joly starts narrating. This is completely unnecessary. A hidden camera show needs no explanation as to what is in store, and even those new to the format will not find it hard to work out. Trigger Happy TV throws the audience straight into the action, ten seconds into the episode and you are already watching the second prank. No introduction. No explanation.
The opening prank in Fool Britannia featured the 'ASBO Vicar' (yes, the explanation even names them) stealing an ambulance, after a lengthy explanation of the premise of the prank. No audience needs this explaining to them. Not even ITV's.
There were moments where you felt a prank could slot right into an episode of Trigger Happy TV and not look out of place. The New York skyline billboard being parked in front of a man on a bench at Land's End is a prime example. But the whole effect was cheapened by the explanation and Dom Joly quipping: ‘I just saved him a fortune in air fare’ over the top.
A further example of this is the nightclub doormen being on the door of JJB Sports and a children’s party. Some of the ideas were great, but always the explanations ruined the effect.
Another thing that disappointed me was the laughter track. f someone finds anything funny, they laugh. They do not need telling what is, and what is not, funny. The Mighty Boosh had a laughter track on its pilot episode and, when you watch it, has a totally different – and worse – feel than the rest of the series. A hidden camera show needs no laughter track. Not even on ITV.
Maybe I should not have tuned in expecting a similar show to Trigger Happy TV. After all, ITV have not made cutting edge comedy in years. But it is almost unbelievable that this is such a disappointing show from the man who had ‘raised the humble practical joke to the level of an art form’ (as The Evening Standard said of Trigger Happy TV) it is almost unbelievable that such a different, disappointing, show was produced. But then again it is ITV.
Fool Britannia has proved not a patch on Trigger Happy TV. Gone is the surrealism of being sent an orangutan-a-gram and a KGB spy mistaking members of the public for his colleague Grey Squirrel. Instead Joly has produced a very broad, crass, and frankly irritating show.
Ten years ago, would anyone have predicted this of him?
- James Flynn tweets at @james_Flynn