Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights

TV review by Steve Bennett

Channel 4 played its cards very close to its chest with Tramadol Nights; releasing not so much as a preview clip before last night’s premiere, perhaps for fear of sparking tabloid outrage.

And, sure enough, there was plenty to offend in Frankie Boyle’s stand-up and sketch hybrid – but also plenty to enjoy for those who have no issue with his pungent humour.

Though whether it is worth Boyle giving up his stand-up career for is a moot point, for his hard-edged monologues were the strongest elements: full of brutally elegant one-liners and stinging ad-libs with the audience, they captured Boyle’s live work well.

Typically, he showed no mercy when attacking such targets as organised religion, though his tendency to mock the weak (for want of a better phrase) just as equally as the strong was largely kept in check, though Susan Boyle might beg to disagree. And even a dozen years after Jerry Sadowitz liberally dropped C-bombs on his Channel Five show, it’s still a shock to hear the word used so casually on mainstream TV.

For all the assaults on decency, though, Boyle’s sketches showed a sillier streak, and when he gets a daft idea into his head – such as his suggestion of what was really going on in Knight Rider – he wrings every last gag out of it.

Sketch shows are notoriously ‘hit and miss’, and Boyle’s is no exception with a few easy gags such as George Michael’s predictably lewd Highway Code, and some that came across as just a bit odd, such as the Green Mile spoof.

However, it wasn’t just the quality that was uneven, but the tone – creating a slightly unsettling atmosphere that actually worked in its favour. It certainly means Tramadol Nights feels unlike other sketch shows, and never more than the disconcerting Untitled Street, a soap opera in which faceless actors could say nothing meaningful for fear of causing offence – Boyle’s dystopian idea of the blandly utilitarian entertainment we’d be left with if broadcasters continue to be risk-averse.

That’s not a charge you can lay at Channel 4’s door in commissioning this show. A lot of people will hate every moment – and I’m sure Boyle would want it no other way – but it’s got all the makings of a cult hit, too.

Published: 1 Dec 2010

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