Monday, 6 December 2010

Sitcom oddities

I watched a couple of sitcom rarities the other day, neither very good but both interesting because of their connection to other, much better, shows.

First up, the moderately famous "No Ill Feeling!" episode of LWT's 1971 series Doctor at Large starring the late Barry Evans as newly graduated Dr Michael Upton, former student from the earlier show Doctor in the House

Written by John Cleese (one of six episodes he penned for the show), "No Ill Feeling!" was something of a prototype for Fawlty Towers, depicting as it does Upton's stay in a hotel where he is unnerved by the proprietor, played by Timothy Bateson, and one of the guests, a tiresome jokester (Roy Kinnear) whose eventual comeuppance is the episode's raison d'etre.

Basil Fawlty was of course inspired by Cleese's 1969 stay at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay where he observed first hand the antics of its misanthrope proprietor Donald Sinclair.  And so this brilliant idea for a sitcom received its first airing here, a full five years before Fawlty Towers.

Unfortunately however, it's terrible.  Little of Cleese's unquestionable genius for the form is evident here, in a tiresome 25 minutes featuring annoying, impossible characters at every turn.  Bateson's hotelier is not so much misanthropic as just plain strange, and given to Spoonerisms - not a particularly rich vein of humour onscreen in my opinion, possibly because I've never actually heard anyone use one in reality.

And as I've intimated, the hotel manager is so far down the list of importance in the storyline that it's hardly been worth anyone commenting on its existence - as Fawlty in nascent form that is - all this years.

Connie Booth deserves every inch of her credit for the later series, especially as she had nothing whatsoever to do with this.

Next up, was the pilot for Cosby, Bill Cosby's 1996-2000 follow-up to the mighty The Cosby Show, and based on no less an original source than One Foot in the Grave!

This was undoubtedly one of the worst things I have ever seen.  Bill Cosby's loose improvisatory style was completely at odds with the necessarily tight structure of David Renwick's original creation; not to mention the miscasting of the essentially good natured-seeming Cosby as a curmudgeon.

The show ran for four seasons, and I would hazard a guess that its resemblance to the original, tenuous even here, was invisible by the end.

Never screened in the UK to my knowledge, and not available on DVD.

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