Overnite Express

Friday, September 5, 2003 by

A low-rent The High Life on wheels – that would be the kindest way of describing this utterly dreadful comedy from BBC Scotland. A matter of weeks ago BBC Scotland was publicly derided for its lack of vision and the lack of variety in its programming. And here was proof, as if proof were ever needed, that nothing has changed in the interim – or, sadly, is likely to. The small but all powerful cabal who write, produce and commission comedy in this ever more depressing land have yet another carcass on their hands. It truly beggars belief that absolute rubbish such as Overnite Express is screened. If this the brave new world, then roll out the soma tablets and let’s all join the Epsilon posse.

I know it’s accepted wisdom – not to mention an easy and predictable target – to blame the writers, but in this instance that is where the blame fairly and squarely lies. The dialogue was beyond dire and served the cast (who managed a commendable job despite the paucity of the script) no good at all. This was, yet again, a fetid, rank appropriation of how working-class Glaswegians speak, behave and interact. Simply throwing in the word “fud” or “ride” is just pathetic. Also pathetic are the stereotyped characters – this particular lot make the inhabitants of Mind Your Language look like Ivy League sophisticates. It’s tragic. Or should that be pure tragic?

Even the concept is redundant. The jolly hostess on the National Express may be a part of English culture but she’s never been part of Scotland’s. If anything, the idea of charting the high jinks of a bus crew died a lingering death with the much lamented departure of the glorious On the Buses. Updating the concept via The High Life reeks of amateur desperation. And how it shows. From the opening overhead shot of Glasgow’s Buchanan Street bus station replete with unfunny tannoy announcement (well, it perhaps was funny circa 1978) to the slightly skewed, wacky end photo-montage with the corpse (my how we never laughed) this was a symphony of screaming mediocrity that scraped a barrel like a barrel has never been scraped before.

As an inveterate overnight traveller on Glasgow to London buses, the biggest joke is that had the writers carried out any research, then they would have discovered that their actually is a fairly rich seam of potential comedy to be mined. For instance, a proportion of passengers are refugees/asylum seekers and that alone constitutes a million possibilities. But, yet again, we’re forced to accept the conceit of let’s rip the Lillian Gish out of the thick as pigshit, uncultured working-class Glaswegians. More tired than the equally clich├ęd tramp’s vest and equally as predictable as the scene featuring the priest with the gay porn mag, this is the stuff of fools.

Like the bastard soap River City, another fundamental flaw of this show is the bizarre hybrid language that the characters parley in. Diction, dear boy, diction. By turns baleful and doleful, the words and sentences slip past in a middle class stream of consciousness. When the Chewin’ the Fat team coined the “gauny no dae that” phrase that swept across West Central Scotland like a forest fire, its success was rooted in the reality and accessibility of the language. Likewise phrases such as “geeza gonk ya dobber” and “he wants a skwatch a’ yer fanny.” On this programme it would seem that the writers see fit to throw in the odd out-of-date colloquialism like “soapy tit ride” and believe that that, in itself, is sufficiently funny. A word to the wise – it’s not.

The observational aspect is similarly bad. As I said, the priest with the gay porn mag was dreadful. Gratuitous and not in the least witty or insightful. A cheap shot at an easy target and remarkably wide of it too. Similarly second-rate was the juvenile eyeball scene. And like the little fleas with lesser fleas, so on ad infinitum. Not one observational aspect worked – they all failed miserably, every single one. Another palpably grim aspect of this show was the inherent failure of the secondary characters. Populating a bus with possibilities then playing the OAP card is risibly unforgivable. Another example of going for the cheap, easy target (and, once again, missing).

The main three players in the cast try their admirable best (especially Maureen Carr) but are hopelessly left to make a silk purse from a pig’s ear of a script. And it always comes back to the script. The characters are hopelessly one-dimensional, the storylines threadbare and entirely predictable and the whole thing stutters along with mind-numbing banality. This is a show that will never get out of fourth gear thanks to the third rate writers’ second class script. The only first it will ever achieve is in the all time list of Britain worst sitcom.


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