Operation Good Guys

Thursday, July 27, 2000 by

In a few weeks, it’ll be time for a newspaper or magazine to proclaim that the sitcom is dead again.

It seems to occur every few months, and yet those responsible always make two mistakes – firstly, they forget that a few years ago we were all bemoaning the death of the sketch show, and secondly they always suggest that the old-fashioned British sitcom is a dead concept and that new programmes must do something different.

This idea, though, is flawed, as a look at the most successful recent comedy series can illustrate - dinnerladies was an old-fashioned Northern comedy full of innuendo, Gimme Gimme Gimme was a straightforward sex comedy, and The League of Gentlemen was, in essence, aPython-style revue, with drag and grotesque characters. Even That Peter Kay Thing and The Royle Family used the same sort of patois to be found on a day at my grandparents’ house. And that’s not to forget American sitcoms, most of which are completely mainstream - Frasierand Friends using very old-fashioned plots and characterisations.

In contrast, most of the “experimental”, “innovative” comedy shows in the past year or so have been unwatchable, unpopular rubbish. Spaced, for example, could have been entertaining if they’d concentrated on jokes rather than visual effects and dream sequences. Bruiser seemed to be an attempt at an anti-comedy show, where bad scripts were performed deliberately badly, and most of the output of BBC2′s Comedy Nation and C4′s Comedy Lab may have been fun for the writers and performers but was absolute misery for the audience. Fortunately, most of these shows don’t last very long or go out late at night. That’s apart from Operation Good Guys, which has, for some reason, now made it to a third series on peak-time television.

Exactly why a third series has appeared is hard to fathom – the first series, though admittedly broadcast on Saturdays opposite big-budget opposition, got a very small audience, and the second was hammocked between Gimme Gimme Gimme and The Royle Family repeats and still failed to make the BBC2 chart. And surely the concept itself can’t be extended very far? However, the first shot in this week’s programme was of BBC executive Paul Jackson, who, along with Will Wyatt, appeared a lot throughout the show. This could hint at some bargaining going on behind the scenes …

The “plot” of the series is that the Good Guys are an undercover police force, who are also the subject of a docusoap. The “experimentation” is that the programme is mostly improvised – the basic plot exists but there’s no script. The actors also write, direct and produce the series. The docusoap format also allows them to break down some barriers in how the series is filmed and how the story is told.

So we started this episode with the leader of the team (played by David Gillespie) in Paul Jackson’s office, where Jackson asked him if he’s like to take part in a Good Guys Christmas Special. Gillespie instantly starts thinking about Val Doonican and Morecambe and Wise and then leaves the office to plan a big-budget Christmas spectacular. And that was the entire plot of the episode. On his return to the rest of the force, he sees them trying to plan a drugs bust and tells them to stop concentrating on that and learn some dance moves.

About five minutes in, Gillespie was still going on about this Christmas show, even though he’d spoken to the BBC about it for five seconds. Alright, it’s a comedy show, but you can’t just have someone coming in and saying “We’re doing a Christmas show” and expect that to suffice as an explanation. If anything, it complicated the series – why did Paul Jackson commission it when they’re supposed to be crap? And why is it being commissioned by the entertainment department anyway? We were not told why this may be the case.

Gillespie’s character is clearly so stupid that he continued to act totally irrationally throughout the episode – dragging in “Bones” (played by Perry Benson, henceforth to be referred to as ‘the one from You Rang, M’Lord) and telling him that he wasn’t going to get in the show wearing glasses, before stamping on them. This was clearly a terrible plot contrivance to allow the one from You Rang M’Lord to wander around for the rest of the show going “I can’t see nuffink!” – a routine that even Mr Magoo might have considered “a bit stupid” – confusing a mop for a woman, and in one excruciating scene, pissing up against the office wall because he thought it was a toilet. The barriers of comedy remain resolutely untoppled.

Gillespie then hired a dwarf to play Santa’s Little Helper in their show, and this led to a series of “delightfully politically incorrect” references to midgets. However, to subvert all our expectations, the dwarf was violent (psychotically so, because that’s really funny, isn’t it?) and kept on kicking and biting everyone he didn’t like. All this, and there was still no plot to speak of. Eventually they went off to Television Centre – well, it’s convenient – and started to plan the show while the others did their drugs bust, seizing cocaine that was stored in wrapped boxes. Bear that in mind …

At TV Centre, after a ridiculously overlong sequence of them walking down a corridor and commenting on the pictures on the wall, they were accosted by a security guard who told them to leave, before the dwarf started biting him. In the studio, Gillespie’s character proceeded to black-up, which was of course all done in the spirit of irony and was a satire on lazy comedic crutches, despite the programme relying on them all night. The one from You Rang M’Lordfound himself interrupting Michael Fish’s weather forecast, a joke I remember seeing onChildren’s BBC over a decade ago, and then hilariously, did it again five minutes later. Five minutes after that, he did the exact same thing again.

The programme appeared to totally run out of plot about 15 minutes in, and thereafter every “joke” revolved around the comedic-devices that a) they were policemen or b) they had a violent dwarf. In the studio (how did they get a studio? A crew? A set?) they brought in Denise Van Outen who disappointed Gillespie’s character by not being Val Doonican – a reference surely lost on it’s hip young target audience. So they arrested her. Then Will Wyatt turned up (surely non-plussing the viewers) and told them to stop, so the midget bit him. Paul Jackson followed, and here we reached the comic crescendo: he was bitten by the midget and arrested. Hilarious.

Eventually, they did a musical number with falling snow which they got from gift-wrapped boxes. Of course, it was cocaine, and so they inhaled all of it – not that we’d have been able to tell given that they were all shouting, and arsing about, much as they’d done for the rest of the programme. And Gillespie did the last scene in drag, because drag is always funny regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Operation Good Guys is not only unfunny, it’s also ineptly produced and almost an insult to viewers. When we see Gillespie walking down TV Centre corridors doing some unfunny improvisation around a picture of Sue Lawley, it’s almost offensive that he can get away with doing this on television, and is getting paid to do so. Technically, the show’s witless as well – half the time the programme forgets it’s a spoof docusoap, and a voiceover was heard twice in the programme, obviously only there to cover gaping holes in the plot. The first pre-credit sequence featured Gillespie blacked-up, something he did later in the episode, so it made no sense at all. And surely you can’t spoof a docusoap by overacting and following absurd, illogical and fantastical activites – that’s what a docusoap isn’t.

Worse still, the appearances by Jackson and Wyatt make it seem BBC-approved, as if Jackson would like the public to associate BBC entertainment with some bad actors running around corridors in drag. It’s impossible to believe that this programme reached a third minute on television, let alone a third series. It’s clearly the worst comedy programme transmitted this year, and could possibly be the worst programme full stop. Dominic Anciano, Ray Burdis and Hugo Blick are nominally in charge, in that they have to turn this sprawling mess into something vaguely transmittable. Blick used to be a BBC script editor – if you had a sitcom script rejected by the Corporation, it was his decision. And now he’s responsible for this. And so are your licence fees.

The BBC couldn’t insult us more if they stuck a turd through our letterbox. Whilst dressed in drag.


2 Responses to “Operation Good Guys”

  1. bones on September 8th, 2009 12:46 pm

    operation goodguys is class!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Steve Williams on September 8th, 2009 6:38 pm

    Hooray! The complaints continue into a tenth fantastic year! I still stand by every word of this, by the way.