Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show

Monday, September 18, 2000 by

On the BBC Harry Enfield’s programmes (in their various guises) always seemed like a slightly fusty, less imaginative version of The Fast Show. That’s ironic, of course, bearing in mind that The Fast Show is arguably a spin-off from Enfield’s programmes, however it cannot be denied that the offspring has supplanted the father in the annals of “credible” comedy. Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show on Sky One sees the old codger trying to snatch back some of the kudos and comedy street cred for himself. But it doesn’t really work.

To posit Enfield as a “dangerous” property (as Sky One has tried to do) seems a rather misguided venture. Although Enfield has ostensibly taken to this reinvention with enthusiasm, in reality little has changed. Most obviously, the programme is still obsessed with that veneer of pre and post-war stuffiness which had surely been worked to its apotheosis with Mr Chomondley-Warner. Aside from the gently mocking title (and doesn’t “spanking” now have that same air of naffness evoked when Comic Relief appropriated “stonking”?) this is most prevalent in a reoccurring sketch featuring a pair silk pyjama wearing, smoking jacketed “bachelors” who wax portentously (and thus ironically) over iconic 21st century products (tonight they agonise over cell phones and Nike trainers). This sort of material is the antithesis of danger, and comes from a well-plundered seam – aside from the obvious similarities with the BBC series, there is more than a little of A Bit of Fry and Laurie‘s “Tony and Control” sketches here, as the pair converse in a banal but earnest fashion.

The key character in the programme is obviously Enfield’s version of Jeremy Paxman. Here is the definition of the new edgy Enfield, and tonight we witness an MP being asked repeatedly “Are you a shit?” And that’s about as dangerous it’s going to get. In truth there’s something about character comedy that always connotes an essence of whimsy, and gentle unthreatening eccentricity. This sort of stuff is just naughty, rather than nasty. No matter how it’s packaged, Enfield’s material always seems to allude to The Two Ronnies, Harry Worth and (most fatally) Dick Emery. It seems inappropriate to look for danger in a man whose raison d’ĂȘtre is cheekiness.

So the spanking new show is a bit of a misfire, but not without worth. In comparison to Sky One’s other new comedy hope Richard Herring and Al Murray’s Time Gentlemen Please, it’s fairly accomplished. And Enfield does come up with a few enjoyable stingers (the boorish toff who impatiently drowns out other people with a booming chorus of “yah, yah, yah” is great fun). It is disappointing, however, that he hasn’t seen fit to deviate from the formula he’s been using for years now. As ever, the programme is based around a core of five or six characters, all of whom react in a specific and singular fashion to any given situation. With the simplistic core characteristics established they are simply dropped into a scenario and work their way to the same, inevitable punch line every time. Their very predictability is the core of the comedy.

However, we shouldn’t be too churlish about Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show. The fact that Sky One are now originating a fair amount of original material is something to be celebrated. It is a shame, of course, that with Enfield we’re getting more of the same. But perhaps we should have expected that: like his characters, it matters not what situation he’s placed in, he inexorably ends up giving us the same pay-off time after time.


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