Thursday, July 6, 2000 by

Here’s the setup: a legal situation comedy.

Since This Life it would be reasonable to assume that a new sitcom set around a barristers’ chambers or the legal profession in general would be sharp and contemporary with a whiff of sex thrown in for good measure. But here comes Chambers … Although we should temper our reaction a little, bearing in mind this is only the second show, the inescapable conclusion is; it’s awful. The post-watershed timeslot promised at least some edge, perhaps some cynical satire or a little black comedy, unfortunately this is more akin to Terry and Juneat its most banal.

On paper, the cast look good: John Bird – respected comedy performer and satirist, Sarah Lancashire – soap star who has turned in some decent performances and James Fleet – well … he’s been in The Vicar of Dibley. Unfortunately they are all playing badly drawn stereotypes of barristers; Bird is the pompous buffoon Head of Chambers, Lancashire the feisty femme, Fleet a reprise of his character in Dibley. In addition, Jonathan Kydd is a mechanical “east-end barrow boy” chambers clerk. Universally the acting is woeful, with conversations stilted and wooden as though they’d all only just met.

Here is sitcom by numbers, with painfully telegraphed jokes and a hoary old plot that feels like it could have serviced Robin Tripp quite happily. The setting was notably irrelevant, thus negating the “sit” altogether. This could have been based in as anonymous a setting as a bank as we never go past the limited confines of the office and explore comedy in a court setting, or even in the cells after a trial. Thus we’re left with a programme that we can’t meaningfully differentiate from – say - The Peter Principle. And that’s pretty much where its level is; as a clone of The Peter Principal it’s an undistinguished office comedy with few laughs and little depth. There is nothing essentially original to Chambers, nothing high concept. It’s a comedy that could have been made at anytime in the last 30 years.

The BBC seem to have a problem at the moment with comedy, as all the hit shows of the past have ended, they are struggling to find new talent and new ideas. On the basis of this episode, their search goes on…


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