So Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s new sitcom has been and gone. Will there be a second series? Naturally it was a send-up of the sitcom genre, just as the riotous Shooting Stars was an ironic view of a panel game. It’s the cosy wisecracking American style of comedy that seems to be the target. Being a huge Vic & Bob devotee, but not a fan of Catterick at all, I was nervous how this would turn out. The establishing shot is of a grand block of Victorian apartments, but the set appears to be a small mews terrace. I hoped that wasn’t the Joke gone already. Characters introduce themselves in song: rambling tiddle-te-tum, sniff-of-me-bum type lyrics to the tune of Day Trip to Bangor (Remember Fiddler’s Dram? (Do you know what’s happening about the third album?)). Hmm.
The setup is archetypal. Bob plays the Householder, or Billpayer, continually vexed and perplexed by the irresponsible, selfish and downright ungrateful attitude of the junior members of the household. Traditionally it has been a generation gap at the root of the problem; here, as the title suggests, it’s more of an idiocy gap. First among the freeloaders is of course housemate Vic. These two’s usual prop-based front-desk banter from Smell of and the like is used as a sort of warm-up and transplants very well to the sitcom format.
Then there’s Vic’s brother Bosh (Dan “Angelos” Skinner), an ex-con and unwelcome lodger. A frequent (near permanent in fact) visitor is Beef (Matt “Vangelis” Berry), a ladies’ man who models himself on a ‘seventies Demis Roussos. Now let’s get the main problem with this show out of the way at once: these last two are a waste of space. However good they may have been in other roles, these characters are uninspired and have no funny lines. End of story.
Living locked away but occasionally creeping down the staircase is Erik, a badly-haircut young Norwegian and Bob’s son. A quiet but extraordinarily spiteful child he spends much of his on-screen time making dry-retching noises after discovering his father in compromising positions with other men. Daniel Simonsen plays him very well; you can almost see the mental cogs whirring behind his eyes as he calculates just how offensive he can get away with being to his long-suffering dad this time.
The shining star of the supporting cast is Morgana Robinson as Julie the nextdoor neighbour. She’s an airheaded ageing goodtime-girl, tall, broad-hipped and with an extraordinary stance. She walks like she’s carrying a wardrobe, and has a grimace where she seems to turn her face upside down. Incurably randy and given to unsubtle body language, her secret vice is taking snaps of her men-friends’ trouser packets. A great comic creation, you’d love to have her living next door, at the same time knowing she’d be an absolute nightmare.
There’s lots to like about the show. Traditional sitcom plotting is used to great effect. Example: Bob’s unwanted birthday coffin comes in handy in pretending to be dead to escape the boat-hook wielding mother of his child. There are occasionally wonderful surreal sketchlet cut-aways of what is going on in a character’s head. Long-time fans will recognise the unexpected hilarity resulting from simplemindedness such as Vic or Bob staggering around with ordinary household objects jammed on their heads. Some of the visual comedy set-pieces are truly inspired, such as Bob in a tin bath on the gas hob. Best of all was the arthritic rat that no one could catch. (I know it doesn’t sound very inspired, but you had to be there.) Oh, and Vic’s paintings.
Vic & Bob have never really settled in to a niche; Shooting Stars was the nearest they’ve come so far. I had one thing at the back of my mind watching this: Bottom. Richie and Eddie’s sitcom was surely a big influence. Consider the single large theatre-style set in front of a “live” audience, the slapstick humour, even some of the plotlines. They made a point of having the studio audience, but Fools seems dead compared to Bottom. It feels like the actual takes were filmed after the audience had gone home. Mayall and Edmondson spent a long time crafting their comedy, and ended up with a carefully polished gem. You could say Reeves and Mortimer did the same with the final series of Shooting Stars. But here they seem to have strung some left-over jokes together with some off-the-cuff gags that made the guys laugh in the canteen. Much of it is funny, but sometimes it’s almost cringe-making to watch. It certainly won’t gain them any new fans.
I could give a few tips for a second series: the frequent swearing and scat references don’t suit. Get rid of the jobs-for-the-boys casting, and with it the lazy if-in-doubt-say-something-rude scriptwriting. Oh, and did you know you can have several drafts of a script? But on the whole House of Fools cheered me up. Something good has been shown on the telly for once, but it’s still cheaper to buy only what you enjoy on DVD rather than pay the BBC licence fee. (About a hundred and thirty-five quid a year cheaper if my calculator doesn’t lie.)
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 3/5