Tonight, Channel Four launched their two new sketch shows, the long-awaited vehicle for Frankie Boyle and a series for the relatively unknown Morgana Robinson.
Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights is a mix of stand-up and sketches. The stand up was Boyle’s usual stuff – literally, in fact, as most of the material was taken from his recent tour and DVD. That said, it was mostly good, if you enjoy his brand of controversial vitriol. Where the programme really fell apart was the sketches. What started as a nice idea for a quick sketch about Knight Rider’s Michael Knight hearing KITTs voice in his head turned into an epic which went on and on long after the joke had worn thin. A sketch about decade-old film The Green Mile fell flat and another, about Brokeback Mountain veered dangerously close to entirely relying on homosexuality being a hilarious concept of itself, without any subtext or point.
And that’s the main problem with Tramadol Nights, there doesn’t appear to be any point to any of the sketches, save for one about the Iranian version of Loose Women, with the burka-wearing presenters being hanged, which was astonishingly jarring next to the puerile humour of the rest of the show. I’m all for more comedy on television that pushes the edges of taste and decency, but Boyle needs to be more careful with his targets. Controversy for the sake of controversy does not work but there seems very little more to Tramadol Nights than an attempt to shock. The best “shocking” comedy, whether it’s South Park’s biting satire or Jerry Sadowitz’s challenging stand-up, has so much more depth than what was seen here. It is a disappointment, because Boyle at his best can be a whirlwind of energy and caustic wit. It seems this format isn’t the right vehicle for him. Perhaps Mock the Week was.
Following directly afterwards, The Morgana Show couldn’t be more different. Slow-burning, character-based sketches which often didn’t go anywhere but were mostly watchable purely because of the performances. Morgana Robinson came to the attention of Channel Four executives after sending in a home-made DVD and was fast-tracked to the cast of the TNT Show before being given her own series.
Many of the sketches featured brilliantly crafted characters, such as has-been Hollywood actress Madolynn, but lacked any funny lines. There’s no doubt that Robinson is an excellent character comedienne, and does the best impression of her good friend Fearne Cotton that you are ever going to see, but too many of the sketches felt like nothing more than a showcase for her acting abilities without providing much humour. There were some exceptions, such as a really enjoyable sketch about a couple who run a funeral home.
While it wasn’t brilliant, there was enough quality in The Morgana Show to deserve a look at the second episode, which will feature some more characters. Which is probably more than Tramadol Nights deserves, sadly.