Taking The Flak on BBC2 last night was possibly the actual dictionary definition of ‘gentle comedy’. In fact, so gentle was it, I barely smiled never mind actually laughed.
The concept was that a BBC correspondent, and decidedly tiny fish in the seemingly shark infested pool of journalism, Harry Chambers, had reported from a far-flung African village called Karibu on the increasing tensions and fighting there. The story was picked up by the global press and bigwigs from the BBC turned up.
Cue Martin Jarvis – who looked remarkably like he was parodying John Simpson – as David who took all the limelight and credit for the emerging story, much to little fish Harry’s dismay. This it would seem is termed “bigfooting” by those in the know. Meanwhile, BBC producer Jane was haggling for rooms at the local hotel where she got to choose if the rooms were on the shooting side or the mortar side.
Throughout we saw Jane in a permanent frenzy as she catered to egos and fought to get time on the major news slots while all the while, she was seemingly on the brink of having an aneurysm.
What this show boiled down to was being a rehash of Drop The Dead Donkey and someone had – or at least, if felt like they had – sat down and studiously studied the ‘in-jokes’ relating to journalism as well as The Writer’s Guide To Subplots. This brought us football-mad boy soldiers who opened fire when Chelsea was mentioned, corrupt car dealers, explosive diahorrea, unexploded landmines, old flames, impromptu hostage situations and a YouTube viral video.
One of the very few laugh out loud moments for me came when Harry and his colleague Margaret – the diahorrea cursed lady – were out “in the field” and a dog came running over to them. Unfortunately for the dog, it stepped on a landmine and we saw Harry and Margaret being covered in exploded hound while all that was left of the pooch was his paw in a crater. I know it sounds like it wouldn’t be amusing – maybe you had to be there – but in a show as light on laughs as this one, a body tends to clutch at comedic straws.
Throughout the show I felt like I should be laughing, should be finding it amusing. Maybe the humour was just too intelligent for a dingbat such as myself, or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t actually funny. Perhaps the in-joke nature of it would’ve had international correspondents rolling around clutching their ribs, but for those of us who don’t end our working day saying, “Reporting from Somewhere Dangerous”, it simply didn’t pack even a small slap round the face, much less a punch.
That said, I suppose if you aren’t overly bothered about whether you laugh out loud or not, then you might have liked it. Thing is, I am. If something claims to be a comedy, I expect to find it funny. This is something of a little pet peeve of mine actually; shows such as Kingdom for instance – and now Taking The Flak – are cases in point on this issue.
It’s possibly a trading standards issue in that, for me anyway, shows like these which play fast and loose with the word ‘comedy’ really should be called to task for the incorrect packaging.
I mean, if you bought a paddling pool then found that actually, you couldn’t put water in it, you’d demand a refund wouldn’t you? If you bought something that said it was bacon but found out it was in fact ham, one might argue it was from the same family of cold meats but not in fact bacon… I do love a good simile.
So, to sum up, despite trying to emulate Drop The Dead Donkey and using the key ingredients of that successful format, where DTDD did in fact justifiably label itself comedy, this should more accurately have been described sort-of-funny-occasionally.