SITCOMS ON THE SILVER SCREEN

The death knell for sitcom success: adapting a middling to good TV programme to the silver screen. It’s the equivalent to wheeling round the British Broadcasting Centre screaming, “BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!”  What started in the ’70s as harmless fun, (Porridge, Rising Damp, The Likely Lads) has gotten way out of control. On the Buses beat Diamonds are Forever to the box office top spot and Morcambe and Wise lost their spark – dark times. The self-congratulatory ’90s seemed a blast at the time – all boner jokes and Eyeball Pauls as Harry Enfield’s particular brand of catchphrase comedy clobbered the cinema with an unsubtle thud. Even an extreme soft spot for Edward Elizabeth Hitler and Richard Richard couldn’t hide the fact that Bottom’s Guest House Paradiso was as messy as its vomit filled denouement. So with apprehension and a grimace we approach The Inbetweeners: a feature length episode destined to dominate our filmic horizon in August and determined to introduce more than just ‘clunge’ to our everyday language.

The familiar Inbetweeners lexicon was thrust upon us in the first teaser trailer, James Buckley grabbing the only line in a minute’s worth of predictability saying, “you better bring your wellies because it’ll be knee-deep in clunge.” Thanks James. To paraphrase the show, you get the feeling we will be ‘nuts deep’ in cliché. Even the boys’ holiday to Crete feels like a stereotype dragged out of the sea – let’s hope they find Reggie Perrin amongst the seaweed and nob jokes.

From a different perspective, this cynical viewpoint is somewhat unfair. Who can deny a production team their victory lap after unexpected success on telly? But whilst The Inbetweeners shined in series one and two, I doubt comedy fans will be frothing at the gash for their exploits in film.

Instead of bastardising an existing format, how about reshaping a successful show for a new audience. Michael Winterbottom’s gentle jaunt around the British countryside is being re-edited to movie length and marketed to the States as one. The Trip and its gentle six episodes have been condensed for American tastes (that’s a lot of Michael Caine impressions in one sitting) and it just might work.

Winterbottom’s cinematic eye stood out on the small screen and the States love the uptight English, so is it time they embraced Steve Coogan? Maybe not with a nuanced show like The Trip but how about Alan Partridge? Armando Iannucci’s already stated Partridge will remain in England for the film, saying Simon Cowell’s spot on an American TV show would be too good for Alan, so maybe we finally have a sitcom that won’t stick to the usual formula.

The film project has been bouncing around forever though, with a supposed Al-Qaeda plot put on hold after the July 7th bombings in London. The chances are, if the thing is ever made, that they’ll still push boundaries, though. With all the writers from the TV series on board and various rumours involving Die Hard in Norwich to fuel the flames, this could be sitcom gold for the big screen. Then again it could be a clanger, ANY OLD IRON, ANY OLD IRON. My Family the Movie anyone?

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 29 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2011