Thanks to iPlayer (possibly the best use of licence fee money since hiring David Attenborough in the 60s) I finally managed to watch the new BBC1 sitcom, The Royal Bodyguard. I'd tried to avoid too much press before seeing it myself, but saw that some people were saying slightly curious things about it, comparing it to Jonny English, as if that were a bad thing. Daft physical comedy is the oldest, most enduring, most globally successful kind of comedy there is (ask multi-millionaire Rowan Atkinson). Some people just don't like that kind of thing. Fair enough.
It's also worth bearing in mind that The Royal Bodyguard is written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni, who wrote the excellent Worst Week of My Life. They have proven that they are decent writers, especially of farce and physically comedy - and are more successful than sitcomgeek. Noted.
Caveats done. So what did you think?
I saw Episode 1 and I'm not into it yet. It's early days, and my concerns with it may well end up being addressed. Here's my main observation. The show is all about the central character. Completely and totally. Other characters in the show are all played very straight - even the wonderfully funny Neil Edmond, and the cartoonish villains. I personally would have made the peripheral characters funny and given them lots of jokes. Geoffrey Whitehead really knows how to nail a joke, so its a pity he didn't have much to get his teeth into.
Now because the writers are good, the star of the show has nothing to prove as a comedy actor, and the production company are the mighty Hatrick, there must be some reason as to why all involved are not being carried shoulder-high through the streets of Shepherd's Bush. It feels like it was a conscious decision to focus the comedy on the central character, so the pressure is all on David Jason as the Royal Bodyguard to do every single one of the show's jokes. To sustain that level of scrutiny, the character needs to be completely watertight. But water is, I fear, seeping in. Or out. (which every is the bad way round).
Who is Hubble?
So who is this Hubble character? My main beef is that after watching him for half an hour, I still don't really know. I'm not after backstory. (Remember, backstory is comedy death) I need to understand what he wants. Is he incompetent, stupid, clumsy, unprofessional, hapless or out of his depth? These all overlap, but they're not the same thing.
And when we meet the character for the first time, we form our initial impression of him. And here is a confusing signal because at the very beginning, the Queen is getting into the coach. He picks up a crisp packet and explodes it in the face of a guard. Really? What an extraordinary thing for even a lowly royal car park attendant. He must be a really prankster. Or a live wire. Like Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura. Or massively unprofessional - in which case he wouldn't try to rescue the Queen. Who is he?
His exchange with the Hotel guy (Neil Edmond) doesn't quite establish him. We don't know whether he realises he's been massively overpromoted or not. It would be useful to clarify that. One way to go would be to make him pompous/Mainwairing-like and think its about time he was in charge, and this will give him the respect her craves. This could explain why he genuinely thinks that female assassin is attracted to him, because at the moment, that bit feels implausible. He would surely realise that he, as head of security, is a prime target for a femme fatale?
He is obviously fairly stupid. But how stupid? It sounds picky, but again, it would be useful to know exactly how stupid or, indeed, why he is so stupid. What desire or life-goal is hampering his judgment to badly? We encounter different types of stupid in the same show and we can tell the difference - think about Kramer, George and Newman in Seinfeld. In Dad's Army, Pike is stupid because he's young. In Allo Allo, the policeman is stupid because he's foreign/English. People often appear stupid ebcause they want something. What is it?
In the hotel room, Hubble seems surprised by someone who is obviously a hotel porter and a maid in the bedroom. Is he really that stupid? It's okay if he is. Very stupid is funny. But then he later, he correctly realises that leg of the assassin was different (and this thought is not triggered by anything). So he's not that stupid? And yet this is the man who didn't realise he was being seduced. And somehow didn't feel his key being taken from out of his sock.
English & Clouseau
Now I couldn't answer any of these questions in the case of Johnny English and/or Inspector Clouseau. And yet it feels like Atkinson/Sellars know in their hearts what their characters are like and what really makes them tick. And when The Royal Bodyguard really shows us who Hubble is, what he wants and why he can't have it, we'll have some serious comedy on our hands.