Friday 24 February 2012

The Importance of the Clear Quest

I watched the first episode of Series 2 of White Van Man last night. This show has been a big hit for BBC3 and has lots of things going for it. (Interested declared: I know the director, and have met the writer, Adrian Poynton, when we recorded this podcast and found him to be a thoroughly nice bloke).

But here's what struck me about the episode that aspiring sitcom writers can learn from. If you'd never seen the show before, you'd feel completely at ease watching the show because each of the characters had very clear quests that were understandable, tangible and visible. And crystal clarity is your friend when it comes to comedy (just as confusion is your sworn enemy). I've posted on this a number of times because lack of clarity in the clear central quest of the main character(s) can make a show hard to watch and kill of the comedy, like here, and here for a start.

The Title is a Good Start
White Van Man is brilliantly titled and you get the premise immediately. It's about a White Van Man. We all know what that type is and so a lot of the work is done for us. We then meet Ollie (Will Mellor) - who is the eponymous White Van Man. And his uber-quest is clear. He wants a new white van. Fair enough. And even better, he has a picture of it. We can see it. Later on, when things are going badly, we see the picture torn in two - his dream is being shattered. It's a clear visual sign-post for the audience that requires now words and keeps up the pace.

So, it seems that's his quest for the series. His secondary quest, for this episode, is the kitchen for the orphanage. He has to find one and fit it in a fixed time period. Great. Task in hand. Against the clock. Away you go.

Meanwhile, his useless assistant, Darren, has a pretend baby to look after. And in the cafe, there is a competition about the tips - with visible tip-jars so we can see who's winning (I felt there could have been more of this).

This kind of writing really puts the viewer at ease so they can enjoy the characters and the jokes. (The funniest bit for me was in the kitchen shop with the various discounts for different causes with the brilliant Amit Shah.) It's no surprise that it's a popular show.

So if you haven't seen it, watch it (here 'til 5th April 2012) and you'll see a nicely plotted, clearly signposted show - which doesn't sound like a compliment, but in the context of this blog, it really is!


  1. Yes, it's clear, puts you at your ease etc- but it's not funny!

  2. I really like this show, it has a lot of heart & a well balanced cast (actors & carachters).

    It's also nice to see that Will Mellor can play the straight guy.

    I just wish I knew what ling-ling was saying.

    Incidentally, is Ling-Ling the name of a Panda in a Bill Hicks bit? Is this deliberate, or am I going mad?

  3. I haven't seen this sitcom, as my belief in the essential goodness of mankind prevents me from watching BBC3, but I would like to say that the sitcom king of looking after pretend babies was Niles Crane in "Flour Child". That is all.

  4. Anon you can watch some episodes on Youtube.