Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse are back, and it's lovely to see them again. I'm a fan, I really am. But this fourth series goes quite a long way towards proving why the Rule of Three is historically so revered by comedy writers and performers. Because series four of Ruddy Hell is probably a series too far.
As well as delivering his usual range of nicely observed characters, Harry Enfield also directed this series and it's difficult to fault him in that department. There's also nothing wrong with the star-studded cast: Victoria Wood, Simon Day, Kevin Eldon and the delightfully baffled Justin Edwards all give splendid performances as usual. And there's some cleverly written material – scriptwriters like Bert Tyler-Moore and Arthur Mathews need no introduction and both have a list of award-winning credits as long as your arm.
The problem, or "challenge" as the BBC now like to call it, is the script editing. Let me explain exactly what I mean. Repetition is one of my own personal favourite comedy writing tools, and there is always room for one damned good repetition sketch in every comedy show. For example excessive repetition of a single word – such as the word "queer" by two posh old gentleman with large ears discussing the sexuality of Michael Gove.
But why, after only a few minutes, are we then treated to another similar word repetition sketch featuring two posh old surgeons (also with large ears) excessively repeating the word "egg"? Then two Irish-American police officers in a bar repeating the word "cop" in a ridiculous New York accent? Surely, no self-respecting script editor would put all three of these sketches into a single episode? Wouldn't that be a bit lazy? Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is a massive fan of repetition. But you won't see his writing team using it more than once per show. Because Seth knows it will lose its effectiveness. It won't be funny anymore.
How many times can a single episode of Ruddy Hell sustain Harry Enfield doing his hilarious Cholmondeley-Warner voice? Or yet another parody of a black and white film from the nineteen forties? And wasn't the aristocratic racehorse trainer talking to an unintelligible Irish jockey way too reminiscent of Arthur Mathew's already legendary Ralph and Ted sketch? Enfield and Whitehouse were both instrumental in the evolution of the Fast Show – that most glorious and innovative of sketch series that dragged broken comedy kicking and screaming from the slow-paced world of the Two Ronnies into the super-charged, short attention-spanned generation of MTV watchers.
Why, then, were Harry & Paul's "Question Time" and "Dragons' Den" sketches so interminably long – outstaying their welcome long after the initial joke had landed? There is so much experience in the performing and writing team of this series that I honestly can't understand why the running order and editing of episode one of Harry & Paul was not more expertly balanced in terms of pace, character and sketch selection.
I will, however, be watching episode two. Because compared to the BBC's more recent slate of comedy content, Harry & Paul is pure gold.
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