In the UK: Fridays, BBC1, 9.30. Repeated numerous times in the week
In the US: Nothing yet, but the new-look, redesigned BBC America might go for it
Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have been at the forefront of first alternative and then mainstream British comedy for decades now. Well, Harry Enfield was, with Paul Whitehouse writing for him. Then Paul Whitehouse got fed up, went into business for himself, and got all famous with The Fast Show. Now they’re of roughly similar fame so they get equal billing for their new BBC1 show, Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul.
It’s a hell of a lot like their previous efforts, Harry Enfield and Chums et al, but despite the years apart and the occasional duff show between them, they’ve still got what it takes. More or less.
Enfield’s real skill was always in characters, so it’s natural that this is another character-based show. There’s no Kathy Burke this time, but Morwenna Banks, who’s been fabulous since Absolutely, and newcomer Laura Solon provide support that’s at least as good as Ms Burke’s.
Of the characters, there are some that work very well indeed (the ridiculously accomplished surgeons, the Polish coffee shop women), some that work quite well but make you wonder what’s going on (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela. Really.) and others that make you wonder quite what they were thinking when they were writing them (Laurel and Hardy do Brokeback Mountain).
Other sketches are a little arch, particularly the ones that mock other comedians (because guys, you really can hold a candle to Stephen Fry. Honest), although their social commentary (the pet Geordie sketch, ‘I Saw You Coming’) is still very well observed.
The test, as always, is whether it makes you laugh. On the whole, although there were a few moments when the laughter stopped (and the canned laughter really should have been stopped), it was a pretty good half hour of reasonably original sketch show fun. It’s good to know they haven’t lost it yet.