Monday, 26 January 2009

Scots on the box

No Holds Bard, BBC 1 Scotland, 9.00pm, Sunday 25th January

ltogether now in our best declamatory reading-poetry-out-loud-in-an-accent-we-never-use-normally-voice:

"Let no man claim,
lest he be arrested,
that the BBC with Burns
aren't doing their bestest."

Thank you, thank you. I'm available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals, talk to my agent he handles that sort of thing.

It's true tho' isn't it? BBC Scotland's has been giein' Rabbie the full-on, blanket coverage for his 250th and why not? It's only once a year for fuck's sake, (unlike River Fuckin' City) and I imagine that the powers that be are fervently praying that the coverage of the bard gives the Homecoming Scotland campaign a bit of a boost.

OK, the organisers of HS are are pains to claim that the Year isn't just about Burns, which is a relief, because if it was, then 2009 would be the shortest year on record.

But, I'm still a bit concerned that the initial emphasis on Burns is a bit unwise in marketing terms. To put it crudely, with Burns Night awa with the cattle and January no yet loused, I fear we're in a post pop-shot situation. We've had the climax, and now we're just going to spend the rest of the year cleaning up.

Anyway, back to the Beeb. No Holds Bard was billed by the BBC press office as a "60-minute comedy mocumentary" with a "star-studded Scottish cast", detailing the lives of characters taking part in an annual Burns recitation contest. No problem with the veracity of that second bit. Every bastard was in it. It would be quicker to list the Scottish acting talent who didn't get the gig, believe me.

Mocumentary? That I'm not so sure about. Referring to my extensive video library dedicated to this genre (Christopher Guest's movies and TV's People Like Us among other examples) NHB didn't feel like a mocumentary. First, it wasn't on film if you know what I mean. The producers had used that video format which gave the show the look of a soap.

Second, it was far too well directed to successfully con us into thinking we were watching a doc or moc for that matter. The set ups were just too accomplished, the transition edits too professional to help the joke along. It needed more jiggly camera work and people getting their words jumbled up - you know, like Reporting Scotland every night.

And, third, (or "c" if you will) there was just too much acting going on. Watch any of the great mocs and you "see" very little acting. The "interviewees" usually play it dead straight. The humour is in what they say, and the situations they find themselves in.

Perhaps one of the weakness of NHB derived from the very diversity of acting backgrounds the show drew on. For example. Ashley Jensen, understands TV, understands tone and pacing. Gerard Kelly, understands panto. Gerard's pyscho-prison governer was less mocumentary, more Buttons charging around the stage looking for laughs in the Saturday matinee at The Kings.

The mocumentary genre relies on consistency of tone to allow us, the audience, to sit back and enjoy the gags. NHB was all over the shop. It desperately needed a monotone voice-over to anchor it. It needed more time spent on the script and less on the set-dressing. It needed to be thought through.

There was some funny stuff in it. The interplay between Paula and Boyd (Felicity Montagu and Vincent Franklin) as the nervous incomers from That England was good. Paula, a self-made woman in love with her creator, terminally self-deluded into thinking she can do Burns and convinced the locals are welcoming. And Boyd, cleaning up the vandalism left by the local ethnic-cleansers, one ear on his wife's confabulations, the other braced for the sound of breaking glass.

There was a tart, black edge to that interplay that could use opening out. The BBC commissioning a sitcom about English incomers being terrorised by local heiders? The look on Alex Salmond's face? Count me in. So, No Holds Bard? More like No Turn Left Unstoned, but not totally bad.

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