I Know, It’s Serious (Coma Girl, Channel 4; Totally Tom, E4)
Television showcases, box of chocolates, never know what you’re going to get – you know the drill.
Channel 4 and E4 screened what were in effect two very different pitches to commissioning editors. Coma Girls, written by Abigail Wilson, went for the slow burn, with a lot of character detail and humour pitched in a generally low key (small incidents, generating smiles rather than laughs). It benefitted from an exemplary cast, and showed a willingness to play with sitcom conventions, particularly in the portrayal of the comatose Lucy (Anna Crilly, whose onstage partner Katy Wix plays one of her friends). It also wasn’t afraid to spend long stretches fitting the situation together without throwing out a joke every twenty seconds to keep our attention.
The danger with slow burn comedy is that the fuse goes out before anything has a chance to explode. This, unfortunately, was the case here. There was no moment at which the awkwardness and the difficulty of how the characters had been brought together emerged as the uncomfortable comedy which was threatened. It all felt too polite, and not as interesting as it appeared – the use of the soundtrack was rather faux-indie-movie, as were the scenes with Crilly. It might be that this needs a longer running time to tease out the ideas (this is often a feature of very character-based, relatively slow-paced comedy). But it is also possible that the ideas might not be sharp enough to be stretched over a full run.
Totally Tom, on the other hand, made it quite clear that they craved our laughter, bombarding us with silly accents, cultural references and outsized acting galore. Toms Palmer and Stourtan are both capable performers, but some of the relatively lengthy sketches (particularly the riff on Trainspotting) could have benefitted from more sober direction. But a larger problem was the rather familiar feel of the material and the approach taken (take familiar television/movie scenario, insert silliness and/or inappropriate locale, ferment comedy). Coma Girl, whatever reservations one might have, is clearly a fully thought-out show, with an unusual take on the sitcom format. Totally Tom felt like a (well-made) first draft, with little to distinguish it from many other television sketch shows. This isn’t to say it’s rubbish – worse shows have been commissioned (and recommissioned). But I wouldn’t have any great desire to see any more of this, at the moment anyway; whereas I think I would watch another episode of Coma Girl.