Random Rules (It’s Kevin, BBC 2)

That The Actor Kevin Eldon has landed his own series is worthy of celebration. His face, a precision-tooled comic device, perennially disappointed but never quite despairing, has provided beautifully judged support in two decade’s worth of television comedy, from Big Train

to Nighty Night

and seemingly all points inbetween.

It’s Kevin, though, can’t be all about this wonderful physiognomy. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to be about anything at all, except the pursuit of the random. In some quarters, it has been hailed as part of a welcome return of silliness and 'out there' comedy to the television schedules. While the first episode is recognisably silly, I'd query any suggestion that it is 'out there' in the sense of being challenging or unconventional. True, it doesn't have many sketches with immediately recognisable plots, but random for random's sake is itself a well-established and (dare I say) rather stale convention.  

Obviously, sketches don't need to make sense, and a sketch show doesn’t need to have a central theme or a unifying structure, but there is a danger in pulling too hard in the opposite direction which It’s Kevin unwittingly illustrates. It feels like it’s trying too hard, cramming in non sequiturs, sketches whose only attempt at humour is an unexpected juxtaposition, and what appear to be references for their own sake (e.g., the Monty Python-esque talking cardboard cut-out of the Duchess of Cornwall). Worse, a number of these elements, such as the vox pops, feel overcooked. In A Bit of Fry & Laurie, these were funny because of the lack of context and juxtaposition, rather than because of anything hilarious the talking heads came up with. Here they include a surreal bit about slicing a seal in two to make the perfect sandwich, which is not only trying too hard but perhaps missing the point of this format.

However, the thing about randomness is that sometimes it works, and when it does it is all the more compelling for being inexplicable; witness Hitler speaking in the voice of George Martin:
There is little point in analysing this sketch, beyond noting the slyly subversive juxtaposition of Beatles Anthology-style documentary with every History Channel programme ever made about the Third Reich (that is, every History Channel programme ever made). It simply works; the seal-slicing vox pop doesn’t. But this does prompt the thought that random humour, because if its very starkness, its either-it-works-or-it-doesn’t quality, requires its creators to simply throw lots of ideas at each other and hope that some stick together. And this means that to unearth the comic diamonds of sheer randomness, it is all but inevitable that you'll have to first dig through layers of sedimented wackiness.

This, for all I know, is precisely Eldon's plan. I'm still not convinced; I prefer him in shows with a clearer sense of drama or atmosphere in which his peculiar downbeat energy can work. But it seems that, given the choice, he would rather tit about. And after twenty years of supporting roles, it's hard to blame him for indulging himself.