I’m flying out to mittel-Europe this coming weekend. What a pleasure, then, to receive this email from my mittel-European airline:
DEAR PASENGER ,
WE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR RESERVATION VIA INTERNET AND WE WANT TO
ADVICE YOU THAT WE DO NOT CHARGE YOUR CREDITCARD HERE , YOU HAVE TO PAY AN PICK UP YOUR TICKET AT LONDON
CITY BEFORE DEPARTURE
THANKS AND BEST REGARDS
Gives you confidence, doesn’t it? In fact, with the dodgy spacing and CAPSLOCK ON, I’m surprised it made it through the spam filter.
I’m holding the fort at home while the rest of the household is working in some Franco-Prussian fiefdom. When I asked what it was like, the description was ‘many cake shops’. Now I know exactly what to expect.
Holding the fort also means a higher than average amount of rubbish TV. Huzzah for the Rugby World Cup! Boo to Pop Idol, chiz chiz. I even watched the seriously dodgy ‘Coupling’. It reminded me of another show by its author, Steven Moffat, which was the purest British farce I’ve ever seen.
The British strain of farce can tend to a sort of glacier-cold crystalline structure; everything in its right place, and everything there for a gag. Moffat is the prince of this kind of overcalculated comedy, and the little-remembered Joking Apart is his finest (half-)hour.
Some idea of this show’s claustrophobic reflexivity can be judged from its premise - it was about a comedy writer whose marriage was in the process of falling apart (’Joking Apart’, geddit?). The first episode started with him trying to find the perfect end line to an episode of his show. The payoff is him finding the line and saying it aloud: an act which effectively ends his marriage.
Trying to summarise the damn thing illustrates something curious about this style of comedy: it’s irreducible. I mean, the whole thing is a trivial irrelevance, but if you try to explain it, you find it’s almost impossible without explaining every gag, every line. There is no plot outside the payoffs.
Oh, and of course, everything centres around those British comedic tropes of sex and the fear of humiliation, which itself inevitably leads to humiliation. As one guide succinctly indicates, the elements of a typical episode were “Women in rooms”.
On reflection, “Women in rooms” a perfectly adequate plot description of about 50% of British comedy.