TV UK, 11 November
Grotesque caricatures and ritual humiliation: comedy, Channel 4 style.
Trolls are notoriously conservative creatures, and so it is not surprising that the troll who lives on the sofa has been unsettled by the large turnover of characters for the new series of Teachers (Channel 4, Tuesdays at 10pm). ‘Where’s the big gym teacher and the little Asian one?’ it keeps asking. ‘Who’s that? I don’t like him.’
Now in its fourth series, Teachers is Channel 4’s longest running non-soap series, and things have been freshened up with a school merger. The new intake of teachers is suspiciously male and good looking, suggesting that the producers know their demographic, and it’s female teachers. The one remaining nubile female is having an affair with a handsome sixth former. If the new series is nothing but an extended fantasy for Miss Broom and pals, then, perhaps the troll is right to disdain it.
But there is a bit more to it than that. Teachers retains a cruel charm unique to Channel 4 comedy dramas. Others have included Shameless, No Angels and Green Wing. Each has its peculiar quirks, like Teachers’ indulgence of teachers. No Angels, for example, propagated the myth that nurses have great taste in classic soul, when in fact everyone knows they listen to nothing but the Grease album over and over again.
But what all of these programmes have in common is that they feature more or less grotesque caricatures, which are subjected to ritual humiliation. It isn’t just the obvious characters like the pathetic Bob in Teachers who suffer this treatment; the others, who mock Bob for his wig and his efforts to find a mail order bride, all suffer indignities of their own in time. Nobody is allowed to be cool. This isn’t a particularly elevated artistic enterprise, but it is very much of our time, and Teachers does it well. This week’s extended gay joke was superbly executed, and arguably the gay joke is the cell form of all humour.
The temporary overlap with Green Wing exposed a major flaw with the genre, however. There are only so many caricatures to go around, and the neurotic, batty headmistress in Teachers bears an uncanny resemblance to the neurotic, batty hospital manager in Green Wing. (So much so that the troll who lives on the sofa insists they are the same person, or possibly the same actress; trolls don’t really understand the distinction.) You would think someone at Channel 4 might check the scripts for that sort of thing.
A further danger of dealing in caricatures was revealed last week when a teenager from Gorton in Manchester was served with an antisocial behaviour order for, among other things, harassing the Channel 4 crew filming Shameless (1). Having chosen the estate in question as the perfect location for a comedy drama about a family of petty criminals and ne’er-do-wells, perhaps they should not have been surprised that some of the local kids turned out to be a bit lively.
(1) Asbo for youth who threatened television crew, Guardian
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