Opinion: Ben Elton's The Wright Way – Or Wrong Way?

The Wright Way

Ricky Gervais has got a lot to answer for. Watching a preview of Ben Elton's new BBC sitcom The Wright Way it appears that he has taken his inspiration from When The Whistle Blows, the fictional workplace comedy featured in Extras. The gags might fly thick and fast, but they are peppered with farcical misunderstandings and cheap innuendo about knobs and knickers.

Is this the same Ben Elton that co-wrote The Young Ones? That gave the kiss of life to Blackadder by joining the writing team after the first dodgy series? Is this the same Ben Elton that was at the vanguard of political stand-up comedy with his Thatch-bashing topical routines on Friday Night Live and Saturday Live? 

It is easy to knock Elton because of his involvement in We Will Rock You, but that does not explain quite how bad The Wright Way is. It stinks from nose to tail. The title is one of those excruciating surname-based puns, like Caroline Quentin's similarly duff Life of Riley. David Haig stars as Gerald Wright, a comically officious Health and Safety officer bringing up his lesbian daughter alone now that his wife has left him – no wonder she left him, he's pretty hopeless. Oh, and it is set in the fictional town of Baselricky - presumably a few miles from Fawltygervais.

In the first episode Wright has his obligatory fair share of nurse-help-my-side mishaps, from tackling the problem of push-controlled taps in the toilets to trying to buy a scarf and getting bad customer service. Not even the usually brilliant David Haig (who starred in Elton's last half-decent series, The Thin Blue Line) can save this car crash. There is some so-so physical comedy in the aforementioned toilet scenes, but it is all rather Mr Beanish but with added dialogue and extra knob gags.

The hope is presumably that The Wright Way – a title that is begging for some "Wrong Way" headlines in the forthcoming reviews – will trade on the current wave for broad comedy. But it is certainly no Miranda. Maybe the BBC is hoping it will get the same following as Mrs Brown's Boys – it is going out in the 10.35pm slot on BBC1. I like some of the slapstick elements of Mrs Brown but there is none of that knockabout fun here. There might be an audience for The Wright Way, but then there are people that eat fast food.

Maybe comedy writers just have a certain amount of creative capital which they eventually use up. Elton has certainly produced some brilliant work, but this is the latest in a line of disappointments – there was the Ardal O'Hanlon sitcom Blessed in 2005 and more recently a comedy show in Australia, Live from Planet Earth, that reportedly lasted three episodes. Of course, sitcoms famously need time to bed in – six episodes of The Wright Way have been made and the other five cannot be worse than the first one.

I can't see things picking up though. Apparently this series was called Slings and Arrows at one point. That would have been a much better title, except that judging by the low level of wit on display maybe David Haig's character was called Gerald Slings back then. Bad? To paraphrase an old Elton line, it's badder than a bad sitcom that has been written by a graduate of the Mr Bad School of Painfully Cliched Sitcom Writing. Maybe the BBC should have just cut to the chase and commissioned Ricky Gervais to write a full series of When The Whistle Blows.

Hello! Thanks for reading all the way down. I wish I could give you a prize. But BTJ needs your support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.