TV Preview: Count Arthur Strong, BBC1

A few weeks ago there was a discussion in London about the state of the sitcom, suggesting that it was in crisis. The talk has just been released on podcast and you can have a listen here.

It didn’t seem in crisis to me at the time but the BBC seems to be doing its best to make sitcom ratings plunge. Count Arthur Strong returned with a splash for two weeks but then had an extended break before returning to its Friday night slot. And as for Hospital People, the Tom Binns-led series has had a few weeks off before its very last episode goes out this Friday at 9.30pm. Most people probably thought the series had already ended.

These unenforced sabbaticals were caused in part by that other ongoing British sitcom, the General Election. Though surely the BBC would have been better off moving the episodes within the normal week if their slots were taken just to keep up momentum. In fact the Hospital People run was delayed not just by Westminster but also by the Masterchef Final. Read whatever you want into that about the BBC’s commitment to sitcoms. 

Furthermore the most high profile sitcom in the last few weeks has been White Gold, which has been very disappointing after an initially strong start. I will be reflecting on that shortly. But in the meantime this is supposed to be a preview of Count Arthur Strong which returns this week with Untrue Detective. After Arthur – whose latest acting job is playing a twitching corpse in an immersive murder mystery – is involved in a road accident he thinks that he is a real policeman and finds himself involved in a real investigation. Stand back as the usual comic consequences ensue.

I can see how Count Arthur doesn’t appeal to everyone. For a BBC sitcom it is relatively postmodern, what with its film references and showbiz in-jokes about then likes of Martin Clunes. And the Seinfeld-esque plots are either structurally ingenious or ridiculous, depending on whether you like the show or not. But surely nobody in their right minds can deny that there are some great lines here. “I’m sick of being the inanimate eye candy,” says Arthur after being cast as a dead body yet again.

Anyway, let’s hope politics – of the national kind and the BBC kind – doesn’t stop Count Arthur from being a hit. 

Count Arthur Strong, Fridays, 8.30pm, BBC1.

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