So we all said a sad goodbye to Roger Lloyd-Pack this week. An under-rated and under-stated genius of comedy. One of those people who steadfastly support the main stars, who get less of the limelight but without whom the scene would fail.
So all this go me thinking about Only Fools and Horses. Now, I know it always gets to the top of comedy lists and is voted best comedy, but aside from all the hype I think it is one of the best written shows on TV.
Yes it’s funny, but I think that the cleverness of the scripts often get overlooked. Because it is not about “clever” and “sophisticated” things it doesn’t feel clever. Yet when you look at the scripts carefully you can see how sophisticated they are. Little throw away lines at the beginning of the show become the big punchline at the end.
But most of all it shows the best sort of comedy, that springs from the character. It doesn’t require wacky situations that nobody would believe or ever really get into. It is all based around everyday events that we could all experience. The comedy comes from the characters reaction to the situation. And that reaction is believable, in character.
The prefect example is when Uncle Albert gets the gravy and coffee mixed up. Now in a bad comedy this kick off scenes of people desperately trying to distract the diners from eating their food – trying to whisk it away or make ridiculous excuses. And the diners would sit there and take it all!
This doesn’t happen, instead the diners try the food and politely make their excuses not to eat any more, which is what would happen. No, the event occurs purely to allow one line. Del says to Uncle Albert –
“Not only did you sink every ship in the merchant navy but now you’ve gone and scuppered a gravy boat!”
OK so it loses impact on here – but the point is – it’s only funny because Del says it to Uncle Albert. It’s exactly what Del boy would say and it could only be said about Uncle Albert. The situation, the reaction and comedy are all based purely on the characters.
Anyway, my mind was wandering and wondering if they ever tried to export it to the USA and what would it be like? Could they do it? When suddenly it occurred to me that there is a US equivalent. It’s not immediately obvious as the setting is quite different. If Only Fools and Horses is about the common man, the underdog and working class then this show is the opposite. It’s characters are affluent , successful and in the top strata of society. This show feel sophisticated an intelligent because it discusses sophisticated and intelligent things. But the structure of the jokes are remarkably similar. It has the same way of dropping seeds along the way that bear fruit at the end.
And even the set up is similar. Mainly set in a flat (or apartment). Two brothers, one slightly more pathetic than the other but both inept in their own ways. An elderly relative living with them. And strong female character who is referred to often but never seen.
Yes, I believe that the US equivalent of Only Fools and Horses is….. Frasier.
No as it was made later and had caught up with the times it was a little more modern and included regular female characters as well, but Only Fools and Horses caught up with that eventually.
And that brings me to the another reason I think Only Fools has been such a success. It has grown. Unlike many show it has not striven to keep the status quo the same all the time. It has allowed itself to change. New characters came, Rodney grew up, got married. Del had a kid. Things evolved.
And finally there was tragedy in the comedy. There were tears, people left home, people died, they even dealt with miscarriage – sensitively, honestly and still with comedy. How many comedy shows can say that!
So farewell Trigger – heaven has a new road sweeper – and his brooms last for years.