Advertising’s a joke, isn’t it?
In the same week as some newspaper TV sections were trailering a TV programme about a man who can’t stop hiccupping, a new comedy about the advertising world, The Persuasionists, kicked off.
Which might suggest that the people behind it understand media schedules. If your competition is a man who can’t stop hiccupping, that’s got be a relatively weak week on TV.
But although that is a) good for drawing audiences, it’s actually b) less good if it means the gimlet eye of AA Gill is drawn towards you.
I’m not sure I’d want Gill reviewing this. Especially because Gill always refers to TV industry people he doesn’t like as “Tristrams” and the credit for director on this show reads Tristram Shapeero.
That may, in itself, be an anti-AA Gill joke.
But talking of comedy names leads me to the name of the agency. When you hear that the fictional outfit is called HHH&H, that either amuses you or it doesn’t.
Me, it amuses very much.
But it does raise the question of whether the agency is based on HHCL. God, I hope it is. Anywhere that was as dysfunctional, f*cked-up and hopeless as HHH&H would be a good place to work.
Although I like to think that there may be some very minor nuances of difference between me and the babbling, violent, and catastrophically inept ego-maniac of a boss.
I may be wrong.
Earlier on in the week, an article in the Indy complained that the programme wasn’t enough like Mad Men. That’s a bit like saying that Come Dine With Me isn’t enough like Match of the Day.
This is a sit com, not a drama series. So the big question is – is it funny ?
I really wanted to like it. I wanted to laugh like a drain that’s been smoking spliff and then been told not to laugh.
But it didn’t quite grab me in the way I wanted it to. Of course it’s notoriously difficult to judge the first episode of a comedy. Because you’ve got to build the world. And comedies work best when they’re just automatically accepted – not being judged, as a first episode usually is.
You’ve got to lose yourself in comedy, not analyse it.
This episode had some inspired comic acting, but, in my view, not enough situation. It just didn’t seem real enough.
Some years ago Les Blair made a film about advertising called Honest Decent and True, which was so well-observed and so close to the reality of advertising that it was almost unbearable to watch.
It was absolutely brilliant. And that’s how I’d want to do a comedy about advertising right now. Keep it close to reality – because the reality of advertising is crazy enough to be funny without being underscored with hyperbole.
I’ll probably end up eating my words when this turns out to be the most popular comedy since Father Ted – but the show just seemed too stylised, too comic book.
Whenever I want an ad to be funnier than the script I am looking at, I advise the creative team to dial up the pain. With all the desperation, panic, and paranoia in ad agencies, I’d have thought that the more real you make it, the funnier it’s going to be.
And I may be the wrong person to write about this, anyway. I don’t watch many programmes on TV these days – preferring instead to use my 55″ Hitachi plasma to act as a section of moving wallpaper with either polar bears from National Geographic HD or lingerie models from Fashion TV moving sinuously over it.
I’m not sure I’d set the Sky + for this, because there are no ad breaks to fast forward through, and I’m usually in at 10pm on wednesday night – but I’d definitely watch it again.
It’s got real potential – some funny characters and the writer, Jon Thake, knows how to come up with great lines.
In terms of the characters, the central figure is a copywriter played by Iain Lee. Previously Lee has been rent-a-presenter on various channels so far down the Sky EPG that only the full-time unemployed would ever get to them. But this is his first character part, and I thought he was really good in it.
Adam Buxton plays an account man who’s terrified of everybody.
But the main comedy plaudits go to a scary cockney client who shouts “Gertcha” when he orgasms, and a crazy Head of Global played by Simon Farnaby who strides around with an oversized pencil, the maddest hair since Kramer from Seinfeld and a very funny accent that could be Eastern European, Dutch or Finnish.
It’s worth watching the show just for him.
In terms of the writing – I hired Jon twice. First time through, he wrote some of the funniest ads ever to come out of HHCL, including Pot Noodle’s Slag of All Snacks. I always knew that he was a naturally gifted comedy writer.
Second time through, at TBWA, he arrived on the very same day I left, an incident of such poignance and sadness to me that I fully expect to see it recreated as a side-splitting scene in episode 4 or 5 of the series.