Any show pitched as "the new" something is bound to be a disappointment. Only the most successful shows are followed by their very own "the new"s, so the comparisons between BBC Three's new sitcom Pramface and two leading forebears, Gavin and Stacey and The Inbetweeners, may have raised expectations to an unsustainable level.
That said, when you produce a sitcom that fails to produce a single laugh in its entire first episode, you're going to disappoint the audience even without the albatross of a "the new" around its neck.
Yes, I'm afraid, normal service has resumed at BBC Three. The channel that provides a home for the best in crap British comedy (most of it starring Sheridan Smith, Will Mellor, or both of them) has delivered another show seeking to take mediocrity to new levels.
Pramface launches with the interesting premise (if you haven't seen Knocked Up, that is) of a young woman being impregnated by a less-than-suitable partner. In this case the woman is 18, about to head off to university, and her baby-daddy a mere 16, and about to head off for a game of Call of Duty on his Xbox.
It's clear the show intends to milk that premise for all it's worth. The maturity of the 18-year-old Laura is contrasted throughout with the youth of 16-year-old Jamie. Trouble is, it doesn't really offer that much scope for comedy. Teenagers get each other pregnant all the time. And a two-year age difference is hardly of Graduate proportions. Make the woman 28 (or better yet 38 or 48) and you might be getting somewhere, but Pramface is far too tame to take that risk.
Pramface's jokes are so bad you can almost see them being scripted as you watch it. Picture writer Chris Reddy sat at his computer screen, box set of Lunch Monkeys on the shelf behind him, drafting a line like "This one even thinks it's twins" after Laura takes several positive pregnancy tests, and concluding "that'll do, it's only BBC Three," rather than taking the time to think of something genuinely witty.
The closest this first episode came to making me crack a smile (let alone laugh out loud) was when 'best male friend' Mike reached a masturbatory climax with the Top Gear theme playing on his stereo. Except they ruined the moment completely with the hackneyed 'mum walks in' bit. If American Pie didn't take this gag to its hilarious extreme, then Jay and his boiled ham in The Inbetweeners Movie certainly did. And if a single person watching Pramface this week hasn't seen both of those films a dozen times then they need to get themselves down to Blockbusters.
Even the soundtrack was ill-judged. Pramface followed the Gavin and Stacey formula of linking scenes with music from an indie-pop guitar band. But when Gavin and Stacey started in 2007, its twentysomething characters probably would have been listening to The Strokes and Vampire Weekend. In 2012, when there are currently no guitar bands in the top 10 of the UK album chart, Pramface's teenage cast are far more likely to be listening to Jessie J and Example.
It is particularly depressing to see Yasmin Paige (following her sublime performance in Submarine) taking a big backward step in her career as the dowdy 'best female friend' Beth. Even worse is the news that Pramface has already been renewed for a second series.
It is perhaps a cheap shot to point out that the BBC has a duty to spend taxpayers' money more wisely than this, but that conclusion is unavoidable. I can't believe that any meaningful audience testing could have been carried out before the Beeb's commissioners gave birth to Pramface. To hear they're trying for another makes me think than an involuntary sterilisation is something we should seriously consider.
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