As a fan of Frankie Boyle’s work on Mock The Week, I was looking forward to his new show on Channel 4, Tramadol Nights. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed with last night’s first episode – doubly so as I very loosely know one of the writers.
According to Channel 4, the show would feature “viscerally talented” Frankie picking apart “all aspects of modern life.” Yet what the programme is actually about is crass, sub-sixth form humour, the likes of which we’ve all heard before and is now well past its sell-by date – at least in this form. Stuff like jokes about Susan Boyle being mentally ill, and John Leslie being a rapist. Gay-bashing. Catholic priests all being paedophiles. Really new and edgy, eh?
More importantly, the show was nowhere near as funny as it thought it was. At times it resembled intentional Ofcom-baiting: just plain nasty for the sake of it. The Green Mile spoof sketch was a case in point. A black man rapes someone to “cure” them, and the woman ends up loving it? Please. A few people on the Internet seem to confuse this kind of thing with boundary-pushing and challenging taboos, but offending people intentionally for no reason other than to cause controversy for the sake of it, is anything but innovative. The Knight Rider sketch had a nice premise (where Michael Knight is a schizophrenic junkie who thinks his car is talking to him), but it was way too long and terribly paced.
There was one good bit, though: Untitled Street, an imaginary BBC soap featuring characters so bland and inoffensive that even their faces are blank. It was a properly good satirical idea, and the only sketch which didn’t rely on crude humour and f-bombs. Sadly, the follow-up later in the show where one of the cast members was interviewed, relied on the same old swears fallback to get a laugh, so I’m wondering whether the first sketch was just a fluke.
The interesting thing about the backlash against the show since its transmission last night – which has been pretty vicious – is that it isn’t just the usual so-called “PC brigade”, who you might expect to be outraged by the content, who have slated it. Tramadol Nights disappointed many fans of Boyle, including myself, who thought it was going to be controversial but (and here’s the key point) bloody funny along with it. I also have to say that after all the criticism he faced after Mock The Week for recycling the same gags on tour, for him to now have his own show (and presumably be paid a fair sum for doing it) and choose to recycle his stand-up tour material yet again, smacks of laziness.
And speaking of laziness: “fatherfucker”? Seriously? South Park was unclefuckering back in 2001, with far better results.
Tramadol Nights did have a few good lines within the general unpleasantness, but overall I really wasn’t impressed and it has to go down as one of the misfires of the year when it comes to television. My message to Frankie is that I don’t mind offensive comedy in the slightest, but you have to make it funny first.