Harry Hill’s a comedian I’ve largely a huge amount of time for, there’s been the odd misstep along the way, like his “I Wanna A Baby” single which punched down at those in poverty and left a very nasty taste in my mouth, but the majority of his work has been pretty superb, including his live stand up shows, Fruit Corner and Fruit Fancies, the Channel 4 and ITV nineties series, and of course Tv Burp which is what most people know him for.
A pleasingly daft bit of mockery of the tv that had been on that week, it might have been easy pickings on occasion but most of the time it was far, far funnier than it had any need to be, with Hill pulling out all the stops to be silly in unpredictable ways. By the end it was running out of steam and Hill was giving interviews which suggested he’d had enough and was only doing it for the money, but the majority of it was pretty damn great.
Now after a break of eight years he’s back taking a look at television, though the difference here is that rather than being a topical beast each week he’s looking at a specific type of programme, beginning with the soap opera and casting his eye over seven decades of the stuff. This is a far cheaper affair than Tv Burp however, there’s a brief shot of Harry at the beginning sitting in front of a mixing desk but the rest is all clips and Hill’s voice over, and due to that it’s lacking in any of Harry’s favourite things, there’s no puppets, c-list celebrity guest stars, or physical idiocy in general, and it suffers enormously due to that.
It’s such an odd beast as well, at the beginning it looks like it’ll have a fair amount in common with Matt Berry’s Squeamish About as we’re given a bunch of archive footage and the show plays with reality, telling outright lies like the suggestion that soaps originally started out on illustrated scrolls of goat leather, that there was one which only lasted a single episode before the sets were knocked down and a block of flats built upon them, and that Paddy from Emmerdale once married a sheep.
I only wish it had continued in such a manner as those bits were quite funny, but instead it purports to examine “How To Make A Soap”, looking at soap staples like weddings, babies, lies, imaginative insults, and “the bedroom department”, but it soon ignores that and just leaps all over the place, sometimes being a historical examination of the soap opera and including footage of early efforts The Grove Family and Newcomers, but then it drops that idea and just has Harry give his thoughts on some of the various soap operas that have aired over the years, covering some short lived ones like Albion Market while all but ignoring other better known ones like the BBC’s Doctors.
All of this wouldn’t be an issue if the show itself was funny, but all too often the observations are Hill just describing what’s taking place on the screen, there’s some extraordinarily mild mockery at times but it was very rarely funny. Fairly early on Hill apologises for some material about Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm and says “That’s enough cheap jokes about the Welsh language”, but then doesn’t apologise for all of the cheap jokes that follow about other subjects when he really should have.
Occasionally there’s some interesting insight in to how the soaps were made, in one short segment he comments on the camera angles used and the way actor’s are positioned, but then it’s back to making the kind of jokes that are as old as the soap operas themselves, and this feels like watching a rather insipid eighties stand up comedian doing material that would have made audiences groan at the time. It ends with some clips of soap operas at Christmas and how miserable they are, something that’s been a tired trope for decades now and yet Hill has nothing original or interesting to say about it in the slightest.
It’s a genuine shock how poor this was, with almost seventy years worth of soaps there’s an enormous amount of scope for either satirising the ridiculousness of what they’ve become or being daft and silly and mocking the duller moments, and though Hill occasionally does this, the humour is so meek and mild if it wasn’t Hill making the comment you might not even be aware that it was meant to be funny. A massive disappointment, this is easily the worst thing that Hill’s been involved with, it’s a pointless, toothless, and bizarrely unfunny effort.
You can watch the show on BBC iPlayer here.