The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Astonishing. The BBC are broadcasting a sitcom on one of their terrestrial channels. Just when you thought they’d given up on the genre entirely. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but sadly, not by much. BBC 1 hasn’t had a sitcom since, well, I can’t remember, it was a fair few months ago. And when was the last studio-audience show on BBC 2? Of course, the BBC still does make a few sitcoms, almost as an obligation or as niche programming – created to win awards and get reviews in The Guardian, or to fulfil BBC 3’s remit to show programmes that none but the most slack-jawed of teenagers would ever desire to watch (such is their underestimation of the intelligence of their audience – they assume all under-25s are happy-slapping shelf-stackers, not university students).

Anyway, these bitter rantings of a failed wannabe are merely a preamble, a preamble set in the past tense of How Things Used To Be, because things have changed. BBC 2 are currently showing a sitcom which is actually rather funny. Okay, it’s not up there with The Big Bang Theory or even How I Met Your Mother, but it has jokes, it has funny characters, it has comedy arising from situation. It’s called Miranda. Originally I was lukewarm towards it, not being a fan of Miranda Hart, but consider me converted.

Read a review somewhere that described the show as ‘self-consciously’ retro; aside from the fact that a show can’t be ‘self-conscious’ - that’s the reviewer imposing their emotional reaction upon it – I don’t think it's ‘retro’ at all. A studio audience, two or three sets and five minutes of location filming; that’s the format of the genre. Even asides to camera, or waving to camera at the end, isn’t ‘retro’. Traditional, yes, but traditional because it works.


  1. "...a show can't be self-conscious" - Freed from your word limit, would you care to explain?

    And traditional styling is one thing, but I hardly think it's wrong to describe "You Have Been Watching" as "retro". Unimaginative maybe, but not wrong. Utilising a trope specifically associated with an extinct but fondly remembered sub-genre? Surely that's precisely what the term means?

  2. A show being 'self-conscious'; a television show isn't conscious so it can hardly be self-conscious. Maybe I'm nitpicking but it bugs me when people describe a TV show, book or film as 'lazy' or 'indulgent' when they are describing non-sentient objects. You might as well say an armchair was 'jealous' or 'greedy'.

    I'd say 'retro' is when something is done solely to pastiche the past; to remind you of something you've seen before. I don't think Miranda is trying to do that - any more than asides to camera are pastiching Up Pompeii - but it might - even 'self-conciously' - be signalling intent to be continuing a tradition.

  3. But I'd argue that as a show - or any collaborative art work - is a product of interacting consciuousness, it essentially has one of its own. What we're really talking about is the collective consciousness of those involved in making it. Just as when a work is "lazy", we mean that it is the product of laziness.

    If a show is made in such a way that, as well as its fictional plot, it includes Brechtian (ugh!) elements of showcraft, then I think "self-conscious" is as good a way to desribe that as any.