Friday, September 19, 2008

No Heroics

It's been a good twenty years since ITV was making decent, or even watchable, sitcoms on a regular basis. The very phrase "ITV sitcom" has a dispiriting chill.

Which, come to think of it, might be unfair on the current administration. After all, they did put Johnny Vegas in a primetime show, Benidorm which I haven't seen, but it picked up a few award nominations. They commissioned Moving Wallpaper, which was hugely flawed, but at least ambitious. But there's twenty years of dismal crap to atone for, and I still expect ITV comedy to be dire.

And if I have low expectations from an ITV sitcom, you can only imagine what I'm expecting from a sitcom on ITV2, a station whose original output rarely aims any higher than Celebrity Wrestling on Ice Extra. Adopt the brace position. Make sure you have plenty of water and a bucket on hand.

So No Heroics is... surprising. It's a black-ish comedy about superheroes. It looks like it belongs on Channel 4, or at least E4. It's the least ITV show imaginable. And it's been getting slightly surprised positive reviews from the likes of the Guardian and Warren Ellis.

The high concept is that it's London with superheroes. But rather prosaic superheroes. The show is loosely based around the Fortress, a pub for off-duty superheroes (which means that the cast spend most of the show out of costume). And the main characters are a bunch of low-rent superheroes at the bottom of the pecking order; there's a Superman analogue wandering around, but he's there to be obnoxiously smug and loathsome about his success.

Here's the YouTube trailer, which gives you an idea of what we're talking about.

Now... it has a weakness for the obvious gag, and whoever put that trailer together is particularly keen on the more obvious gags. He apparently wasn't so keen on stuff like the bouncer at the bar, whose sole superpower is the ability to summon monkeys. ("How long does it take for the monkeys to arrive?" "Um, about two and a half hours.") Or stuff like Electroclash allowing the civilians to get shot because they're annoying her.

In fact, it's pretty good, all told. It could be better; it could stand to lose the bits that are blatantly trying to reach out to the Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps audience. But it works. It's certainly a damn sight better than the BBC's earlier effort My Hero, of which the less said the better. (As I recall, it made Out of this World look like a work of genius.) (Or perhaps not.)

Oh, and one other surprising feature: it has James Lance playing a different character. James Lance has played essentially the same character in exactly the same way in everything he's appeared in for about a decade now. The only exception was series two of The Book Group, where the script called on him to play the nervous, modest twin brother of his regular character, and the results weren't great. This time, however, he's somehow been cast as an alcoholic Spanish superhero, and even James Lance has to shift his performance for that...