Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones present a series of short (often tasteless, always scathing) sketches about modern life and the stupidity and gullibility of those who believe in it. Written by
Murray Chapman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After Not the Nine O'Clock News ceased production, Rowan Atkinson got bitten by the Black Adder, while Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones continued with their own sketch show. Less declamatory about politics and social issues (well at least there were no "let's drop the bomb on the leaders" songs), Alas Smith & Jones became a solid sketch show that could be clever and poignant, but was more often downright cheeky and rude. At best, it could be both (how about an advertisement for rectal cream directed in the style of Ingmar Bergman, or a documentary about a life-swap between an unemployed Northerner and a prosperous Southern cow?). Solid is the word: it broke little new ground in the way that The Black Adder did, for example, but it held the already occupied territories with gusto. Its decline during the final series was almost symptomatic of the general stagnation creeping in on Britcom during the late Nineties.
As these kinds of shows do, Alas Smith & Jones depended on the talents of its performers even more than on its material, and the portly Southerner Smith and the thin Welshman Jones were a perfect match in this respect. While they had enough range to create a lot of memorable types, they were at best in doing their stage show-derived "talks" and banter. Here Smith would style himself a faux-bohemian man of the world against Jones' neurotically reserved, stiff-upper-lip stage persona. Their takes on various issues, whether advertising, transmigration or the perceived tallness of Danny DeVito, were frequently hilarious.
Some of their best running sketches came at the start of the 1990s, including "Olympus", a brilliant soap-opera parody which put all the clichés of the Dynasties and Dallases to work on ancient Greek mythology. At the time their regular guests included Chris Langham and Brenda Blethyn, both featured in the "After Dark" talk-show parody where they added a general dimwit and a radical feminist-lesbian-vegetarian to Smith's Sun-reading yobbo and Jones' so-middle-class-hasn't-farted-in-twenty-years snob to complete the set of deliciously employed stereotypes. Other rising comediennes to pass through their ranks included Sarah Alexander and Sally Phillips.
It worked splendidly on the small screen but never translated well into the big one, as shown by the limp Wilt and the messy Morons from Outer Space. Here in Finland they were popular enough to be commissioned to star in a promotional video by the Finnish Foreign Ministry called Finland for Adults. That was not their finest hour either...
Viewed today, some of the stuff is unavoidably dated (mostly those bits dealing with the issues of the day), but most of it is still highly enjoyable. Watch it if you get the chance.
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