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The Smoking Room (2004)
Deserves much more praise and a better time slot
I missed this program when it first appeared on BBC 3 around two years ago. The BBC, and the UK in general have produced some dreadful "sit-coms" of late, so when I seen advertised what looked like a hybrid of The Office and The Royle Family I gave it a miss. That's not particularly true though. It's like The Office only in the fact it's set in an office and like the Royle family only because it's set entirely in real time. Few will agree but I think it's much better than both.
If I were to compare it to other sit-coms I'd say Friends crossed with Daria( MTV cartoon, very cynical.) I think you have to watch quite a few episodes to get the feel of it. Initially they all seem quite ordinary and not especially likable characters. Over the course of the series though you realise the cause of all their irritating habits. Annie is irritating and irritable because she is massively self-deluded about her life being a success. Lilan initially seems desperate but you later realise it's because she's starved of attention. Janet appears prissy and stern but she's seems to be trying to shed that image by socializing with the smokers( even though she doesn't smoke) in nearly every episode. I could go on with the other characters but they'd definitely be spoilers.
It's now half way through the second series and we now have a very well developed set of characters, excellent writing( just look at some of the quotes on this site) and brilliant actors and actresses. The sort-of-main character( he's on screen from beginning to end of every episode unlike any other character) is played excellently by Robert Webb. He seems to get bleaker every episode. Robin is clearly more intelligent than everyone else around him, but prefers to make snide( and hilarious) comments about others stupidity than do anything with his own life. It's an excellent character as it's one which is common in real life. This is true of the rest of the cast and show in general. It's strange but not a contrived way. It's the genuine oddness and humour you can find in the real world, though obviously compacted into a shorter space of time. It doesn't get bogged down in the dull realness of The Royle Family either though. Nor is it as ridiculous and pained as The Office or Friends often were.
It's probably fair to say that The Smoking Room has stolen ideas and inspiration from other sit-coms. But unlike many others it stole the best parts. A good example is the sit-com device. How many sit-coms have never seen characters, love triangles or a will they, won't they relationship? A lot, and they all have the same outcome. The Smoking Room uses a much better, though already used one,; The never directly mentioned, long running storyline. It actually makes people think a bit more about what their watching and makes people notice jokes they may otherwise have missed. The only other example I can think of was in Daria. It's a difficult thing to do correctly, it can just look blatant and stupid. The strength of the writing and acting though hold it together excellently, like the show itself. Forget Little Britain or anything Peter Kay's in: This is the best British comedy around by some distance.
This was a brilliant and very revealing documentary shown a few times of BBC3. It should really have been shown on the main BBC channels. For anyone who doesn't know Shaun Ryder was the singer and creative force of early nineties band the Happy Mondays. Admittly I'm quite a fan of theirs but it could be enjoyed by those who have ever heard of the band. Despite being rated as one of the best and most influential bands of the nineties the documentary shows that Shaun has been living of handouts from friends after going bankrupt. Various disputes with his record company only made this worse. It also talks about his drug problems and the fact that he was near death only two years ago. Bez, the dancer in the Happy Mondays also features and the scenes with him are probably the most entertaining. Despite claiming to be clean Shaun later does admit that he occasionally still does cocaine before a gig.
My favorite thing about this documentary was that it never stopped to just laughing at Shauns decline and presented him as a person not just a media figure. It does show an album launch at one point and hopefully we will soon see that in record shops as he still seems immensely talented. Watch!