Started well but quickly declined into third-rate class war dom-com
This review is based on the regular episodes only as the original 1977 pilot, "Spasms", is not readily available.
Other than a couple of repeat runs on the UK GOLD channel many years ago, the "dusty archives" status of this sitcom is largely deserved... which is a shame given its strong opening episode. Sharply scripted, mostly genuinely funny and with a tremendous performance by Michael Crawford (successfully shaking off his Frank Spencer persona), it showed much promise...
However from the second episode onwards it slid into the substandard domestic comedy genre that peppered the output of the London ITV regions, Thames and London Weekend, throughout the 1970s. While Michael Crawford could be relied upon to "carry" a show single-handed, writer Alex Shearer promptly forgot that the other actors need at least some of the humorous dialogue to stir up effective "conflict" to propel the comedy. To the contrary, Robin Hawdon's Roger Scott essentially becomes a straight-man "feed" for his nemesis, while the actors portraying the wives are particularly badly served, each fulfilling a "little woman stuck in kitchen drudgery" role. Hardly progressive!
Accepting that Crawford's character, David Finn, is intended as the show's central character, the scripts needed to maintain his wit and idiosyncracies of the opening episode. Instead he becomes increasingly shallow, unlikeable and one-dimensional. Even anti-establishment characters need to have some redeeming qualities and raison d'etre. Beyond the first episode, the only attempt to provide characterisation was the ludicrous plot device in which Finn is given a job at Scott's company as a limousine chauffeur, despite him clearly being a constant danger to other road users. Finn was neither a hero nor anti-hero.
Meanwhile Scott behaves in ways to simply suit each episode's weak plot, rather than to aid any character development.
Ironically Thames Television's own contemporary "layabout" series 'Shelley' had none of these shortcomings; the eponymous protagonist in that show being imbued with valid reasons for "rebelling" and his weekly tussles with "authority" saw him rightly outwit it with clever subtlety.
'Chalk and Cheese' appears to be Alex Shearer's first television work and, as such, Thames should have provided him with assistance from a more experienced writer. It's not in any way an unpleasant viewing experience but it remains a series produced on the verge of the 1980s yet, opening episode aside, firmly stuck with the comedic attributes of the previous decade.
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