- TV Series
Mattocks, Fost and Ackroyd are Britain's first three astronauts. They must live in small, cramped space station orbiting the earth. Naturally, these conditions make coexistence difficult for... Read allMattocks, Fost and Ackroyd are Britain's first three astronauts. They must live in small, cramped space station orbiting the earth. Naturally, these conditions make coexistence difficult for them, but funny to us.Mattocks, Fost and Ackroyd are Britain's first three astronauts. They must live in small, cramped space station orbiting the earth. Naturally, these conditions make coexistence difficult for them, but funny to us.
The show was not abundantly successful, barely making it past one series of seven episodes in 1981 and another, even less-remembered series of 6 episodes, in 1983, which I feel is down to two main factors. Firstly, the chemistry between the leads isn't quite there. Godwin, Du Sautoy, and Rutter are all accomplished performers, but they're effectively having to recreate the magic that Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie achieved together in 'The Goodies'. The comparison is apt not just because Garden and Oddie wrote the show, but because their three astronauts comprise a working-class anarchist, an upper-class emotionally-distant scientist, and an upper middle-class fop. Sounds not too dissimilar from the tandem-riding, giant kitten-battling protagonists of that other show, doesn't it? The mix worked for Brooke-Taylor, Garden, and Oddie, because they *were* 'The Goodies', drawing upon aspects of their own personalities. 'Astronauts' has three actors trying to reinterpret those roles, and thus it feels more scripted than real. Which is not to say they don't give it a red-hot go. Rutter and Godwin for example do manage occasionally to evoke the same kind of rivalry we see a few years later between a certain Dave Lister and a certain Arnold Rimmer in a certain other comedy/sci-fi about being stuck in space with someone you don't necessarily like. 'Red Dwarf' showed that the central premise wasn't a bad one, but it needed the right cast, and it also needed good scripts.
This is the second way in which 'Astronauts' misses the mark. Garden and Oddie know their sitcom format. 'Goodies' episodes like 'Earthanasia' and 'The Stone Age' - three-handers in close quarters, are two of the finest of the series' long run. Spaceward however, the writers clearly don't know their subject so well, making 'Astronauts' rely on more traditional humour, causing it to feel like yet another class-conflict sitcom that could be set anywhere. The characters rarely behave like astronauts, seemingly completely unable to cope from the moment they arrive on the 'Skylab' (not *that* Skylab). It just doesn't ring true perhaps retrospectively, because we are now well into the age of the space station, and we know that real astronauts selected for long missions there are rigorously-trained and carefully-selected to make sure they're the kind of people who could handle such conditions. It shows how tricky it is to achieve the balance in comedy: on the one hand, you have to derive humour, often by exaggerating real-life situations to achieve it, but both your characters and the predicaments they find themselves in have to seem believable within the context of the premise. 'Red Dwarf' wisely avoided the problem by taking place in the future, where the entire world could be invented.
Overall, if like me you're fan of 'The Goodies', 'Astronauts' will have something of interest. For everyone else, given how commonplace living and working in space is becoming, there's ever-growing potential for the subject in the world of the television sitcom. 'Astronauts' just wasn't it.
- Jun 6, 2008