Madeleine’s TV Week

Comedy Showcase, Miranda Hart and Misfits lead Madeleine's recommendations for the week ahead...

Comedy Showcase: Campus

War and comedy. Two major staples of the modern British sensibility. Pillars, actually, on which our whole ethos rests. We didn’t get where we are today without having been a country at war and without finding humour in life wherever we can. 

If you took war and comedy out of our history we’d just flop into a heap, basically, like flesh without a skeleton. We have both battle and bathos streaming in our blood. That’s just the British experience of life.

It’s no great surprise, then, that we rarely go a week in television without a comedy of some sort clamouring for attention and a programme that somehow has to do with the first or second world wars being slotted in.

This week is a sort of deluxe version of that, and in war’s case, it’s because this week contains 11 November, so the country’s Remembrance traditions will be reflected on TV.

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It’s not so obvious why comedy’s chosen this week, of all 52, to up the ante. Perhaps comedy just naturally follows wherever war goes, as if we have to have both in balance or some sort of drastic plate tectonics will occur.

So, while it might be a bit uncomfortable to see-saw between comedy- and war- themed recommendations here, that’s what I’m going to do. So brace yourself.

Comedy Showcase returns for a second series this week (Channel 4, Fri) after a massively successful first outing in 2007. The concept is this: over seven weeks seven pilots of new comedies prostrate themselves before us, then the most popular and successful ones go on to enjoy a full six episodes of their own.

The first showcase unleashed The Kevin Bishop Show and Plus One on the world and I’m not particularly grateful for either of those, but it also gave us Free Agents which was actually pretty classy and it showed off Sharon Horgan’s comedic talents very well if you managed to block out the rather irritating and not very credible performance from Stephen Mangan.

Stepping into the Showcase this week is Campus, a university-based sitcom, obviously. Hopefully, it will, in all respects, be a more entertaining and valuable take on university life than that despicable, grubby Trinity showing over on ITV2 on Sundays at the moment.

In war, the main event is The Royal British Legion Festival Of Remembrance (BBC1, Sat), the annual service held at the Royal Albert Hall to remember and honour not just those who fought and died in the 20th century wars, but increasingly the losses in this decade’s conflicts. Hayley Westenra will sing Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, and she will be singing to the soldiers of her own generation.

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The poppy appeal this year has been supercharged with messages reminding us to get behind our boys fighting in Afghanistan right now and to wear our poppies as a sign of support for their loved ones. There’s nothing distant or ‘historical’ about this particular year’s Remembrance. Hopefully, the Festival will draw attention to that.

Definitely drawing attention to herself this week is tall comedienne Miranda Hart in her own sitcom, Miranda (BBC, Mon). Hart herself isn’t actually a newbie at all. She’s thoroughly endorsed and teeth-cut and all that, having had parts in French and Saunders’ Hyperdrive and also her own radio sitcom Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop.

The thing that, for obvious reasons, wasn’t made a feature on the radio was Miranda’s height, and this is going to be one of the principle hooks in her televised comedy, which uses a lot of physical and slapstick elements to draw out Hart’s perspective on life from her 6’1” vantage point.

Back to war, swiftly, and to a documentary that zooms in on a remarkably large proportion of First World War soldiers who don’t fit in easily to the historical image of boys fighting for King and country – because they were from various parts of the Empire. In Not Forgotten: Soldiers Of Empire (Channel 4, Mon), Ian Hislop reflects on these 2.5 million soldiers from across the Empire, including Australia, Jamaica and Canada, who fought for Britain, and asks where this loyalty came from and whether it was an appropriate loyalty altogether.

Talking of people undertaking unexpected duties in life, have a little gander at new comedy Misfits (E4, Thurs), a brilliantly British take on the superheroes genre. A group of hapless kids saddled with ASBOs are fulfilling their community service when they get struck by lightning, which sparks off a whole load of ridiculous unwanted super powers in each of them. And it pisses them off. Big time.

How hilarious that we can’t have an innocent superhero drama in Blighty! That would be too optimistic and too simple, and wouldn’t leave any room for that crucial self-mockery that runs in our blood.

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Instead we get truculent, deprived teens turning into angry superheroes during community service. Now theirs is a battle that will definitely engender many a belly laugh.