I have many regular views from people in Germany, India and the US of A. I say this because the following post is going to be very much centred around a new British ‘comedy’ that aired on Channel 4 on Friday, so anyone beyond our green and pleasant land may not wish to bother reading beyond this point.
Lee and Dean is a mockumentary featuring cowboy builders set entirely in Stevenage. Incidentally, this is where I was born and raised. With one sentence I begin to chip away at the carefully constructed enigma that is me. This is, of course, not at all important but every other review I’ve read seems to include that bit of useless information.
It is shit.
I seem to be in a minority in this belief as most reviewers have lavished praise upon this crude and poorly conceived show which relies on sex gags (unsubtle ones) and stereotypes (which I am aware may be the point, more on that later).
Sam Wollaston of the Guardian writes that Lee and Dean “goes to places many others daren’t”. If he means that it explores the idea that comedies don’t have to be either funny or entertaining, then I agree. However, if that is the case we enter a strange world where words cease to have any meaning and even writing this is simply a waste of time, which I have always suspected it to be. Wollaston goes on to clarify that the places the do in fact dare to go where others daren’t are race, disability and anal sex. Which is simply not true. There are many comedies that have explored just that, and most have done so with more tact and a certain level of wit. Wollaston claims that Lee and Dean is clever. Not Clever-clever, like episodes (again we enter a strange world where words can mean whatever the journalist wants for the sake of a paycheque. If it was any more than a fiver he was dangerously overpaid), but interesting-clever. Let’s analyse some of this interesting-cleverness.
“Why do they call you Midnight? That’s a bit racist isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not racist. When I worked in security, my shifts would always start at twelve.”
“What, I thought it was racist!”
The first line in itself is obviously a forced set up for a ‘joke’, which is something that should always be avoided. Jokes should be written to fit the scene, the scene shouldn’t be written around a joke. What could have been an interesting exploration of the laddish, often politically incorrect world of the builder becomes a mere throwaway line aimed at obtaining a cheap laugh.
The dialogue is stilted, the characterisation poor. Lee is a ladies’ man, communicating with one customer purely in crude innuendo such as ‘shall I take a look at your crack?’ which I assume is played for laughs, because he’s a builder, so would look at cracks, but crack in this instance could also mean her vagina or her bum hole. It’s a common technique that has been employed by writers for years, but even the Two Ronnies began to tire of it by the end, and they built their entire career out of such wordplay.
Then there’s the interesting-clever way they dare to joke about disability. Dean, it could be said, is a bit special in the same way Gervais’ Derek was a bit special relying on actors talking in a broad and slowed down way and looking a touch vacant. In one scene Lee recounts the first time he saw Dean ‘getting off with a bird’. It was in a club and everyone was very excited, then suddenly, they realised said ‘bird’ had ‘downs’ and then all her mates took the piss out of dean. Very interesting-clever.
Whilst many reviews have referred to Lee and Dean as ‘fully formed characters’, I just don’t see it, well I do, I see similar characters at The Granby of a Friday afternoon drinking lager, but there’s a reason these characters don’t tend to dominate television hotspots. They are cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional representations of what we all believe ‘the builder’ to be.
You’re missing the point! I hear you cry. It’s satire, the show is sending up stereotypes, both pointing at them and making jokes at their expense as well as pointing at us and saying, ‘these are people, with layers!’
Except it doesn’t. It’s a vehicle for ‘laddish’ humour that can use the flimsy shroud of irony to defend itself from criticism. The female characters are there to be the coveted sex objects of the characters as well as to force the cliched ‘girl getting in the way of a perfectly good bromance’.
I’m not a prude. I’m actually a fan of cringe humour when done well, such as The Office or Peep Show. It just has to be done with some wit, some thought. And it has to be funny.