Now I love me a bit of Graham Linehan, or rather, Graham Linehan’s shows. He is the co-creator of Father Ted, a delightfully hilarious show revolving around the lives of three Irish priests, and he wrote and directed The IT Crowd, which, while not as funny as Father Ted and having quite a few dull episodes, did bring a lot of laughs. So when I heard Linehan was a writer on the television revival of Steve Delaney’s radio program Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show, with Delaney reprising his role and being Linehan’s co-writer, I was curious. To tell the truth, I’ve never really listened to that radio show, which concerns an old, out-of-it entertainer, and thus judged the TV programme on its own merits.
My judgement? If I could, I would sentence this show to solitary confinement, never to rear its ugly head in society again.
Why? Because it’s just not funny. Yes, that’s really all that can be said of the show. It isn’t funny. You might say, “Oh, it’s the first episode, of course it’s gonna be a bit wobbly” but Graham Linehan usually nails it on the first try. The first episode of The IT Crowd had Moss’ hilarious story, and the first episode of Father Ted had the spectacular Fun Land. I may be setting standards a little too high, but comparing Count Arthur Strong’s ‘Memory Man’ to ‘Yesterday’s Jam’ and ‘Good Luck, Father Ted’ just highlight how sterile it is.
There have been successful TV programmes based on radio shows before; League of Gentlemen instantly comes to mind. League of Gentlemen understood that a TV programme and a radio show are different things, so the TV show had not only snappy dialogue but plenty of visual humour and an anarchic atmosphere. Count Arthur Strong, on the other hand? Well, I guess they do understand the difference between TV and radio a little, given that they’ve introduced a new character so the count isn’t always talking to himself, but most of the time, the show feels like a radio show given half-assed visuals, leading to a slow, plodding pace.
Michael Baker (Rory Kinnear) has been asked to write a biography about his deceased comedian father Max, and for research, pays a visit to Max’s old comedy partner Count Arthur Strong. The rest of the episode is more or less Strong being awkward and Michael being irritated. You can have a good straight man vs. funny guy sitcom (Linehan has excelled at it with IT Crowd, which includes two funny guys) but not when the jokes are as tepid as they are in Count Arthur Strong. A lot of the “funny” conversations are like those in Family Guy; overly long and awkward to listen to in how they try to emulate “real” dialogue. Strong thinking there’s a two-for-one offer on teas and him mishearing ‘author’ as ‘Arthur’ are just as much fun as having an actual conversation with a dick who misunderstands everything you say. The most painful scene is the titular “Memory Man” act Strong pulls. It goes on for far too long and is unnecessary too; the only joke about it is that Strong is senile, a fact that has been hammered into the viewers’ heads since he first appeared.
Rory Kinnear is a little more bearable than Delaney; in fact, had the story jettisoned Strong and just focussed on Michael and his father, it might have been somewhat interesting. He doesn’t get that much in terms of jokes though. One scene has him complain about an unneeded apostrophe on a café menu, which, needless to say, is nowhere near as funny as the classic “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” story. The humour in this show is just as obnoxious and obvious as that of Hotel Transylvania, but unlike Hotel, Count Arthur Strong doesn’t have the “it’s for kids” excuse.
Graham Linehan, I know they can’t all be winners, but I expected better from you. If I wanted a radio play, I’d listen to a radio play. Count Arthur Strong has one or two mental chuckles, but none of the belly laughs Father Ted provided. Still, there have been worse adaptations of radio programmes: