Apparently Watson and Oliver are the first female comedy double act commissioned by the BBC in 25 years.
Firstly: surely that’s shameful rather than something to show off about. Secondly, I assume the last pair was French and Saunders, but it might have been the Krankies for all I know (they’re both women, right?). And thirdly, despite the fact no one had ever heard them before last night, Watson and Oliver have somehow wangled a proper, old-school comedy revue show.
We don’t normally review opening credits, but in hindsight it’s useful to see the breadth of comic characters the pair have up their sleeves for future episodes. As this was opening night we only saw a few select cuts, as well as being introduced to the stage personae of Oliver (there’s something of the Sue Perkins about her. Her voice? Her look? The way I’m slightly but insidiously attracted to her? Who knows) and Watson (whose first appearance, rather boldly, featured her in her pants. Works every time).
There’s a way to go, I think. Ostensibly Ingrid Oliver is the straight woman, Lorna Watson the clown, but they’re perhaps a bit too indistinguishable at this stage. It also doesn’t help that they’re both complete unknowns and also relatively normal people to boot. Just as we don’t immediately warm to and trust someone we meet at a dinner party, or at work, or in the queue for the toilets at Glasto (well, maybe the latter), we need to get to know them, feel them out and figure out if they’re our kind of people. And this takes time.
The long-winded point I’m trying to make is that although I found them tittersome rather than chortleworthy (these are technical terms, I hope I’m not being too esoteric), I reckon I’ll warm to both the characters and the humour as the weeks go by. Unlike, say, Fielding’s new series, which looks and sounds like a primary school class out of their gourds on max-strength Sunny D and given a van-full of paint and papier maché, dayglo crayons and PCP.
I appreciate this might seem like faint praise, but the sketches do have promise (and it is more promise than instant LOLs, to be honest). Kate and Wills in the marital bed is a hmm at best and a subsequent Jane Austen spoof didn’t cause much of a stir, but the skit on 50s housewives and the expressive possibilities of false eyebrows nails one ace gag and sets up future sketches with aplomb.
But where they really shine is in observations that feel closest to real life, while also being recognisable comic tropes. Ingrid Oliver IS Myleene Klass. The police officer who wheedles her way out of work early despite being minutes away from the final push on a 4-month case – it’s one joke, drawn out, but the writing and performance is exquisite. And my favourite sketch is a short, banal, but deeply heartfelt chat between a lag and a prison warden. My prediction is that we’re looking at the new Ted & Ralph and I’ll give you £5 if I’m wrong.
The big set piece in the show (which could have been awful but actually turned out spot on) was a variety number with guest John Barrowman. To say I’m not a fan of his is, well, pretty fair, to be honest, but the dynamic between the three, combined with a fantastic old-fashioned singalong to close the show, gave this opening episode what it needed to make it special.
Barrowman IS a star, albeit a gurning, twinkle-toothed permatanned one, and Watson and Oliver made it work with him, or rather made him work with them, and I reckon they’re going to make it work full stop.
Watson and Oliver is on BBC2, Mondays at 7.30. You can catch up here