Viewers in the UK may have noticed a new sitcom called The Persuasionists on BBC2 this week. Or, then again, maybe not, since there was a suspicious lack of promotion for the show.
There IS, however, a website/blog for the show, which claims to be an “unofficial fan site”. However, it looks to me like it’s been set up by someone with a close connection to the show. The website is the main reason for this post but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The premise looked promising – a comedy set in an ad agency, created and written by a former ad man and starring some familiar British comedy faces.
There’s Adam Buxton, of Adam and Joe fame. There’s TV presenter Iain Lee, in his first acting role. Lee is best remembered as co-presenter, with Daisy Donovan, of Channel 4’s love-it-or-loathe-it late-night satirical news comedy The 11 O’Clock Show (which also launched the careers of Sacha Baron Cohen and Ricky Gervais). For the record, I liked the first few seasons of the show.
The Persuasionists also stars Simon Farnaby and Daisy Haggard, whose names are not so familiar but their faces are. Haggard was in Green Wing, Man Stroke Woman and Psychoville and guest-starred in an episode of Ashes To Ashes. Farnaby has been in The Mighty Boosh and Jam & Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, all the promise proved to be false. The first episode was dire. In fact was quite possibly the worst TV comedy I have ever seen.
A little internet research revealed that the series started life as 2007 pilot episode on BBC3 called The Scum Also Rises, starring Red Dwarf‘s Chris Barrie. Wisely, he bailed. In fact, the only survivors from the pilot appear to be Buxton and Haggard.
I confess, I never saw The Scum Also Rises but what reviews I can find were scathing, so quite how this show was given a full series beggars belief. And, why it was allowed to continue filming AND THEN given a prime-time spot on BBC2 when it must have been obvious what a steaming pile of poo it was?
In the first place, the acting is mostly poor, though to be fair to the cast, I think Robert de Niro would have difficulty turning in a good performance with a script and characterisation this bad.
Ah, the script. The show was created and written by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Thake. There is not an ounce of originality in it.
In fact, it is perhaps telling that Thake was an ad man because ad men often “borrow” from other pop-culture sources to get their message across.
The Persuasionists lifts everything – from situations to jokes to entire characters – from many that have gone before. It’s as if Thake figured that just as he can lift characters and jokes from his favourite comedies to make a 30 second advert, he could use the same tactic to assemble a six-episode, 30-minute BBC2 sitcom. It has been largely pieced together from facsimiles of the work of others – unfortunately, without any of the wit of the pillaged sources.
For example, Farnaby’s character is a cross between Harry Enfield‘s Stavros and Steve Coogan‘s Tony Ferrino. And guest star Lee Ross‘s character in the first episode was suspiciously similar to Enfield’s Self Righteous Brothers (“Oi! Edmonds! NO!”).
If it was funny, the lack of originality could be overlooked. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that I never smiled once, much less laughed.
The Persuasionists was not just UNfunny, it was ANTI-funny. It sucked 30 minutes of humour out of the world. If you stuck it in the large hadron collider and fired it at the speed of light towards The Office or Peep Show or The Thick Of It or, y’know, ANY comedy that IS generally considered funny, the universe would disappear into a black hole.
The Choob doesn’t usually do reviews because I started this blog to share and discuss stuff that I like, not debate what is good and what isn’t – but in this case, I wanted to make clear everyone realises just how bad this show was before directing you towards the aforementioned website, www.thepersuasionists.com.
It’s a fan blog where someone has added a few posts about the recording and screening dates of the show. Of course, the thing about blogs is that they invite comments from visitors – and boy, has The Persuasionists attracted some corkers.
[EDIT: The comments on the official BBC comedy blog are just as brutal. There was a slightly better reception from a few people at The British Comedy Guide Forum.]
To say that the comments are infinitely more entertaining than the show is an understatement. If, like me, you feel you wasted 30 minutes of your life watching the show, you owe it to yourself to at least read the uniformly brutal opinions of similarly outraged viewers.
Click here to see them all on the original site but just in case it is taken down, here are a few highlights.
Particularly noteworthy are posts 23 and 24 (both of which make the excellent point that The Persuasionists is disturbingly reminiscent of When The Whistle Blows, the deliberately crass, offensive and cringeworthy show-within-a-show in season two of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant‘s Extras – except that The Persuasionists forgot the irony) and 17.