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So, things are gearing up on Hyperdrive - shooting started last month in Manchester, the original home of Dwarf, amusingly. Here's a couple of concept sketches of the main ship, the HMS Camden Lock, with thanks to Glazy on the Starship Modeler Forums who scanned it in from SFX - click to enlarge.

Concept sketches of the HMS Camden Lock.Turn your head to one side. Funny. Very, funny indeed. (Go here if you don't get it.) All the omens are good. So why am I worried? Sadly, it has to do with things completely unrelated to the show. The first being the current SFX describing it as "It's more The Office than Red Dwarf." Yes, it appears we've got to the state where people really can't mention comedy shows without going on about TEH OFFICESES.

More interestingly, the current SFX also answers a query I had a while ago - we knew it was going to be shot single camera, but there's no laugh track either. And whilst it's unfair to the show, I can't help but feel hugely disappointed.

Because there's something about a traditionally shot sitcom that I adore. It's very difficult to put why into words - there's the obvious interplay between the actors and the audience that really helps in a comedy show if you shoot it with an audience present. Even if there isn't an audience there, a laugh track can really help. Yes, you can sit there and feel patronised by it if you want to - and if it was real canned laughter (rarely used on UK comedy shows - and even then, it's just a sweetener in the edit) you'd be right to. But forgive me for loving hearing the sheer joy of an audience's reaction to a fucking excellent joke.

But it's more than that. TV as a whole is turning into a more filmic medium compared to how it used to be. Sometimes this is wonderful - just look at latest Doctor Who. But sometimes it just amounts to slapping a shit film effect on an awards ceremony and hoping it looks expensive. What people forget is that TV owes as much to the theatre as to film. Just because you can shoot everything as slick as fuck, it doesn't necessarily mean you should - especially when it comes to comedy. A high-octane version of Men Behaving Badly, anyone? It Just Wouldn't Work.

There's also the fact that normal, untreated video shot multi-camera feels more real to me - it feels so immediate. That's partly because we're just used to it on the news, of course - but it is more than that. Too many cuts, too many camera setups... and you lose any sense of feeling that what's happening is real at all. Ironically, it starts to feel stagey - in a bad way. That's what I love about old Doctor Who eps - it might be as obvious as fuck that they're in a studio and not on an alien planet, but when that explosion goes off it feels like it's happening in your living room.

Of course, this is really just a case of: "get over yourself, this looks great, treat it on its own merits". And I will, I really will. I never judge a show before I've actually seen it. As I keep telling myself, Spaced wouldn't have worked in front of a studio audience. HHGTTG wouldn't have worked with a laugh track of any sort (and thank fuck they fought BBC bosses who wanted to put one on). Neither would a million other comedy shows. Hyperdrive may well be the same. I'll do a full review of it when it broadcasts in the New Year.

But there should be room for everything. And what was the last classic traditionally-shot sitcom you can think of? Black Books is the only one that springs to mind - and they put an unnecessary film effect over that that didn't add a single thing to the show.

I just hope an artform I love isn't dying out, that's all.

About this entry


The US is still fond of "traditional" sitcoms, with laughter-tracks and so on, I think. But even then, the two best sitcoms currently coming out of there - The Office and My Name Is Earl - don't have them and are shot filmically (is that a word?)

Black Books is the last truly great one I can think of that's in the manner that you describe; Father Ted and I'm Alan Partridge before that.

By Seb
October 08, 2005 @ 11:51 am

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Yep - I was really talking about UK shows. Interestingly, US shows are often shot on film in front of an audience...

Agreed about Ted - and that was last decade! (IAP1 was great, obviously, but that was before the last series of Ted. I don't remember IAP2 being that great at all, but I do need to watch it again. I might be very wrong.)

By John Hoare
October 08, 2005 @ 12:02 pm

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You have to watch the second series of Alan Partridge again! I thought it was really disappointing watching it the first time, but now I know it's because I had the first series so embedded into my skull I couldn't look past it. Of course, the first series IS better, better written, better shot, bettter characters, better location etc.

However, series 2 is still funny in a twisted way. And I find myself quoting series 2 a lot more, stuff like 'don't rub your fanny on me!' (works when said in the right situation...) or when that ex-druggy woman played by Nighty Night/Human Remains/Big Train/Steve Coogan's live show star Julia Davis rips him off for including the line 'needless to say, I had the last laugh' loads of times in his autobiography, and he says 'Well you could put in your book, 'needles to say......I...took drugs'. It's just the way he says it.

Anyway, apart from Black Books and Alan Partridge, only shit sitcoms get shot in front of an audience now (and sketch shows like Catherine Tate and...Little Britain). This doesn't mean that a good sitcom can't be made with an audience and without a film effect anymore, it's just that people seem to frightened to do it, mainly because it isn't in the current trend. I hope to god that if this new Blackadder series happens it is shot in exactly the same way as the original series', and that will be a large shit in the face of BBC comedy bosses who think that only 'uncomfortable' sitcoms like Extras and Nighty Night can be made now. That's unless the new Blackadder series is a piece of shit itself. But that would be no fault of the way it was shot, just some shite writing by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton.

Er, anyway, this Hyperdrive thing. I'm glad it isn't in front of an audience because it might be too close to Dwarf. I imagine the humour will be something like a cross between Black Books, Green Wing and Hitchhikers (maybe), with loads of overly smug 'oh look we're stuck up numb British fucks in space' thrown in. You just KNOW that the tone will be like that, and I'm scared... Also, it says in that BBC article that one of the crew is gonna be a 'hologrammatic lifeform'. That's so bad, ripping concepts from Voyager.

By performingmonkey
October 09, 2005 @ 2:57 am

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Sorry, just read that back. I'm full of so much shit it's untrue...

By performingmonkey
October 10, 2005 @ 7:03 am

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Incidentally, the show is being shot on 16mm - SFX mentioned it recently, along with some lovely behind-the-scenes production photos. So, sorry for my completely wrong assumption that it would be video treated to look like film.

Still, my main point remains - I'm very sorry it isn't a traditional shot-in-front-of-an-audience sitcom. Hopefully it'll be great in its own way, though.

By John Hoare
November 19, 2005 @ 9:38 pm

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I've got the impression that it hasn't really been that well received. Okay, so it was no Red Dwarf, but it wasn't that bad, if we're honest. We probably just built it up too much.

By Si
January 12, 2006 @ 4:54 pm

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Are you serious? It was dreadful! It felt like half an hour of bumbling thoughts that trailed off without going anywhere. It didn't get a single laugh out of me. The only smile it raised was Kevin Eldon's OTT acting, and even that was woefully out of place.

By Noel
January 13, 2006 @ 6:09 pm

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