fri 24/05/2019

Monks, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Monks, BBC One

Monks, BBC One

A promising cast is marooned in a Seventies sketch show

Carry on Praying?

At least no one can accuse BBC comedy of an obsession with youth and relevance with this one. In airing a trial episode of Monks, an idea that’s been lurking in their ideas department for over ten years, the corporation’s comedy team is focusing on a lifestyle that was largely banished from English life by Henry VIII. There are some good jokes and amusing sketch-scenes, but their targets slap the forehead of obviousness every time, while the characters - especially Mark Heap’s angry and repressed deputy abbot Francis, Justin Edwards’ hapless loser Brother Bernard, and Angus Deayton’s satin-clad, truffle-snuffling cardinal - are so broad they could comfortably join hands and encircle St Peter’s Basilica.

The programme’s concession to fad is Seann Walsh’s character Brother Gary, who has, in a topical reference that contrives to be both unrealistic and clichéd, arrived at the monastery having been caught fraudulently claiming benefits. James Fleet’s abbot is the only character with a third dimension: we begin to empathise as his sympathies are torn between the fallen Gary and his righteous deputy, amid threatening calls from Deayton’s satirical cardinal to relocate them to the Falkland Islands. He has the makings of a cloistered Catholic version of Tom Hollander’s widely admired Adam Smallbone. But each time a touch of real human drama builds up, and the humour threatens to become more sophisticated, the cardboard plotting takes over. All around the abbot a pantomime rages, as skeletons burst from coffins, Br Bernard gets imbecilically drunk, and Br Gary sets up a wine bar in the crypt, with, yes, predictably hilarious consequences.

drunk monksThis version of the programme (another incarnation was broadcast on radio, and an unbroadcast TV pilot made in 2008) was the third in the Comedy Playhouse series revived by BBC Head of Comedy Shane Allen in an attempt to encourage riskier writing for BBC One. Monks, though, felt like something from the first series of Comedy Playhouse, which from 1961 to 1975 gave birth to enduring creations like Steptoe and Son, Last of the Summer Wine and Are You Being Served? By the time the only woman in this show stumbled across Br Francis in his bath, who then stood up and said “Stop looking at my P-Pope!”, I was expecting Sid James to pop up and crack a joke about Hattie Jacques’ wimple. It was all a bit 1973.  

It’s difficult to see where this can go next. With Rev and The Vicar of Dibley, religion has been well represented in recent comedy. But even secular Britain has experienced enough CofE to be able to empathise with Adam Smallbone and Geraldine Granger. Neither Monks' writers nor, one imagines, most of its audience, know or care much about monastic life, and in a single, scattergun episode, they’ve used up the obvious jokes.

It passed the time. If it’s willy jokes you’re after, you might like it. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a good cast and exciting trial opportunity have been wasted on a half-baked idea and time-warped script.

If it’s willy jokes you’re after, you might like it

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters