Now that the term ‘Pythonesque’ has found a home in the Oxford English Dictionary, many modern-day works of the Theatre Absurd at last have an official moniker to grace their shingles.
Where Monty Python featured comedy segments that flowed like a stream of consciousness, without obvious rhyme or reason, into one another, THE WRONG DOOR seeks access — only to open onto relative emptiness.
Tom Price, who plays PC Andy Davidson on Torchwood, is a principal player throughout the series. For the sake of this review, however, only his appearances in the first two episodes will be noted.
Price’s initial performance comes as part of the sketch entitled "The Most Annoying Creature on Earth". In it, a secret English army experiment aimed at creating the Ultimate Killing Machine has instead given birth to a misshapen runt of a creature code-named Nemesis 003, a.k.a Phillip, and adept only in the art of being insistently obnoxious and scatologically disgusting. Naturally, Phillip escapes and ends up seeking shelter at the house of Nicholas, the hapless character played by Price. What next ensues could only be termed hilarity if the viewer happens to be a six-year-old who considers the idea of bratty misbehavior to be roughly on par with the works of Faulkner or Proust.
Tom appears next in a short segment, also in the first episode of this program, his character being that of a man in bed with his significant other, trading stories of favorite sexual fantasies. While his portrayal of emotions concerning his lady’s rather unusual appetites as well as his own reluctant participation in the ersatz game has its moment (singular), it counts as hardly a ripple in the torpid marsh waters of this televised affair. With one, nice, Pythonesque touch, it turns out that the character in this sketch is only dreaming of the boudoir encounter. He awakens in his bed to the gentle patter of urine raining down on his face, courtesy of Phillip. While the segue — from one, seemingly unrelated sketch to that of a previous one — does ring of Python, the subject matter is no less dumpster-worthy. And, subsequent to the initial meeting with Phillip, one wonders how Nicholas could possibly have fallen asleep with such a reprehensible little creature loose in his home. From there, the sketch gallops forward to its predictable end with all the grace of a one-legged racehorse.
In the second episode, Price’s presence is greatly reduced. He shows up in only one sketch, as an employee of Baum Technologies, Inc. While standing at the water cooler and shooting the breeze with a fellow employee, the subject comes up about the co-worker who landed the Frankenstein account. This sketch is a sight gag, one that I won’t ruin (for reasons of mercy toward the reader), except to say that you’ll most likely walk away with the feeling of ‘Haven’t we been here before’?
Curiously, the creators of THE WRONG DOOR seem to be quick studies at their game, at least in one respect: There is a more refined sense of cross-pollination from sketch to sketch, a reinforcement that all of these strange occurrences are happening on one very weird Earth. Would that this sense of refinement had gone on to evolve and polish the material, and not just the transitions. The low-brow humor is once again in high abundance here and one cannot help but feel that a genuinely great opportunity for intelligent comedy is being frittered away.
If one thing can be said, it is that the performers of the show do try. Admirably. Consistently. In fact, a great deal of energy is expended trying to make sub-par material shine. But, like the relay runner who is handed the baton by a slow teammate, the best of efforts cannot save the day if the race is already over.
Comedies featuring low-brow humor (read: scatological gags, regurgitation gags, fart gags, random violence, profanity, etc.) are in seemingly endless supply. Even Monty Python made use of these conventions. But the Pythoners did so in a more socially informed manner, one that seems very easy to duplicate but is, in fact, deceptive in its complexity and sophistication. That THE WRONG DOOR would have no higher aspirations than to cater to this most low of common denominators is disappointing. That it would be compared to one of Britain’s most influential comedy series is inevitable.
If THE WRONG DOOR is merely another unassuming offering in an already overcrowded sea of mediocrity, then I applaud it; it has struck its mark squarely. If, however, it is a show that seeks to entertain on the same level as some of Britain’s finest from decades past, then it has undeniably missed its own point.