Living for the weekend: Has Mock the Week grown a bit tired?
Now just starting its eleventh series, it can safely be said that BBC’s Mock the Week has done very well for itself. Since 2005, it has showcased some of the finest talent on the British comedy circuit, whilst also supplementing the press with enough controversy to sustain its high viewing figures. But, in recent years, it has not gone unnoticed that a number of considerable changes have taken place on the show – changes which took their toll on audience ratings. The departure of team lynchpins Frankie Boyle towards the end of series 7, and Russell Howard midway through series 9 palpably rattled the foundations of the programme, with many critics stating that it has never really recovered since.
Watching the first episode of the new series last week, it’s easy to see why. Whilst the show has never really had team captains, the losses of Boyle and Howard, and the subsequent introduction of Chris Addison as a regular panellist, have shaken the team line-ups and have resulted in an uneasy, lopsided distribution of regulars and guests. This feeling has been intensified by some of the rounds within the show, where now two players from one team will take on a single member of the other in a line-up vaguely reminiscent of an imminent mugging. Even Dara Ó Briain’s demeanour seems to have changed – where previously he would have been chuckling alongside the rest of the panellists, he has recently spent lengthy portions of his screentime exasperatedly asking his guests to stop messing about and get on with the game, in the manner of a tired parent asking a misbehaving child to do homework.
However, even though these changes have been obvious, they have not necessarily been entirely detrimental to the show. Mock the Week has experienced a subtle yet definite change in tone, which has ultimately resulted in a more all-encompassing environment for the comedians. In an interview in January, regular guest Milton Jones stated that the atmosphere of the Boyle/Howard-era shows was testosterone-fuelled and competitive, where performers had to fight to get a joke in – something which may have perhaps contributed to the much-publicised lack of female panellists on the programme. Now, it “feels like a different show” where the viewer attention is perhaps more evenly spread over the panellists, rather than focussing on who Frankie Boyle would offend next.
It was reassuring to see that, after the slightly shaky last two or three seasons, Thursday’s show was actually pretty funny. It took a large portion of the night’s viewing figures and received positive feedback the next day: clearly the producers are doing something right. Whether it is the same show as it was three years ago however, is perhaps a little less obvious. Some might say that the loss of the more controversial humour indicates that the programme is losing sight of its original identity, bringing it ever closer to other satirical current affairs programmes such as Have I Got News For You. But the show has also been a springboard for some of the less well-known fringe comedians – much like a super-condensed Comedy Roadshow – and therein lies another essential part of its identity. The Mock the Week machine is still the same, but its parts are gradually being replaced and, despite some minor hiccups along the way, it would seem that it has a bit longer to run.