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TV: Whites \ BBC \ Episode 1

September 29, 2010

The BBC’s latest comedy drama – Whites – starring Alan Davies as Executive Chef Roland Davies kicked off last night on BBC Two and on the HD channel. Reviews have ranged from “eminently watchable cast“, to “gentle, subtly played, often funny and quite promising” with one suggesting the comedy deserves a place in the “slow burner category“.

What’s apparent from the show is how similar an effect the finished product has in comparison a string of other BBC produced comedies and comedy dramas in recent months. It feels like quality stuff. It leaves me wanting more. In a very vague sense I suppose I’m hooked.

The brilliant Roger and Val had the same effect. It shares similarities with Whites in terms of visual style too. Whilst that may at first seem important, it is the integrity of the image which communicates a lot and quickly. The Smoking Room – whilst not in HD – from a few years back is another case in point.We make up our minds pretty early on what sort of entertainment we’re watching when we’re watching it. We might light to think we’re not so superficial. But we are.

More than is the actual content. The emphasis in Whites – like Roger and Val, the Smoking Room and Vivienne Vyle (remember that?) – feels like it’s on drama first, comedy second. That’s not to say that the comedy is any less, just that – surely – the pressure is off writers contributing rip-roaring gags throughout. As a result, the end product holds up well. Comedies don’t need to make me laugh from beginning to end. Give me some story. Encourage me to think about the stuff I’m not seeing or hearing.

In terms of characterisation, the similarities with Roger and Val continue. The couple adore one another as evidenced in their day routine, but they still battle with the premature death of their child from years ago. The premise is real. We feel at ease because it reflects the lives of others or the lives we could have. There’s no goody and baddy. Roger and Val have redeeming qualities. They also have a dark side. They are a real couple.

In Whites, Alan Davies’ character Roland Davies is recognisable as the beleaguered executive managing a team in part falling to reach their potential or that of his restaurant. But very quickly we can see where he’s going wrong. He’s too self-centred.

In trying to resolve a kitchen resourcing problem, he ends up recruiting a stand-in – the eager and ambitious Skoose. We like the new recruit initially, but we’re scared by him too. He has an agenda. Maybe the belleagured sous chef Bib who called for more help in the first place actually deserved his come-uppance for being so patronising to Skoose in the first place. Our loyalties conflict. We identify with the underdog but then maybe we champion the newcomer These characters are real too.

It is characterisation and the simple yet satisfying plot which compartmentalises this production into the “quality” bracket. When the visual style is applied on top, the finished product presents itself as every bit as reassuring, securing the BBC’s comedy department reputation along with recent successes like those mentioned above and the likes of Rev and Miranda too.

It won’t satisfy those who demand their comedy to be rip-roaring from beginning to end. But, if you want a story with a few laughs in it then you won’t go far wrong.

The image above has been used from the BBC website without permission. If you work for the BBC and you’re annoyed about that, do please get in touch.

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