The Brittas Empire (PG)
Oh deary me.
It always breaks my heart when I find sitcoms not as funny as I once found them; I remember loving it because of my beloved Chris Barrie, who does such an excellent job in Red Dwarf. It is considered something of a classic mid 90s series; the premise is summed up best by the Amazon review:
_In this classic TV sitcom, Gordon Brittas (Chris Barrie) is the manager of Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre. He means well, wants to do well and desperately wants to be a good manager. Unfortunately his best talent is to continually create recipes for total disaster But Deep down Brittas cares for his staff, but all he ever seems to do is to make their lives more difficult. Trying to rise above this, and to keep the Centre running smoothly, are his assistant Laura (Julia St. John) and of course Colin, complete with boil! Behind every good man, so the saying goes, is a good woman, and behind every maniac, is a good woman losing her sanity! Helen Brittas (Pippa Haywood) is no different as she struggles to cope with her husband's misplaced enthusiasm. _
Okay, why, do you ask, have I pasted a review verbatim from Amazon.co.uk? Possibly its because I don't honestly feel it necessary to sum up the premise of the Brittas Empire on my own – also to showcase the occasionally very poor grammar of amazons own reviewers.
Mainly I suppose its because I want to get down to brass tacks: the show really is not as funny as I remember it to be. The central problem I realise is that despite Chris Barrie's amusing performance, the writers seem to think that having a pratfalling manager whom the staff bad talk every fifteen seconds or so is genuinely funny – with the exception of the highly overrated The Office, this has not translated well. One thing I find completely preposterous is his wife. Her constant infidelity is supposed to be funny and we are supposed, for god knows what reason, to root for this semi-psychotic, nymphomaniacal egotistical hussy. For some other, even more preposterous reason, the staff seem to assist in her escapades – even looking disappointed and crestfallen when his wife fails to say marry a new man mere hours after the supposed death of her husband.
I know Brittas is supposed to be an idiot, but surely even in comedy he wouldn't inspire such loathing from his staff? Even the sensible ones seem to dislike him, even when he is trying to do a good job. Not to say Brittas is entirely sympathetic – he drives everyone up the wall with his absurd pernicketiness, his absurd ideas and appalling customer service. It doesn't really help that the assisting cast, with the exception of Colin and the receptionist Carol, are just insufferably bland. Sensible characters with no flaws are not funny; they don't have to be caricatures, but making a character with virtually no flaws just does not inspire sympathy. A good example is the annoyingly witty, perky and clever Brittas assistant Laura – she is a very dull actress in a very dull part.
It did get funnier later on I recall, with some rather moving episodes regarding Brittas' death and ascent to heaven before being returned simply because he got in St. Peter's nerves too much. It is held together by the comic presence of Chris Barrie, who while admittedly overdoes the smarm a number of times, is pretty much the finest actor of the whole piece – apart from the repugnant Colin, who is the guy we should really be rooting for.
It has pained me to write this review, since I dislike debunking myths of my childhood – especially as I recall avidly watching it from when I was a boy. Sigh. How times change.