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Audio Comedy Review

Book Cover

Down the Line
The Complete Second Series


Starring: Rhys Thomas, Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson and Simon Day
BBC Audio
RRP: £15.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 68833 8
Available 07 April 2008

When it was launched in the Spring of 2006, Down the Line was such an accurate parody of an inane phone-in show that many Radio 4 listeners (and radio critics) thought it was the real thing and launched a storm of protest. What on earth was Radio 4 coming to? Seasoned comedy listeners, however, soon detected the presence of several well-known voices including members of The Fast Show team...

The second series of Down the Line sees Rhys Thomas reprise his role as the keen, but none too bright, Gary Bellamy. The show's line-up of experts, idiots, bigots, nutters and bores is a snapshot of 21st century Britain and its obsessions; from the environment and immigration to large scale natural disasters and cosmetic surgery. The show was largely improvised by the cast and sprinkled among the calls from the regulars are contributions from special guests including Matt Lucas, Mark Gatiss, Harry Enfield, Catherine Tate and Arabella Weir.

As I mentioned in my review of Series One, I seriously doubt (despite the BBC's claims that listener's complaints were aplenty) that many Radio 4 listeners were really sucked into believing it was legit. To start with it was broadcast in a comedy slot and then there's the fact that Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson may be great comedy writers and performers but they have very limited vocal ranges.

Whether it was the fact that the truth had been leaked and it was widely reported in the press that Down the Line was a spoof show, or that the cast just couldn't be bothered any more, the second series of Down the Line takes a dramatic drop in quality.

There are way too many characters that are repeated week after week, and Charlie Higson seems to have stopped attempting to disguise his voice.

As I've mentioned before, this show was an attempt to spoof something that doesn't really need spoofing - tacky phone-in radio shows with dumb hosts. The idea would have worked a lot better if it had been broadcast on Radio 1. As a series it just doesn't work. This is an idea that would have maybe worked as a quick sketch in The Fast Show, but there's not enough in the idea to have it run for 30 minutes for six weeks. Not only that, but the members of society that the team are taking the mickey out of are hardly likely to listen to Radio 4... so the whole point of this show, to fool the audience who live on a diet of inane chat shows, is lost.

There was a real chance here to poke fun at society, but sadly nothing is ever really followed up. With topics like immigration, global warming and Islam the cast had a golden opportunity to really have fun with popular public perceptions. But no, everything is kept very low brow.

There was even a missed opportunity when, discussing toothpaste, one caller compares it to the choice of whether or not to accept The Lord into our lives. Straight away, I though: "Ah, here's a great opportunity to tie that into Aquafresh - three in one like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit..." But no gag was forthcoming. Only later on did they think of a gag which ended up revolving around Crest - the toothpaste with the ring (or halo).

The final episode is interesting. Even when you know this is a spoof, the ghostly noises that come across as interference are pretty unnerving - they certainly sent a shiver down my spine. But then this is probably because I've spent a lot of late nights, in the dark, playing Silent Hill and Resident Evil console games and scaring myself witless with similar noises.

At the end of the day this is a half-baked series that probably sounded like a good idea when it was pitched - no doubt in the pub with all involved being a little drunk. What could have been a great comedy series ends up just being a bit funny... sometimes.


Darren Rea

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