Last Night’s TV: Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps

BBC3, 9pm

Following in the footsteps of ER, The Bill and Coronation Street, BBC3 – the self-proclaimed home of lightweight comedy on the Beeb – decided the best thing to do with their flagship, but steadily failing show would be to have a live episode.

Bear in mind for a moment, with the exception of the woefully mis-used Sheridan Smith, the cast consists of two ex-Hollyoaks actors – from the days when Hollyoaks really was lowest common denominator TV – and the incessantly annoying (although this is largely due to intolerable one-gag scripting) Kathryn Drysdal playing the vocally challenged Louise. The show’s only real highlight, Ralf Little, already confirmed he wouldn’t be continuing with the programme in September last year.

As such, a live show was never going to be a Globe Theatre performance. Indeed, what followed after a brief opening shot through the audience – just to remind us that this was all make-believe, in case we had forgotten – was little more than a high school farce.

Curiously enough the episode centred mostly around Ralf Little’s character of Johnny, who having won a competition, was off-screen in Hawaii, attempting to jump a shark. Of course, this was somewhat of a self-confession from the writers, being a reference to the net-culture phrase ‘Jumping The Shark’, symbolising the point at which a TV show has peaked and is now on a downward spiral.

In fact, so certain was writer Susan Nickson that this was the moment that everyone – not just the people who had watched it more than once – would realise ‘Two Pints…’ had had its day, that several in-jokes were made to reiterate the fact, including a Fonzie-style “Aaaaayhh!” from Janet within the first five minutes.

Strangely enough the programme, which usually plumits somewhere between the phrases ‘unfunny’ and ‘nauseously awful’ was brought to life by the live element, with all five leads – Natalie Casey, Will Mellor, Sheridan Smith, Kathryn Drysdal and flamboyant newcomer Luke Gell – gelling well on screen, like old mates having a laugh.

Admittely most of the laughs came not from the usually poor script, but from the cast’s sly looks to one another when making mistakes or forgetting their lines in brief moments of forgetfulness that they were broadcasting to the nation, but still the result was still entertaining. Indeed, although the script was poor, the writing made full use of the live situation, putting the cast in deliberately awkward positions of nudity, danger – the look on Will Mellor’s face as he swallowed a flaming baton was priceless – or shear stupidity.

All five of the cast suffered equally, and it made great TV. From Casey growling her way through ‘Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken’, a song which she herself had a hit as a child, to Smith being lowered from the rafters on a tractor tyre whilst crooning “My Heart Will Go On’ and Drysdal’s infuriating, but well executed tongue-twisters, it was highly entertaining.

This aside, be in no doubt the seriousness behind Nickson’s more than subliminal messages. This is a show that Jumped The Shark – to use her phrase – long ago. That is if you ever liked it in the first place. After debuting on BBC2 it was instantly dumped on BBC3 (then still BBC Choice), waiting to be killed off. Somehow it has limped along for an astonishing seven series, but now having had one last great hurrah, it must be finally time to put it to bed.