Friday, August 15, 2014


That's real humor, real comedy and quite effective and efficacious at that.


The first element I have to specify here is that it is a family series, i.e. a series the whole family can watch, and yet there are not many children in it, in fact there is only one, and he does not come straight away and he does not play the most important role anyway, even if he is called Damian, Damian Derrick Trotter, DDT for short, and the son of the devil as is well known. But this family series manages to have practically all along an older member of the family, a grand father at first and then a grand uncle till practically the end. These two older characters, played by two older actors is the truth in modern families: they finally depart when the second generation after them practically is beyond their mid-life crisis. It so happens that a generation is missing, the father and the mother, but that is necessary to have the type of relation we have between the two brothers, Derrick and Rodney Trotter.

The second thing is that we have here a comedy and only a comedy. They make fun of absolutely everything and nothing is serious even when it is dramatic and causes a lot of crying. It is a comedy and the real world outside is the real world outside, that means from the first episode to the last Christmas special twenty-two years have elapsed and you can easily see it with simple objects like the first microwave oven, the first portable telephone of the 1980s and then the slow evolution of these portable telephones, the first computer is a computer without a GUI that works with command lines and code and the last one is a laptop, and a small one at that. The world is changing along with the series, or vice versa if you prefer, and the events in the world are also reflected in the series: the fall of the USSR for example. At the same time these historical elements, or political elements, are not overwhelmingly present. They are only some kind of time bookmarks in the story for us to know where and when we are.

The second thing is that we are dealing with people who are at the bottom of society but who want to become millionaires one day. They are enterprising and they use all their mental and physical resources to achieve their objective. The means are simple: selling on the market, in the street. They are hawkers, street vendors. At the same time they deal behind the wings with everyone who wants a good deal on anything that is trendy at the time. They consider their business is their own responsibility and they will use all legal means and all illegal means to get their merchandise and then to sell it at a profit. They do not really make a fortune out of it but they are independent and they manage to live an eventful and comfortable, though not wealthy, life. Their main enemy is the police since they are always running from them and the theme of the police, what’s more a rotten policeman, is vastly used. They live in a tower block in Peckham, hence in the county flats of the poor working people, a tower block called Nelson Mandela, quite a symbol in the period from 1981 to 2003. At the same time the opening credits are always the same, the closing credits too, and the songs of both, but also the background scene of the opening credits. The actors are aging, and some changing, but their presentation in the opening credits is always the same. And some elements never change, including of course the apartment and the three-wheel dirty yellow van.

The third element is that they are real people from Peckham, London, and they speak the language of the neighborhood, that is cockney, and cockney they do speak with the accent, the lexicon and the syntax, from the opening song to the closing song. If they are called Trotter it is because “only fools and HORSES” and “Stick a PONY in me pocket / I'll fetch the suitcase from the van” and most of the social life takes place in the local pub which is called of course THE NAGS HEAD. And the series is consistent about it. The only exception is in fact Cassandra, Rodney’s wife, because she is from the middle class. Her parents are the same of course. In the same way, but maybe less clear cut, Rachel, Derrick’s wife, because she is from “outside” and not from the inner circle of the Peckham boys that all the men in this series are. In the last Christmas special they get an old picture of the “boys” at school when Derrick was in his middle teens, and Rodney is officially not on the picture since he is quite younger, but in fact he is because someone who was the proper age at the time the picture was taken looks just like him at the age of 17 or so, and that’s the big secret about Rodney’s father that has been lurking around all along and that explains why the real father in the family, Derrick and Rodney’s mother’s husband, left the family shortly after Rodney’s birth. That biological father of Rodney is a character of some sort and you’ll have to watch the series to find out.

The last thing I will say is that the series is hilarious because it is British, and even because it is BBC. It is stuffed, filled, coated and heavily loaded with British humor, with puns and jokes, and I am sure you will not get them all, and it does not matter because the audience laughs for you and you know you have missed something. This humor has no limits and nothing is taboo, or nearly nothing is taboo, though they do not seem to make fun of religion that much and they do not practice political humor or satire. But all the rest is possible and they go quite beyond the traditional and limited themes of the desert island, marooned on a desert island, plumber’s jokes, old spinster’s jokes, adultery and homosexuality. They exploit situational humor tremendously and very creatively, and always with finesse, British finesse. Always associating the situation, the story being told, the language, the body language and references to cultural and contextual elements that we are supposed to know. There is a parody of a certain Elvis Presley that is absolutely murderous, with the dry sausage (of a very “reasonable” size) that the fake middle-age surrogate Elvis Presley gets out of his pants after his performance and his inability at pronouncing the letter R. Derrick and Rodney costumed as Batman and Robin running in the streets of Peckham at night is quite funny too. Grand uncle Albert and his stories as a veteran of the British Navy during most of his life and especially in World War II are a perfect funny illustration of the absolutely sane but excessive ranting and raving of the very old generation who try to educate the younger ones with their past.

For all those reasons and at least several thousand more that’s the comedy you will be able to watch night after night and probably re-watch over and over again. You have forty-one and a half hours of pleasure made eternal on twenty-six discs: that may last a good fortnight for the whole family in the evening.


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