TV Channel Review: Comedy Central

COMEDY CENTRAL: Sky 112, Virgin Media 132

If you are an indecisive sort, trying to settle on what to watch might often prove to be the biggest challenge of your evening. With the rise of Sky and indeed a range of all-new digital providers, the channels before us are endless. How ironic that the programmes themselves often seem to be an incessant cycle of repeats.

There are many channels more guilty of this than Comedy Central UK (we’re looking at you Dave..) which in its heyday (or mine), it used to be known as Paramount Comedy. So little were the expectations for the channel at one time it time-shared with Nickelodeon; coming on after the little’uns were tucked up in bed, it offered a small variety of American comedy. Despite being loved in my household for its nightly showing of Seinfeld, it didn’t seem to have much else to offer. Eventually, Paramount realised its comedic potential and rebranded itself as Comedy Central UK, importing new shows like Scrubs and Two and a Half Men. Indeed it’s US counterpart made a breakthrough in 1997 by taking a punt on a little known show called South Park, which was deemed too offensive for mainstream television. But as well as this plethora of American comedy, the channel also began to offer a range of stand-up, showcasing the talents of both British and international comedians. Naturally, advertisers as well as viewers started to sit up and take notice, with a subsequent deal with Magners sponsoring the channel’s stand-up content and cementing the channel as one to be reckoned with amidst the cloudy fog of Sky…

Recent times have seen Comedy Central unveil an all new shiny HD channel, conveniently bagging the rights to the similarly glossy Friends from C4, enabling us to view those six sets of pearly whites like never before. So… have its ever-loyal fans kicked E4 to the curb in favour of CC? More importantly, does the channel’s current schedule live up to its own hype… one which grandly describes itself in terms of the ‘best in new comedy’?!

The answer seems to be a rather frustrating… sometimes. Yes, Comedy Central does offer some great new comedy. An impressive 800,000 viewers tuned in to see Ashton Kutcher take over from the ever ‘winning’ Charlie Sheen in the new series of Two and a Half Men (garnering the channel’s highest ever number of viewers in the process). It airs Mike & Molly as well as the astronomically acclaimed 30 Rock, which it rescued from an unappreciative Channel 5 a couple of years. It will be interesting to see if they can hang on to it when bigger fish come calling if the show remains a success. The channel’s long-held promise of stand-up has also been delivered; it showcases live events you don’t see televised anywhere else such as ‘Edinburgh and Beyond’ and ‘Comedy on Tap’. Last year they also commissioned their very own comedy in the form of Threesome; a British sitcom about a trio of kidults despairing as they head towards thirty.

However, despite showing such promise and having a back-catalogue of stellar shows at its disposal, Comedy Central currently seems a little too overcome with what to do with it all. Instead of rotating the treasure in their locker to fine effect, they seem intent on repeating the same shows over and over again, holding back on others which might provide variety and instead giving us marathons of the same old stuff. As such, when they acquire a new show they appear as overexcited as Jedward after too much Coca-Cola, feeling the need to push their new vehicle tirelessly (Mr Bean is the newest and probably most random offering that has recently seen this treatment).

Of late, most times I switch over to Comedy Central I’m met with the same Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow. Now I love that floppy-haired charmer as much as the next person, but there is only so much I can take. It also goes without saying that I like a bit of Friends every now and again… but weekend marathons of ‘Chandlers best episodes’ and ‘The Ones Where Janice Pops Up’?! These repetitions would tire even the most relentless of sitcom watchers. There’s definitely a market for the former C4 comedy – a glance at the internet message boards will tell you that – but treading a line and avoiding overkill is important. With new episodes of How I Met Your Mother being shown on E4, the aforementioned dilemma you might have once faced could be easily resolved.

It’s clear that other viewers are also getting a little fed up with Comedy Central’s empty promises, with hoards logging on to the website to express their discontent. These include 30 Rock fans deploring the absurd break in the current series: “Seriously…. where the hell is it? Comedy Twoandahalfmentral need to sort it out, there has been no justification or explanation for stopping the season when they didâ€? says ‘Phil Sheriff Kimbo’ … “We only signed up for Virgin Media because we wanted to watch 30 Rock and there seems to be nothing but repeats of the same old shows on Comedy Centralâ€? says irate Christina S. Similarly, one viewer uses their name – ‘nomoreSATC’ – to shrewdly reflect their point of view (go on, have a guess….): “Please please for the love of our sanity – STOP with all the SATC. There are other programmes – new and old that CC can add to its schedule. And giving the show a new theme each time doesn’t help- it’s still the same programme.â€?

Despite this one particularly incensed viewer, it seems that the problem might not be the shows themselves, but rather simply, the amount they are shown. If aired correctly ‘SATC’ and ‘Friends’ could settle in as a perfectly welcomed part of the schedule, and with the new comedy they actually do offer, Comedy Central could still have a lot to offer. It has been announced that fresh comedy ‘Whitney’ will air in the coming months; an addition which could help breathe new life to the channel. If it manages to sort out its scheduling problems, Comedy Central could revert to being an entertaining and suitably funny ingredient in the digital stratosphere. Just bring back Seinfeld, I say! But when it comes to this particular channel, my advice would be less is more… one episode a week would undoubtedly suffice.