Last on MOTD: Torres and June

EVEN as a small child in the 1980s with barely-formed critical faculties, I thought that Terry and June was rubbish. Apart from June, who would spend the entire half-hour rolling her eyes and shaking her head, I could never understand why any of the characters behaved the way they did.

I saw an episode repeated on ITV3 a few weeks ago (they seem to have acquired rights to some of the BBC’s back catalogue), and it actually made me chuckle in a few places. But I hadn’t changed my mind about the sitcom adventures of the Medfords. The problem with Terry and June was that it was gag-driven at the expense of any internal logic. The plot was not just implausible; it made no sense whatsoever. And that’s because every single incident in the show was just a set-up for a punchline.

The scriptwriter had forgotten the golden rule of farce: You can be as silly and surreal as you like, but the plot has to make sense within its own world.

In this particular episode, the local paper had published a photofit of a man who was going round mugging old ladies. The photofit happened to look just like Terry. Cue half-an-hour of Terry being comically pursued by police officers while June rolled her eyes and shook her head.

When he took himself down to the station to explain he wasn’t the mugger, the desk sergeant inevitably tried to arrest him. Then the Medfords went to some works do, and Terry decided (as you do) to go to the event wearing a false beard, which he then proceeded to get covered to food every time he tried to eat anything.

Inevitably, the couple were stopped in their car by police on the way home. Inevitably, Terry was asked to give a breath test. Inevitably, part of his beard flew off as he blew into the bag. Inevitably, the whole hilarious misunderstanding all sorted out off screen. And inevitably, in the final reel, Terry came home late the following evening and ordered June to phone the police – because he’d just been mugged. By a grandma.

This episode, I think, highlighted the major problem that faces any long-running sitcom – namely, who to keep coming up with new and funny adventures for your characters without veering into the implausibly absurd. And on this note, it’s worth bearing in mind how Terry and June came into being.

The show was originally a very successful 1970s sitcom called Happy Ever After. The original writer, a man called John Chapman, decided to stop producing episodes in 1978 because he felt the programme had run out of ideas. But the BBC’s comedy department felt they could carry on flogging the horse, and so decided to continue without Chapman.

This led to all sorts of legal complications, meaning that the BBC had to change the title of the show and slightly adjust the names of the two main characters. They managed to drag Terry and June out until 1987 and the show continued to command large TV audiences. But I think Chapman was probably right. And I suspect he would probably have the same view on the increasingly implausible saga of Fernando Torres’ goal drought.

MOTD’s final match: West Brom 1 Chelsea 3
Commentator: John Motson

Torres was a brilliant striker once. Now he’s the Premier League’s answer to Terry Medford, missing chances and generally making a fool of himself while onlookers point and laugh.

But it’s starting to get silly. I mean, just look at the basic plot. A super-rich London football club falling out of the title race decide to sort out their problems by breaking the British transfer record to sign one of the top strikers in Europe. The striker, despite a few injuries, had still scored a respectable nine goals for his previous club during the first half of the season.

However, on moving to London, said striker then goes 12 games without scoring for his new club, the longest drought of his career, and proceeds to display all the confidence of a reclusive librarian at a disco. Yeah, right. You’ll be telling me next he turns up at club functions wearing a false beard.

Perhaps the low point of Torres’ fledgling Chelsea career came at The Hawthorns yesterday – when the very fact that he was coming as a substitute caused John Motson to emit one of his, heh, involuntary chuckles.

Let me put it another way: Motty, himself a BBC stalwart from a time when Terry and June were painting the town magnolia, appeared to find the introduction of Torres to a football field mildly amusing in itself. And what’s more, I suspect he wasn’t the only person who felt that way.

It got worse. A few moments after coming on, and with Chelsea in control of the game, Torres ran on to Florent Malouda’s pass, rounded the goalkeeper and scored, only to be ruled fractionally offside. This was one set-back too much for Motty.

“All right, I know he’s technically offside, but can’t a striker be given the benefit of the doubt in that situation?” railed Motty, exasperated at Torres’ increasingly implausible misfortunes in front of goal.

There was still time for Torres to miscue completely from 15 yards when given a clear shot at goal, and I swear I heard some canned laughter at that point, perhaps some of that sitcom pratfall music too; you know, the sort that goes: ‘Waa-waa-waa-waaaaaaaaah.’

Torres has become, for now, the Terry Medford of the Premier League, whose every mishap is more implausible than the last. Oh sure, it’s amusing, if you’re amused by that sort of thing. And there’s a sense that, as a live action sitcom, it could run for a while yet. But it’s just, it’s just… unbelievable. No top striker could go that long without scoring.

So, to whoever is writing Torres’ scripts at the moment, I say this: Stop concentrating so much on the gags, and sort out the plot.

Gubbometer

1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 10 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 8)
4. West Brom: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
5. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
6. Everton: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 4)
7. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 5, 3L: 8)
8. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 5)
9. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
11. Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 2)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
14. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
15. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
16. Aston Villa: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
17. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)

2L=On second last (Everton 2 Blackburn 0)
3L=On third last (Birmingham 2 Sunderland 0)

(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony at 71 Popular Avenue, hosted by Sepp Blatter, June Whitfield, Tony Gubba and Sir Denis, with music from Ronnie Hazelhurst.)

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