27 April 2011

"We see more of Halley's Comet than we do of him!"

The dreadfully sad death of John Sullivan produced some terrific tributes and some refreshingly wide-eyed revisits of his work. The problem in recent times is that one programme, Only Fools And Horses, overshadowed his other admirable projects, and within that one scene, the "Del falling through the bar" moment in Yuppy Love, became regarded as his crowning glory.

It is a brilliant gag, of course. Timed impeccably, serious element of surprise which added to the laughter, and the fact that when you see it again, there is no hint of self-protection from David Jason at all. I laughed until I felt capable of a self-inflicted injury when I first saw it.

But then they showed it again, and again, and again. And they talked about it again, and again, and again... No joke is as funny when you've heard it before, and the same can be applied to visual gags when you know what's coming. You get to the point where it becomes so dominant that you almost begin to hate it. The same applies to the chandelier episode, A Touch Of Glass, discussed here.

Good gags do not make a great episode make, and still I maintain the title of best episode of Only Fools And Horses remains a two-horse race between Thicker Than Water and The Longest Night. The former brought out serious family tensions with the unwelcome, disruptive return of Reg Trotter; the latter saw them innocently involved in a bogus armed robbery. Both were out of the show's comfort zone; an imposter was in their flat in one, and the whole show was set outside their flat (and the pub - the only episode to do so) in the other. Neither were about tucking up mugs on the streets with boss-eyed dolls, nor drinking malibu and cherryade and non-alcoholic lager top. They put the family bond - and, it seemed, their actual lives - on the line, and never was Sullivan and his prime programme better than when showing the frailties and dilemmas of family life.

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