Director: Bob Spiers, Geoff Posner
Screenplay: Kim Fuller, Victoria Pile
Producers: Kim Fuller, Victoria Pile
Starring: Stephen Frost, Mark Arden, Peter Bland, Race Davies
BBFC Certification: 12
Duration: 180 mins
You have to applaud Simply Media’s recent glut of BBC releases which have brought many long forgotten series out of the obscurity and onto DVD. In many cases, as with Colin’s Sandwich or In the Red, this gave this viewer the opportunity to discover that these blasts from the past were every bit as good as remembered. However, there is always going to be the odd series that may have been better left as a fond reminiscence. While I’m glad for the sake of its small handful of fans that the short-lived cop comedy Lazarus and Dingwall has been given a belated release nearly twenty-five years after it originally aired, I laughed a lot less the second time round.
Lazarus and Dingwall was a star vehicle for Mark Arden and Stephen Frost, a little-known comedy double act who had appeared in The Young Ones and Blackadder but are probably best remembered for a series of adverts for Carling Black Label. The writers of the series, Kim Fuller and Victoria Pile, had worked on Not the Nine O’ Clock News and Spitting Image and while Fuller’s career descended into weaker material like Spice World and Postman Pat: The Movie, Pile went from strength to strength as a prominent writer on both Smack the Pony and Green Wing. Unfortunately, Lazarus and Dingwall fails to live up to these promising credentials and instead emerges as a strange combination of Police Squad and Chucklevision.
The emphasis of this simple cop spoof is on corny gags and surrealist flourishes, an approach that, if done right, can work very well. Unfortunately, the result flounders awkwardly between adult content and the style of a children’s show. The major problem in this respect are the performances of Arden and Frost who, despite apparently having a great time, are some hammy that it’s hard to laugh along. They seem like the funniest people in your sixth form rather than proper TV comedians. Police Squad worked so well because it was played with such a straight face by all involved. Lazarus and Dingwall has a childish smirk throughout. In its defence, the show’s dialogue often goes to some very unexpected places with its warped logic and occasionally it works very well. There wasn’t an episode in which I didn’t chuckle at least once. Pile in particular would master this surrealism brilliantly and take it to some much darker places with her subsequent shows but here it seems muted and restrained. The Marx Brothers also seem to be an influence but Frost and Arden can’t even begin to match Groucho or Chico for comedy timing.
The rule of Police Squad, which appears to be the most obvious model for Lazarus and Dingwall, was that it didn’t matter if you didn’t like one joke because there would be another one along any second. Unfortunately, Lazarus and Dingwall has reversed that principle. In this case, if you liked one joke, there’ll be five bad ones along afterwards to ruin things.