Gary Raymond reviews the new BBC Wales comedy pilot What Just Happened?, the first topical panel quiz of its kind for Wales.
It’s no small thing that Wales has its first topical news panel show, a show that has Welsh people taking the piss out of Welsh things. I’ve often wondered if we’re too precious, too po-faced, at least on the public stage, to allow Wales to laugh at itself, and maybe we have been, but What Just Happened? is proof we have moved on, matured. And this kind of confidence should be displayed on the biggest stage possible. It’s a welcome What Just Happened? started out on BBC Radio Wales and it feels fitting that it has made this move to television, a tradition usually reserved for sketch comedy. But this is a straight progression, not only retaining host and team captains, but also some of that live radio vibe. If What Just Happened? doesn’t yet feel like a TV show – the dodgy graphics don’t help – the energy of the people on screen somewhat negates the medium of the show for the time being at least. What Just Happened? is lively, funny, and on the button. There is evidence here, as with some of its more famous forebears like Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week, of a tight core team, each of whom knows how to play to the strengths of the others, to be generous with the time and space for their fellow panellists to do their thing. It suggests there’s gold in these hills if we just give them time.
Incidentally, but not irrelevantly, What Just Happened? is further proof that Wales is strangely a decade or so behind the times. Hinterland came way after the global obsession with Scandi noir had fizzled out; The Tuckers barely caught the trailing shadow of Shameless and even Mrs Brown’s Boys has been on TV long enough now to have migrated to some godforsaken corner of Hollywood mash-ups. What Just Happened? comes thirty-two years after HIGNFY debuted, and seventeen years after Mock the Week, but let’s just be glad it’s here at all (or almost here – this is a pilot and might go no further). Welsh current affairs and Welsh public life has long been begging for a good light-hearted kickin’ and there’s nothing wrong with being better late than never. Henry Widdicombe, the show’s producer and co-founder of the Machynlleth Comedy Festival has used his connections at BBC Wales for the good of the nation, which is rare enough, but he has also assembled a team of extremely talented writers and performers, a showcase of Welsh talent in front of, as well as behind, the camera. No whiff of jobs for the boys here. Kiri Pritchard-McLean is the first (almost, possibly) female chair of a UK comedy panel show, and she’s a natural at it. Firm and funny, cheeky and charming, and has the air of the new breed of Radio 4 comedian who didn’t learn the ropes at Footlights. To those who haven’t come across her before, she’ll be a breath of fresh air. Team captains Robin Morgan (the boyish, no need to shave, primary colours/white trainers, comedy circuit cut out) and Priya Hall (butter wouldn’t melt until she opens her mouth) are excellent foils for each other, and the more screen time they get the more part of Wales’s cultural furniture they will become. That can only be a good thing. And they’re funny. We shouldn’t forget that they’re funny.
Pilot season for Welsh comedy is a relatively new system for BBC Wales, an American idea that is yet to prove it works this side of the pond. A topical comedy news quiz doesn’t need a pilot. It should have been on air years ago. But let’s not bemoan the things we cannot change. This is a good start. Keep it. Improve it, iron out the kinks, allow the show to find its feet, its voice. It could take years. But let it do that. We’ll all be better off for it.
What Just Happened? is available now on the BBC iPlayer.