I last mentioned The Men’s Room back in our introduction to ITV Fest. My words at the time were far from positive, so I decided to give it a proper look, to really evaluate whether my hasty judgement was wrong. Was I too quick to condemn this new sketch show? Did the trailer give a false impression of The Men’s Room? Did I need to reassess my original view?
As it happens, no. The Men’s Room is everything that is wrong with comedy. Over-funded, unfunny, hammed-up, lowest-common-denominator-baiting, stereotyped and offensively intelligence-insulting; this is probably the worst professionally created comedy series I have ever seen.
The Men’s Room substitutes ‘wacky’ non-sequiters for actual wit, the characters’ decisions make no sense, the humour is based on… well I’m not really sure where it’s supposed to come from. Of the two episodes currently online only one sketch made me smile a little and that wasn’t even a particularly good one. You know how in 30 Rock they show parodies of the kind of sketches seen on Saturday Night Live? The Men’s Room is pretty much like those parody sketches, only they’re not supposed to be bad. I was more inclined to laugh at it than with it.
By way of example, one sketch involves two fictitious trucker brothers of actor Billy Bob Thornton. In it they veer from fighting, to chatting amiably, to doing a ‘zany’ air guitar version of Sweet Home Alabama. There are actors playing parts here, but there’s no characters in this sketch, it’s just a series of weird sentences shouted in bad hillbilly accents that don’t make any sense together. Nothing said here even has nothing to do with Billy Bob Thornton that I can tell. It’s the kind of sketch I would have written and found funny when I was 13 years old (“LOL that’s so random!!11!one!!”) fortunately for all of us I am not 13 any longer. Oddly enough an apparently grown man called Michael Wilson put his name to this show as executive producer.
The Men’s Room sometimes finds itself not only insulting your intelligence, which it does constantly, but just being plain insulting. In one sketch we find a couple arguing about sexual experimentation, which ends with the man emotionally blackmailing his girlfriend into performing one particular act, with the implication that he has done this before. The studio audience apparently finds this hilarious. That is more than just a dumb, unfunny sketch, that’s getting into worryingly sexist territory. In general the show’s treatment of women as either window-dressing, unfunny straight-parts or shrieking harpies belies a less-than-enlightened attitude to the more populous sex.
Apparently Michael Wilson has been involved with SNL as well as a number of small TV comedy and reality shows, which leads me to one of two conclusions. Either this man is a genuinely talented producer and show-runner, this is just a massive and uncharacteristic misstep on his part, or he is a calculating PR man who is simply appealing to the worst kind of vacuousness in order to try and make a buck.
The whole look of this show is that of one where more money has been thrown at it than substance. All the actors are absolutely caked in stage make-up, the outfits are annoyingly show-biz-y (mostly for the women though, because when you can’t be genuinely funny, just show some cleavage, right?), the lighting is garish and the stage sets have more bright primary colours than an episode of The Magic Roundabout. The addition of an apparently real studio audience is nothing more than an irritating anachronism (if it is in fact canned laughter, even worse). In the year 2013 for a sketch show to be unnecessarily limiting itself by having a live audience there seems a little like using a dial-up modem to do a Google image search. Even How I Met Your Mother simply screens the show in front of an audience after it’s filmed, for Christ’s sake. Quite apart from it’s impracticality, the only purpose having a laugh track on a show is to tell you when to laugh, appealing to deep psychological needs to conform to a larger group; it’s patronising, and I’d really like to see people moving past it.
Usually I like to try and find something positive to focus on, even in a negative review; something which the creators can latch on to and use to improve their show. In this case the only constructive thing I can think to say is this: bin it. Bin the entire show and start again, because absolutely everything in The Men’s Room, besides the filming and sound quality, is deeply flawed. By the professional look of the website and the industry standard production it seems that this series has had a lot of money sunk into it, sadly, this investment could only be described as a monumental waste of money on the scale of Waterworld; but Kevin Costner wouldn’t leave me feeling like I had just plunged my hand into an open sewer.
It barely needs saying at this stage, but unless you are an irredeemable masochist do not watch this show. It is, frankly, a sad, depressing self-parody of the worst of modern American comedy which should only go down in history as an example of how not to do it. If you’ll excuse me I think I need to take a shower now.