A penny for your thoughts makes it very hard to get by in this economy.
Last month one of Scotland’s biggest exports of recent years, Still Game, aired its final episode. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call it a cultural phenomenon, you’d be hard pressed to find a Scot who doesn’t know Jack, Victor and the gang, and it was a smart move broadcasting it on the new BBC Scotland channel, with the show giving the nascent channel its biggest ratings by far.
However, anecdotally, that may have been aided by the fact that this was the last season. Most of the people I speak to now only watch out of loyalty, with many (myself included) of the opinion the show should not have been revived in 2016. Of course after the box office takings of the stage show at the Hydro it was always going to be attractive bringing back the most successful Scottish comedy of its generation, but unfortunately it never hit the heights of its original six season run.
All your favourites are back and just as you remember them, except as the actors joke needing slightly less makeup. The vast majority after nine seasons are well formed, rounded characters, Isa particularly is an absolutely spot on observation of older, gossipy women - she is basically my gran. But with that they increasingly seemed to lean too much into the characterisations. Jokes often revolved around characters’ one or two main traits (e.g. Tam is tight), and more so towards the end, conflict and therefore drama and therefore laughs were sacrificed in place of characters being nice and decent to each other, almost screaming at us that they were all loveable, if a bit cantankerous.
It is the problem with Scottish comedy, because it is so quick witted and spontaneous it’s hard to capture on film without feeling stilted. This isn’t helped when the Glaswegian way of speaking is so fast as to be almost impenetrable to those not familiar, which limits its market, but when slowed down can easily come across as fake. A way to overcome this is to use one of the Glaswegian sense of humour’s greatest strengths, its storytelling. A well plotted premise, and setup, filled with charm and truth will always land a greater laugh, when just giving someone a sweary insult won’t cut it.
That was one of the problems I had with the later seasons, its setups could sometimes feel contrived without payoff or consequence. There was an episode last season when Isa gets in a fight with a woman who doesn’t want her looking at a cake, which results in the cake’s destruction. Instead of being angry or even having a reason to not want Isa seeing the cake, the woman shrugs it off as she has another. In a two episode arc this season, a character fakes their death in one of the more bizarre premises, with them leading everyone on a mystery in the second episode, just for everything to return to normal after. Why then did they even need to disappear if it made no difference, other than to draw out a plot?
I’m usually skeptical when a show returns, very much of the thinking that it’s hard to recapture what made a show great, which is often a result of its place and time. And indeed with its audience now all a decade older, of course tastes and circumstances will have changed. However one of my mates, who is a teacher, tells me that kids in his school run around howling like the ‘Lone Wolf’ character who keeps robbing Navid’s, hated by my generation but clearly idolised by the young ones (that was painful to write).
This raises the idea that maybe we weren’t the target target audience any more. This would make sense, given that the original run of Still Game - and Chewin the Fat before it - was landmark TV when I was in school, edgy without being hardcore (“They said shite!”) and birthing so many childhood trends (“Good guy, wank.” - “Oooooh! Fancy!” - “Milk, lemonade, chocolate!”). Perhaps they were still aiming for the school age demographic, of which we were no longer in? Though the show's characters hadn't gotten older, we had.
Still Game is finished, again, and I’m glad for it. It was an icon for me and most my age growing up and these new seasons, though not enhancing the memories, certainly didn’t hurt them, and had the added bonus of introducing the show to a whole new generation, and indeed the rest of the UK and has now even made its way to Netflix. But it’s time for someone else to take over the reigns as Scotland’s biggest comedy. I hear Scot Squad is quite good.