Thursday 6 February 2014

Scrotal Recall: does the title of this new comedy cross the line?

via The Guardian:

Scrotal Recall: does the title of this new comedy cross the line?

The naming of a TV programme is becoming an increasingly salacious business, but are these provocative titles more off-putting than enticing?
E4's Beaver Falls.
E4's Beaver Falls. Photograph: Charles Fearn/Channel 4sn
Let me put it all out there – it takes balls to call your sitcom Scrotal Recall. This week, Channel 4 announced they'd ordered a full six-part series of the show after scrutinising an (unaired) pilot episode and deciding it was definitely their bag. The pitch is high-concept with a dose of low humour: a man is diagnosed with chlamydia and has to track down everyone he's ever slept with to share the unfortunate news. It's My Name is Earl with an STI twist, and one of those rare comedic premises that has built-in long-term prospects. By dealing with a new old flame every episode – literally, a case of the week – this one could run and run.
In many ways, the title deserves a clap: Scrotal Recall is thematically appropriate, pop culture-savvy, funny in and of itself, and provocative enough to cut through the noise. It practically screams: "This is how you name a sitcom in the age of Reddit." And yet, it also feels like a rubicon has been crossed, that the salacious terminology pioneered by Channel 5 and BBC3 shock-docs has splashed about and infected everything else. Even the (purposefully funny) Channel 4 Press Twitter account couldn't quite say the S-word when it confirmed the commission.
Perhaps it's the inevitable drift into conservatism that comes with ageing, but there have been an increasing number of recent comedies I've struggled to embrace, primarily because of what they're called. Shows such as BBC3's gymslip-mum sitcom Pramface (more warm-hearted than that title suggests) and retired sketch show Tittybangbang. I can just about handle Psychobitches on Sky Arts, but a part of me is still always thinking: do we have to call them bitches? Even Fresh Meat – a sitcom I watch, enjoy and admire – causes an unpleasant shiver every time it pops up on the EPG. (There's a predatory charge to that title, or perhaps I'm just squeamish about meat.) Thankfully, it was possible to skip E4's Beaver Falls without feeling as if you were excluding yourself from the wider cultural conversation.


In the US, the smart thing to do seems to be to play it safe. In the rare situation where they're not named after key talent, the comedy hits and warhorses tend to have quite bland names: Taxi, Cheers, Friends. Of the current crop of US sitcoms that have thrived or even just survived – shows such as Modern Family, New Girl and The Millers – boundary-pushing titles do not seem a major feature. The last time a US network rolled the dice on something with a potentially pathbreaking name, it was adapting popular Twitter account Shit My Dad Says, though someone's shift key must have been stuck, since it arrived on-screen as $#*! My Dad Says. Astonishingly, that particular William Shatner vehicle was not one for the ages.
For as long as Courteney Cox's cabernet-powered sitcom Cougar Town has been on air, creator Bill Lawrence has publicly wrestled with the long shadow of its awful name, a crass clunker of a title that now has zero bearing on the characters or content. Meanwhile, on US cable, a long-running sitcom that contains the worst, most transgressive, hypnotically hateful characters on TV goes by the deceptively saccharine handle It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, when it could – and perhaps should – have been named Drunk Selfish Assholes Who Despise Each Other.
There is clearly an art to coining just the right title. The apparent banality of The Office turned out to be the key to universality. In their own apposite ways, Men Behaving Badly and Curb Your Enthusiasm are perfect synecdoches of their subject matter. Hebburn sums up that show's community-minded vibe perfectly, and is also just fun to say. And a recent BBC3 sitcom had enough sex and slobbishness to justify a salacious title – "coming up next: Sticky Sheets" – but ultimately went with Him & Her, a casual declaration of implied familiarity that hinted at the heart buried somewhere under all the pizza boxes and dirty washing.
Were things different in the old days? Viewed through the telescope of history, Only Fools and Horses sounds like an evocative and wise title. But the 9 milllion or so viewers who tuned in to the first series in 1981 had no idea what it actually meant – the BBC only used writer John Sullivan's self-composed theme tune, with explanatory lyrics, from series two onwards. Perhaps in 30 years we'll be talking about the first series of Scrotal Recall with the same respect and reverence.
Are there sitcom titles that have put you off watching? Let us know in the comments below.

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