Can life after the Bomb ever be funny?
Science fiction has a
somewhat fraught relationship with comedy. At its best, it’s outstanding, using humour to pinpoint absurdities and highlight human interactions. At its worst it’s clichéd and embarrassing, and more, something you know is going to be remembered and referenced by non- fans as evidence as to why SF is rubbish.
ITV2’ s recent Cockroaches, alas, was more of a Hyperdrive than a Red Dwarf. Essentially Survivors with jokes, it’s set ten years after a nuclear attack has destroyed Britain as we knew it. At the time of the attacks, friends Tom and Suze did what anyone would do faced with death, and had sex. Ten years later they ( embarrassingly) survived and now have a young daughter with whom they have to face the post- apocalyptic world, joining a dysfunctional group of misfits camped out in the woods, raiding supermarkets and generally failing to set up any kind of new civilisation or functioning society.
It’s an interesting premise; we’re used to seeing post- apocalypse dramas where the skilled and knowledgeable people rise to the fore, whereas Cockroaches examines what happens when the group of survivors contains no one of any talent. Unfortunately, interesting thought experiments – like what happens when your only doctor turns out to be a psychopath – are barely even played for cheap laughs, hinted at, then glossed over and thrown away. But don’t worry, there’ll be another masturbation joke in a minute.
There are brief moments of potential – the Wicker Man/ Human Centipede set- up at the end of episode one is great. But this is about easy jokes rather than interesting consequences. All of which would be forgiveable if it was funnier, but it’s not.
There’s also no emotional truth to the characters. Suze cheats on Tom in the first episode, and they bicker about it as though she’d burnt their tea. Tom agrees to have sex with the doctor ( Alexander Armstrong) in exchange for an antidote to cure his daughter; it turns out she was faking her illness for attention and any emotional repercussions from what was essentially rape are totally ignored.
Science fiction can examine great vistas and universal concepts; comedy can pull apart the minutiae of human interactions and the petty routines of day- to- day life. Cockroaches – crude, unfunny and dull – does none of those things. There is an interesting comedy to be made about life in a nuclear wasteland. But this isn’t it. Rhian Drinkwater
Quite frankly we’d prefer real cockroaches.