Monday, 17 January 2011
An Ode To Nighty Night.
On watching Nighty Night for the first time, an ex-boyfriend of mine once commented that it had instantly given him greater insight into my character. Such is my love of the show that I refused to be disheartened that it’s protagonist, Jill Tyrell, is an amoral, egomanical, devious, manipulative, relentlessly self-serving, passive-aggressive (and frequently plain old fashioned aggressive) sociopath. Love. Her. Unlike other comedy anti-heros (Basil Faulty, Blackadder) with whom viewers feel at least a degree of sympathy, there is nothing redeeming about Jill. The first episode opens in a hospital consultation room, where on discovering that her husband Terry has cancer, she laments “Why me?” before wasting no time in installing him in a hospice, commencing his funeral arrangements and signing up to a dating agency - despite the fact that doctors have given him a positive prognosis. Soon she sets her sights on neighbour Don, and pursues him with single-minded zeal, ignoring that he already has a disabled wife, Cathy. The second series sees her accuse Cathy and Don’s twelve-year-old son of rape, feigning the resulting pregnancy and then attempting to do a runner with Cathy’s new-born baby. If this sounds unremittingly dark, that’s because it is. It’s also really, really funny.
Remarkably, the series manages to delve into some pretty heavyweight taboos without ever appearing to shock for shocking’s sake. Like a lot of comedy, the humour relies on heightened realty, with Jill representing the final frontier of a type of zero self-awareness which we’ve all encountered to some degree. The fact that Jill wages a campaign of terror on a disabled woman is tricky ground to tread, but Cathy’s multiple sclerosis is never the joke, and her wheelchair is an incidental factor which Jill exploits in the same way she exploits Don’s alcoholism or Linda’s profound stupidity. When Jill trills “Come on Catherine Wheels! at Cathy (having left her to negotiate to negotiate two large hills in her wheelchair while Jill “parked up”) it is Jill’s heartlessness and imperviousness to social norms which we are amused by, not Cathy’s inability to walk. In many ways, Nighty Night is social comedy in a similar vain to Abigail’s Party, and Jill is an extension of the gauche, sexually omnivorous Beverly, except instead of plying her dinner guests with wine and nibbles, she serves them prawns in a milky basket and initiates a game of pass the balloon which results in her simulating sex with Cathy’s husband. Again; Love. Her.
Jill’s flagrant sexuality and idiosyncratic (read: outlandishly slutty) dress sense appeal directly to a gay sensibility, and there’s something about her unique brand of emotional vampirism that positions her in a stable of gay icons alongside such greats as Baby Jane and Alexis Carrington. There’s also something undeniably camp about a woman who arrives at her (staged) husband’s funeral on horseback, and begins her eulogy with the immortal line “I will not hear a word against Terry. Having said that, he was a very bad husband and quite an evil man.” Creator and star of Nighty Night, Julia Davis, subsequently produced a pilot about a pair of housewives who go on a homicidal rampage, which wasn’t commissioned by the BBC. It is my great hope that at some point she will be given carte blanche to create another similarly unhinged masterpiece, if only to provide me with some new material, and spare me from continuing to pepper every social engagement with “we'll settle up later. Otherwise it just gets nasty.”