Vexed: Comedy vs. Drama?
What defines a show as a comedy drama? There, I've said it. I had to put that down up front just in case I bottled. The reason for my trepidation is that this question is fraught with difficulties.
I could take the soft option and use the Wikipedia definition: "a genre in which there is an equal or nearly equal balance of humor and serious content". Okay - but then we need a definition of "serious content". I might as well just blunder in and say that in my humble opinion, the "serious content" or drama bit is at least in part to do with consequence; i.e. when our central protagonists inhabit a world where their action and the actions of those around them have real palpable consequence, the kind that can change their lives for better or worse.
In other words, their lives are governed by the same set of rules that apply to rest of us here in Reality Land. I can almost hear some of you starting to tap descent into your keyboards. Yes I know - it's not adequate, but then I did say it's fraught. You see as soon as you take a definition and try to apply it to many of your favourite shows, you see how the lines blur. Anyway, just roll with my loose definition for a minute whilst I apply it to Vexed.
In Episode One, Jack and Kate are both given access to private and personal information and in a sense tested as to what they will choose to do with it. In both cases their actions have what I can only describe as dramatic consequences. The fact that the actions and consequences have comedy too, possibly even commensurate with the drama, is what then defines this as comedy drama. But what makes this so good and gives it real resonance is that the two are intertwined so completely - and just like real life, pathos and bathos walk hand in hand.
Getting the balance right is crucial. It may sound obvious, but it's just not as simple as a bit of drama followed by a bit of comedy. The general tone has to be set, you the audience need to have some idea of what you are in for. For example is it light, dark or black? This might be one way to differentiate. Of course there are many possible shades in between. An audience needs to feel that they are in safe hands, that the programme makers know what they are doing. You can always subvert, or pull the rug, but only if you have the trust of the audience that if you cause them to trip, you will catch them. The best comedy dramas, in my opinion, do this effortlessly.
The final episode of this short series of Vexed is on Sunday 29th August at 9pm on BBC Two. Read more about Vexed.