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Vexed: Comedy vs. Drama?

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David Thair | 17:35 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010

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Director Matt Lipsey writes...

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    I've always had a preference for tragicomedy myself

  • Comment number 2.

    I love vexed - truly love it! Please do more! Please!

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Love Vexed, very funny , puts a great spin on the detective genre. Please make more - 3 was not enough !

  • Comment number 5.

    what a great comedy, I truly hope for many more episodes to come

  • Comment number 6.

    What an incredible series!! Laughe out loud all the way. More please !!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Very clever comedy wonderfully written & superbly acted. Easily the best thing on TV this year. Message for David: If you don't write any more, I will, even if it's just to see Lucy Punch on the screen again. She has to be the perfect woman - Gorgeous with a sense of humour. Is she for real?

  • Comment number 8.

    Totally agree, we need more Vexed.
    By the way don't you just hate Spell checkers, I suppose it should have been dissent, not descent. :)

  • Comment number 9.

    yayyyyyyyyyyy! Gr8 episode! So glad Kate left her loser of a husband. PLEASE do more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)))))))))))

  • Comment number 10.

    Absolutely loved Vexed - disappointed there was only 3 programs. When can we expect more of this highly funny program? The chemistry between the two main characters is brilliant.

  • Comment number 11.

    This has to be one of the best shows,both comedy or drama,available on any network at present. I love the idea of it and having worked as a civilian for the police some of the humour is pretty close to real. The hero has the charm and the flashness of The Professionals,Bodie and Doyle.
    The heroine has the added softness of the Bristol accent,and is yet more than a match for him and his stupidity. More pleas as soon as you like. CONGRATULATIONS to all concerned with this optimistic venture.

  • Comment number 12.

    I've been enjoying 'Vexed' very much. It's funny, intelligently written and there's also a certain sweetness to it. Great stuff. So glad that appalling husband was left on the side of the road in the last episode.....and then run over.:D

  • Comment number 13.

    fabulous comedy, three episodes is not enough, please please another longer series

  • Comment number 14.

    I echo what others have said about Vexed. Loved it. New girl Lucy Punch has been wonderful as a foil to Toby Stephens. MORE PLEASE.

    My wife spotted a continuity howler in the final episode. Punch and her husband begin their journey in a dark blue BMW and suddenly morph into a very light blue SAAB by the end of the journey. Small point.

    The shows have been excellent entertainment, so please continue to make them.


  • Comment number 15.

    I loved the series please please please can we have more, a full series as well more than 3 episodes

  • Comment number 16.

    We truly loved this series! Please can you do more? Please?

  • Comment number 17.

    Totally knocked out by the fabulousness of Vexed: great banter, acting, music and laughs - can't ask for anything more. Except more episodes......

  • Comment number 18.

    Just finished watching the third episode of "Vexed" and am left hungry for more. Very funny, original in approach and unlike so much of the dross on TV, very entertaining. But why only three episodes? Please tell me they were just pilot episodes and that there are going to be lots more. And please keep it to Sunday evenings, it's the perfect end to the week's viewing.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thoroughly enjoyed all 3 episodes and found both leads,especially Toby Stephens,excellent and a near perfect ying/yang pair.I am somewhat annoyed with the BBC and it's new 'let's just make 3 episodes' policy especially in relation to Sherlock & Vexed which I would have thought were not the most costly of shows.The same can not be said for the lamentable 'The Deep' which garnered 6 episodes and,in my opinion,failed miserably in story,characterisation and acting.

  • Comment number 20.

    David, many thanks for the insightful writing. I find reading such storytelling theory and mechanics from talented industry professionals helps me understand in vastly greater depth what I'm watching and why I'm enjoying it.

    One of the things I like about good comedy-dramas such as Vexed (or Buffy) is the comedy never violates the believability of drama.

    A few days ago I thought I might cry at the end of episode 3, as it turned out Ronny's reengactment of the kidnapping had me crying with laughter at the beginning. Roger Griffiths is also another comic gem.

    In fact the more I've watched this programme the more I've gone from "Wow, Kate's beautiful" to appreciating all of the more subtle gems, the quality of the writing, the finesse of comic timing, etc.

    Vexed (adjective) Distressed or much discussed.

    Let's hope we won't be too distressed to live without this amazingly delightful groundbreaking programme.

    I hope that if Howard wants to continue developing these characters and this story he is allowed to.

    Here's wishing continued success to all involved in this wonderful TV programme.

  • Comment number 21.

    I have really enjoyed Vexed. I think the stories, script , casting, humour, acting, production, direction, end everything have been great. I enjoy the mixture of serious cop/slapstick comedy; I know it isn't realistic, but then no police show has ever been. I am disturbed, though to read that the series has had a bad time with the critics, a poor audience response, and will probably not continue. Shame!

    I have seen only one critic's review: I read A A Gill's review of the series, and was surprised at his opinions. When I read his column this week, and he was unpleasant about a couple of other programmes, I realised that he is probably past it. I don't think he understands TV any more. On the other hand, maybe he writes his TV review each week just after contracting indigestion after eating out for his restaurant review. If that's how grumpy he gets, pity The Blonde.

    As for audience reaction, I read somewhere else that the series was being broadcast during the summer 'dead zone,' where the TV people dump all the flops. So what sort of reaction can they actually expect?

    It seems that the series is a critial flop; maybe it'll become one of those cult revivals... I wonder what kind of viewers made up the focus group that consigned the series to the 'dead zone remainders bin'? Probably a bunch of male-menopausal restaurant critics with acid stomachs.

    Don't listen to them. Instead, rerun the series this autumn and see if the holiday crowds take the bait. I dare you.

  • Comment number 22.

    More vexed please, this is a ***** comedy. Only 3 is just not enough, this is what we pay the licence fee for.

  • Comment number 23.

    How fantastic to watch a series that is original, belly-achingly funny, classy AND home grown to boot. As for Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch - well my cup runneth over with joy. Somebody up there must love me - or more importantly, love Matt Lipsey. What an absolute casting coup!

    My series record button was getting rusty until Vexed came along, but three episodes can't be deemed enough! Come on Auntie B, a new series is a must! Am I right? Is that my right? Who's right? Your right?

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Matt,

    Although the lines between comedy and drama are a bit blurred the minute you try to define your position from a particular viewpoint - i.e. either side of the divide, there has to be decisions made about from what angle you want each episode to play out. I think it's more important to make clear from the beginning how your characters approach some of life's big questions. Are they serious about everything? Afraid, superficial, confrontational etc. That's a more series defining trait than genre categorising will ever become. Great comedy and drama series swing across this divide once in a while to make its fundamental viewpoint visible (i.e. contrasted). Suddenly you have an episode with a sad ending - or unexpected character development which can be used in future episodes, however it is essential that the series characters are stuck in their foibles, traditions, habits, beliefs, etc. because of laziness, incompetence, mind-set, etc. And it's exactly these flaws which make us sympathise with them, identify with them, and come back for more. Because they are like us, and we are like them. Flawed but likeable. I wouldn’t be worried about the fluctuation between the two genre definitions. As long as you remain steadfast in your own head about how your characters approach the problem (theme, topic, challenge etc.) then the genre will take more or less care of itself. If need be, I think you can help the series appear clearer (not that I think it needs it, though) in its apparent ‘genre choice’ by adding a specific style and more use of symbolism. But by having Toby and Lucy act in a slight heightened manner nobody should have any difficulty in understanding that this is a humoristic, tongue-in-the-cheek comedy series. So, well done.

    Question: Did the script indicate already the 'lightness of attitudes' – or did the actors and their chemistry offer you that choice?

  • Comment number 25.

    I am baffled by the overwhelming praise of the program "Vexed" - is this an effect of "moderation". This is probably the worst program I have ever seen on the BBC - it was so painful I could only watch a small part. It may be seen as "tongue-in-the-cheek" comedy by some, but I thought it had no wit, humour - it was just tasteless and crass. I can only hope this style of comedy aping that of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross will not be continued.

  • Comment number 26.

    I watched all 3 episodes and I have to say all 3 were totally brilliant. I know the reviewers didn't get it but so what? The humour was gut wrenching, the acting by the two leads was exceptional and the script had me in stitches. My family and I cackled aloud through each episode like fruitcakes in a lunatic asylum. The black bar man jokes are wonderful and I would love to see more of them. Brilliant stuff! Currently re-watching it on the web.

    This was the best thing I have seen on the BBC since Waking the Dead. It is not aimed at the dumb masses and it is all the better for it.

    This is, I suppose, odd ball humour but it grows on you and the two main characters are superb. The acting is off the usual run of the BBC mill scale. The gags are original and hilariously, painfully funny. Highlights were the knee breaking misunderstanding over the shopping receipt, the sexual clinch with the doctor revealing the suspect testical mid-sexual encounter, the wheel chair murderer's exposure by the highly technical measurement of blood high on the wall and the toilet gag.

    I can't believe this isn't going to run and run. So many lines are joyful, playful, PC incorrect and hysterically witty. I love the characters and want MORE MORE MORE.

    Okay so you guys pay yourselves far too much but - judging by the usual rubbish we get - but you have chanced across this seam of gold by accident you have got to keep mining it. The script writers are exceptional and the actors deliver their lines to perfection.

    WAKE up at the BBC and let's have MORE!!!

  • Comment number 27.

    Just have to comment again. If this is the worst programme EarsandEyes has seen on the BBC, I guess he/she has been out of the country for some time. And I don't understand the reference to Brand and Ross. How on earth does this cleverly crafted show bear any resemblence to their juvenilia? Ignore the critics, BBC, they are too much up their own fundaments to get this gem. More, please.

  • Comment number 28.

    It's funny isn't it - how some extremely mediocre programmes receive a lot of pre-publicity and extended scheduling, whilst hidden gems are almost pushed out quietly and reluctantly, and end almost before they start?

    I live in Brighton and my local free listing magazine previewed the programme (thank you Latest Homes!) very positively. And they were right, of course.

    Within the first five minutes, you could tell that this was a jewel under the critical and popular radar. Having originally watched "Moonlighting" and loving it in the Eighties, there were obvious stylistic and thematic similarities, most obviously in the love/hate, push/pull relationship of the two leads.

    But this was much more contemporary and British in its context, style and humour which in itself is a refreshing change to all the American imports we are regularly drowning under.

    And of course, it was just building up a head of steam before it all came to a crashing halt, which was disappointing but not unexpected. I mean, how do you promote a series like this? What demographic is it aimed at?

    Its tastelessness was undoubtedly an acquired, er, taste!

    Episode One: stereotypes about single, lonely females.
    Episode Two: the taboo about mental illness.
    Episode Three: the unspoken subject of physical disability.

    All done with dazzling wit, sharp truths and uncomfortable honesty.

    I very much hope that it is recommissioned for a further six episodes, with the same cast, crew and intent. And that it continues to be shown on BBC2, some things just don't work on the "other" channel.

    Failing that, a DVD release would go some way to recognising and appeasing its audience, who I would like to think are intelligent, discerning and happy to laugh at the occasional humourlessness and pomposity of Political Correctness and Liberalism!


  • Comment number 29.

    Ignore the critics BBC my husband and I loved this. It was laugh out Loud funny and we need more!

    Much improved programmes on the BBC - Vexed and Sherlock have been great I look forward to seeing what else you have commisioned.

  • Comment number 30.

    Great! Very funny! My sort of humour! Please make a series, those two characters cracked me up! One of the best I've seen all year! Beats the repeats on Sky!

  • Comment number 31.

    It's been a long time since I've laughed out loud several times during a TV programme and I've done that during every episode of Vexed. Please make some more!!! :)

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    Brilliant series - hope that the BBC are going to make more rather than just leaving us with these 3 progs

  • Comment number 34.

    Thought vexed got better and better and hopefully we will see it back soon!

  • Comment number 35.

    just loved vexed, please say there will be more, totally different from the usual shows and i want more, please xx

  • Comment number 36.

    I loved, loved, loved Vexed, please, please, please do lots more. Longer series next time too please!

  • Comment number 37.

    I love vexed! It's the funniest thing I've seen in ages. I stumbled on it by chance and was gutted when I noticed it only had 3 episodes. Get it back on asap... Full series!

  • Comment number 38.

    Vexed is without a doubt the best "cop show" the BBC had put on in years. It's so good it even makes up for that awful one from a few years back set in the Liverpool Docks that was truly dreadful.

    For all our sakes, please let's have a full series!

  • Comment number 39.

    More! More! More!

  • Comment number 40.

    Vexed is absolutely hilarious! Definalty more comedy than drama. Allthe character are really stong & really funny. I love the Forensics guy & the bar man. Brilliant running gags. The lad vs. lady banter is point perfect - more please!

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't know what EarsandEyes is talking about. I can't stand Jonathan Ross or Russell Brand, but love Vexed - I can't see any similarity. Along with Rev and Sherlock Holmes it is the best thing I've seen on the BBC for a long time. Just a shame the BBC bosses were too clueless to give it more than three episodes. I hope this is not the start of a trend, although judging by the three-episode Sherlock Homes, it is.

  • Comment number 42.

    Oh and yes, I also assume "I can almost hear some of you starting to tap descent into your keyboards" was supposed to say dissent. Does nobody sub these pieces?

  • Comment number 43.

    Great chemistry between Lucy Punch and Toby Stephens, loved the programme and really hope BBC decide to make more!

  • Comment number 44.

    I loved Vexed and was gutted to see we were only getting 3 episodes! Please, please, please make more! How about being daring and trying 6 episodes more as a starting point! Go on BBC, let your hair down!

  • Comment number 45.

    One of the best things I've seen in ages - so glad I stumbled across it. Gutted when I tuned in as usual last week to find out there were only 3 episodes. More please. Sunday nights just aren't the same without it.

  • Comment number 46.

    Please tell us there are plans to make more "Vexed" - I loved this as soon as I started watching although I'm not saying there weren't several times when I thought it had crossed the line but it certainly didn't put me off.
    One of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in any programme is the one where Jack and Kate have been eating doughnuts and then have to clean their hands using tissues to take the ransom call. That doesn't sound funny written down but I hope others agree that it was brilliantly done.
    I kept thinking there must have been a mistake and there will be another episode coming up so came onto the website to check but obviously I'm just one of many disappointed viewers. Bring Back Vexed!

  • Comment number 47.

    VEXED is exactly what I pay my TV licence for and just when I thought I had found something good instead of the usual repeats, game shows and god awful reality shows and it end at episode three.
    A new season is what the public obviously wants and the BBC is after all supposed to be a public service so just give us what we ask for "MORE VEXED"

  • Comment number 48.

    Would you please be so kind as to tell us if the 3 programmes of Vexed are to be followed up with 12 more (for starters)?

    To lose such a brilliantly funny, well acted and produced series is lunacy. Okay, so a couple of grouchy critics didn't get it but everyone I know who has seen it thought quirky and brilliant.

    To get 48 comments on a site like this, which is virtually invisible, ought to tell you something. Will whoever reads this at the Beeb PLEASE do us the courtesy of answering the question?

    HINT: the answer is 'YES!'

  • Comment number 49.

    Why don't footballers just buy a ball each to save them all chasing about after the same one for 90 minutes?

  • Comment number 50.

    Why isn't there a DVD of 'Vexed' available? *sigh* :(


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