Is now, or ever, the right time for a sitcom set among soldiers serving in Afghanistan? Bluestone 42 tested the question with its tales of a British army bomb-disposal unit.
Bluestone 42 is written by Richard Hurst and James Cary, who have both worked on Miranda and are experienced comedy technicians. They kept scenes to a minimum length, filled any gaps with gags, and efficiently established their characters and the central plotline of smooth captain Nick (Oliver Chris) chasing cute female padre Mary (Kelly Adams), who finds him attractive despite herself but constantly rebuffs him.
It was a bit too efficient. This was a fairly conservative workplace sitcom, hung on a talking point that was likely to get commissioning editors and journalists interested. There's no cause to doubt Hurst and Cary's research, or their interest in the subject matter. What is in question is whether the comedy and the subject matter meshed together in the right way.
The soldiers were comedy types: a fussy man, a tomboy, an exceptionally vulgar Scot, an omniscient boss (Tony Gardner) who pops up at inconvenient times. They schemed and joked with each other as the captain and the padre set a will-they-won't-they arc going. With Bluestone 42 unwilling to offer comment on the war itself, the driver for episode one's plot might as well have been a lost lever-arch file or someone scratching the MD's car.
In fact it was an American colonel (Mike McShane) being fatally shot in the head, the flip treatment of which might well have troubled you if you view Western soldiers in Afghanistan as making a grim but glorious sacrifice. But if you see them as oppressive occupiers, Bluestone 42 had that covered too. The Yank's death was softened in advance by his annoying habit of crowing endlessly about his tour of duty in Fallujah.
Fallujah. Fallujah. The word became a punchline. It's just one of those funny place names, isn't it? Like Penge, or Kidderminster. At least it might be for viewers who are a bit hazy on what happened to the locals there in 2004. Anyway, Nick the raffish captain sorted out all the palaver about the team being fired on by launching an RPG into the Afghans' hut, killing them all and letting us get back to the comedy.
Of course a sitcom in a warzone isn't off-limits. But Bluestone 42 shows that it's... a minefield.Jack Seale, Radio Times, 10th March 2013
One of the most common questions my co-writer James Cary and I get asked when we're talking about our new comedy Bluestone 42, is about the research process. Did you do lots of research, people ask. Do you have a military background? The last question gets asked very rarely when it's face-to-face. I can't think why.Richard Hurst, BBC Writersroom, 5th March 2013
Even before it's broadcast, this comedy has caused a furore, dealing as it does with a squad of bomb disposal experts clearing IEDs in Afghanistan. Can such a sensitive subject get laughs?
Yes it can. Richard Hurst and James Cary (who have both worked on Miranda) evidently did their research. The banter and camaraderie are as profane as you'd expect on the frontline, and some of the humour is exceptionally dark. However, that research seems to be holding them back; they're so careful presenting a balanced view of professional soldiery that the characters are underplayed.
There is promise in the lusty captain Nick Medhurst (Green Wing's Oliver Chris) and his pursuit of the attractive new padre (Hustle's Kelly Adams), but larger-than-life roles are in short supply. Michael McShane's CIA liaison officer Carter is one, but his appearance is all too brief.David Crawford, Radio Times, 5th March 2013
Richard Hurst and James Cary's new comedy drama is set among a bomb disposal team in Afghanistan. Informed by the tales of serving and former soldiers, the series finds - mostly puerile - humour in this most dangerous of occupations. The opener sees the Bluestone 42 team called out on a routine ops mission.Simon Horsford, The Telegraph, 5th March 2013