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Comedy Kings' crown starts to slip

I really wanted to like last night's episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look: I'm an obsessive fan of Peep Show, in which the writer/actor pair (David Mitchell and Robert Webb) co-star and I've caught occasional glimpses of genius in the first three series of this eponymous sketch show.

But truth must go before honour and so it's with great sadness that I conclude that last night's show just didn't hit the funny bone.

Avid viewers will concede that the comedy duo's sketch shows have always been hit and miss. In fact, a skit from an earlier series satirised the critics' tendency to describe the show as patchy.

"If we didn't perversely include about 50pc deliberately unamusing material, people would have to think of something else to say, wouldn't they," said Mitchell.

Only, the misses to hits ratio in the latest episode seems to have dwindled from 50/50 to 90/10.

The concepts behind their sketches have always been complete flights of the imagination and last night was no different.

The post-apocalyptic, propaganda-spinning game show which does not talk of 'The Event' is back.

Even more obscure was a regional reporter from the West Country interviewing the owner of a Japanese restaurant while eating pizza.

But ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is where it counts. Most of the sketches were relying on the premise alone as the pair groped in the dark for a sense of comedic structure.

Almost all of the sketches could have been cut by half. Even so, they took every joke to the edges of tedium and beyond.

Other sketches were tired and hackneyed. Their mock-commercial for supermarket 'Didl Didi' where "Bolagnade costs just 49p" was uninspired.

Elsewhere, an interview between an exasperated film journalist and a difficult, moustachioed method actor called Daniel Dunne Tooting (guess who?) was utterly asinine.

Granted, the characters are as diverse as they are well observed, but neither actor has the range to transcend entirely into the various roles they've created.

Save for costume changes and the occasional stab at different accents, their miens and personas rarely shift gear.

Mitchell and Webb's almost nerdish brand of humour -- they are Cambridge University-educated, after all -- is what has won them such a large fan base, but sometimes they are just a bit too clever for their own good.

Put simply, they sometimes forget the essential requirements of comedy: to make people laugh.

Mitchell and Webb were supposed to be my comedy relief after the harrowing documentary, One Under, on Channel 4.

One Under is the term tube drivers and emergency services use for a person under their train.

The documentary studied the impact of suicide on the underground, the people who are left behind and the tube drivers who, as one put it, are "used as the instrument to relieve their [the victim's] problem".

Interviews with family members and drivers still haunted by these suicides were interwoven with home video footage of one of the victims.

The producers discovered a tragic irony: those who jumped to their death to escape depression were the cause of depression in the tube drivers who led to their death.

Though the subject matter was dark and distressing, this was a thought-provoking story that needed to be told.