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Series / Alas Smith and Jones

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After Not the Nine O'Clock News ended and Rowan Atkinson struck out on his own, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones made this Spiritual Successor Sketch Show, which ran from 1984 to 1998. Not to be confused with Alias Smith and Jones, the American series which its Pun-Based Title references; some series of the show dropped the 'alas' from the byline and went out simply as Smith and Jones.

Like Not the Nine O'Clock News before it, the humour was often quite taboo, and cheerfully employed Mood Whiplash by going from elaborate sketches with complex humour to rapid-fire slapstick or one-shot gags and then back again. Probably the best known, and defining, recurring feature was the "Head to Head" sketch, in which Smith and Jones' characters face each other across a black void and have an inane Seinfeldian Conversation. This is an example of what Harry Enfield calls a "Thick Bloke and Thicker Bloke" routine: Jones' character is an idiot who gets everything wrong, while Smith corrects him, but is still thicker than the audience and often gets it wrong in a different way in his corrections. Some series also had a domestic recurring flat sketch (possibly inspired by Morecambe and Wise), usually carrying a story thread throughout an entire episode, cutting back to it in between the other sketches. Episodes also sometimes started with Mel and Griff on stools facing the audience, supposedly As Themselves introducing the show, but actually carrying on a surreal stand-up routine.

After the show ended, Griff Rhys Jones largely moved away from comedy in favour of presenting documentaries, while Mel Smith went on to do multiple projects, the best-known probably being Brain Donors and the film adaptation of Bean. The two still acted together on occasion and reunited in 2006 to present The Smith and Jones Sketchbook, a compilation inspired by The Two Ronnies doing the same thing shortly before. Any hopes of further material were dashed after Smith passed away in 2013.

This show contains examples of:

  • Acting Unnatural: Mel Smith tells his friends that Queen guitarist Brian May is going to visit. They all get overexcited at the prospect of meeting him and Mel insists they treat him as a normal guy and his visit is nothing special. However, they take this overboard and when Brian arrives, they're all doing strange activities like vacuuming the flat while totally ignoring him.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The end of the Brian May sketch sees Griff inviting Eric Clapton over, and Brian proceeds to fanboy over Clapton just as the others fanboyed over him earlier, and they instruct him in turn in Acting Unnatural with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Alter-Ego Acting: The flat sketches and intro routines.
  • Ass Shove: One of the starting routines involves Griff walking awkwardly while telling a long, rambling, unconvincing speech about hanging pictures on a stepladder in front of a box of vegetables while naked, to explain why he went to the hospital to have a cucumber removed from his backside. This ends with the inversion punchline:
    Mel: And that's what you told the nurse, is it?
    Griff: Well of course not, she'd never believe that! I told her I'd shoved it up my jacksy to give myself a cheap thrill!
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Mel refuses to sponsor Griff's child at a charity event, Griff slowly and mournfully sings Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" to him until he gives in.
  • Couch Gag: In the version of the closing credits in which they're a pair of cheesy lounge singers, they break off to offer a meaningless homily such as "Being unapologetic means never having to say you're sorry."
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Brian May sequence begins with Mel on the phone...
    Mel: Yeah, sure, yeah yeah...yes sure Brian. Yeah, Brian. Mm-hm? OK Brian...Bri-an!...Brian. Ha, ha...that is know, that's a very "Brian" thing to say. Ha ha, OK Brian, yeah, sure. Good, OK Brian, OK Brian, yep, good, see ya Brian, thanks Brian, bye Brian, bye-bye.
    (Puts phone down, Beat)
    Mel: Philip.
  • Forbidden Fruit: In the Naughty Birdwatching sketch, we eventually see that both Mel and Griff have beautiful girlfriends upstairs who want to have sex with them, but they instead obsess over seeing a brief flash of knickers from one of their neighhbours through the telescope.
  • Ignore the Disability: Inverted in one flat sketch, where the others keep trying to bring up to one of their friends how unconvincing his wig is, but they can never quite pluck up the courage.
    Mel: What I'm really asking on earth did you get that fantastic T-shirt?
    • Mixed with Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere in the Brian May sketch: after Mel tells the others not to obsess over Brian May, everything reminds them of Brian May. Mel goes back to the card game by tapping the deck of cards on the table three times:
      Griff and the others: ...another one bites the dust.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: In one sketch, a couple who have friends for dinner are interrupted by the dramatic appearance of Mel in fantasy warrior costume, loudly demanding that they hand over "the sword of Kagnazax". Griff and his wife pretend to search the kitchen for the sword of Kagnazax but they have no idea what he's talking about, and eventually they give Mel "the egg whisk that Ruth and Dave gave us last Christmas", telling him that it's the "dagger of Zang". He accepts it and returns to his own people, where he dramatically announces his find:
    Mel: My people! I have returned, and I bring you ... the egg whisk of Ruth and Dave!
    [Wild cheers]
  • Namesake Gag: A sketch about László Bíró, the inventor of the ballpoint pen. This is true. The Namesake Gag comes in when he's worried that someone might steal his idea, and is assured there's no-one in the house except the servants: Bic the butler, Parker the chauffeur, Pentel the maid...
  • Naughty Birdwatching: The subject of one of the flat sketches, starting with them just catching accidental glimpses and escalating as they acquire more and more telescopic equipment for the purpose.
  • Overly Long Transcription: In one sketch, a criminal is cautioned that "anything he may say will be taken down and may be used in a court of law". the criminal then starts saying (deadpan) "What are you doing, officer? Please stop hitting me. Ow. Ow" as the police officer dutifully writes it all down, looking increasingly worried as the monologue goes on.
  • The Parody: Usually of adverts and songs or music videos (as with Not the Nine O'Clock News). Later series also had parodies of unusually-themed compilation albums, such as "Now That's What I Call The Best Psycho Album Ever 2" or "Stephen Hawking Sings The Blues".
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: At least one such scene per episode.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Parodied in one sketch where a bearer of bad news is stabbed by the roman noble he delivered it to, leading a second messenger to try to pretend he doesn't actually have a message to deliver at all. Finally...
    Noble: Ah, splendid, yes this is wonderful news indeed!
    Messenger: (relieved) it is?
  • Special Guest: One episode had Brian May turning up to Mel and Griff's flat to play poker. He was treated as a Special Guest in-universe as well, with the humour coming from Mel telling everyone to act normally and that it wasn't a big deal, while the others were prone to Hero Worship.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Not the Nine O'Clock News—besides having Mel and Griff and a similar format, it also shared many of the same writers.
  • Surprise Incest: Or Surprise Near Incest, at least; one sketch involves a man curb-crawling for prostitutes who summons an attractive streetwalker into his car... only for this exchange to occur when she actually gets in:
    Curb-Crawler: Nicole!
    Prostitute: Papa!
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Nazi Generals sketch hilariously lampoons the stereotyped characterisation of these villains in WWII movies.