Space for Improvement

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Byline: PETER PATERSON

Supernova (BBC2); The Closer (C4)

THE WORLD may need a good scientific comedy, but I'm not sure it has arrived with Supernova, despite the presence of the marvellous Rob Brydon.

The set-up is excellent, with the star of Marion And Geoff as astronomer Dr Paul Hamilton, frustrated with life at home, joining the eccentric team at the Royal Australian Observatory in the remote outback.

The jokes surrounding life in the back of beyond are excellent, with a pub straight out of the Australian beer adverts right next door to the great telescope in its characteristic dome, and the sound of the dingoes barking at night.

The joke that preceded the credits amused, with Paul lecturing his four colleagues and two nuns on the origins of the universe.

When he asks for questions, one of the nuns says, 'Yes - can we go now?' and it emerges that they're at the observatory only because their car has broken down.

Getting down to work, the team is monitoring a Russian satellite that is facing interference from a wormhole - defined by Paul as 'a tear in the fabric of time and space'.

For anoraks this prompted a spate of sci-babble, including Doppler readings, blue shift emissions, and radio microwave activity. But the subject soon drifted away to Paul's punishment for ignoring warnings that there are dangerous creatures out in the desert.

He gets bitten by a poisonous black marsh toad, with potentially nasty consequences, including the onset of death within half an hour.

'Shall I carry on with my paper on nucleosynthesis, or shall I write my will?' he asks.

In the old days, he learned, the symptoms were so awful that victims were humanely put to death: luckily a cold bath seemed to cure Paul on this occasion.

Despite the scientific terminology, it's on the science that writer Harry Cripps is weakest, for all the funniest moments are traditional sight gags, drinking jokes and pratfalls.

Brydon's only comic equal among the cast is Kris McQuade's observatory boss, Professor Pip Cartwright, but even she was unable to breathe much life into the old joke in which someone sees the face of God - usually it's in a pizza topping or a fried egg - and starts a brief religious revival.

I can't remember a proper science-based situation comedy - unless one counts Doctor Who, which featured quite centrally in last night's tale - and I somehow don't think this is it.

But this was only the second episode of Supernova's projected six, and it does have the potential to improve. For my money, the presence of Brydon and McQuade is the best guarantee of that.

* THERE'S no doubt that with such imports as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The West Wing - to take only a random armful - we get the pick of the crop from American TV. …